The country’s renowned plant physiologist, National Scientist Benito S. Vergara passed away on October 24, 2015 at the age of 81. The National Academy of Science and Technology, Philippines (NAST, PHL), joins the scientific community in mourning the demise of NS Vergara. He was recognized for his scientific and technological achievements in the physiology of rice — its flowering response to photoperiod, deepwater physiology, flood tolerance, cold tolerance, ratooning, growth and development, rice herbage, UV-B and yield potential, from his researches conducted at the International Rice Reseach Institute (IRRI). His seminal work on the physiology of deepwater rice and flood tolerance in the rice plant resulted in the development of screening procedures for flood tolerance, which has been adopted by national breeding programs leading to the identification of parent materials with excellent flood tolerance.
NS Vergara’s extensive work on the flowering response of rice to photoperiod, was applied to upgrade rice varieties. He helped develop different screening techniques for cold tolerance at different stages of the rice life cycle. Through such methods, cold tolerant rice cultivars were identified and were used as parent materials in national breeding programs, an important contribution to Philippine agriculture. He also developed and streamlined a breeding methodology known as the “Rapid Generation Advance” to improve varieties of rice planted in cold areas. The technique is now used by many national breeding programs. He conceptualized a model for an even higher yielding rice – the so-called “super rice” based on a new ideotype with the correct panicle morphology, grain development and low tillering habit as key components. He and his group pioneered research on the possible effects of ozone depletion in the atmosphere on the growth, development and yield of rice.
He was recognized by former President Gloria Arroyo for his groundbreaking research efforts on the growth duration, rationing, tillering, flowering, and gain yield of rice, which established the parameters for the blue prints for two successive models of high-yielding rice plant type. He popularized the scientific basis of modern way of growing rice, which was circulated around the world.
During his last years at IRRI, Dr. Vergara conceptualized, designed and pushed for the establishment of the Riceworld Museum and Learning Center which was inaugurated in 1994. He was also instrumental in designing and putting together the NAST Philippine Science Heritage Center (PSHC) or Salinlahi, which focuses on the scientific and technological achievements of Filipino scientists.
In addition to his more than 100 scientific publications, NS Vergara wrote a book “A Farmer's Primer on Growing Rice”, which has more than 50 editions and 50 translations. The book discusses the essence of scientific knowledge on rice production that ordinary farmers could understand. As Visiting Professor at UP Los Baños, he mentored 17 MS and 14 PhD students in agronomy and botany as well as trained many scholars from rice growing countries all over the world.
NS Vergara received numerous awards, among which were the BIOTA Achievement Award and the Pro Patria Award (1980), Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy (1986), and Honorary Scientist from the Republic of Korea (1998).
For his significant contributions in plant physiology studies in the country, he was elected member by the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) in 1987 and was conferred the rank and title of National Scientist in 2001 by the Philippine president.
He obtained his BS in Botany from the University of the Philippines (1955), MS in Botany from the University of Hawaii (1959), and PhD in Plant Physiology from the University of Chicago in 1960.
At IRRI, Dr. Vergara served as Plant Physiologist and later as Director for Administration until he retired in 1996.. Upon retirement, he shifted his work to ornamental plants and fruit trees and the expansion of the Salinlahi.
Necrological service in honor of National Scientist Benito S. Vergara was held at the Department of Science and Technology front lobby on October 29, 2015.