New Delhi: Leading Indian-American soil scientist Dr Rattan Lal has been named as this year’s recipient of the World Food Prize for developing and mainstreaming a soil-centric approach to increasing food production that conserves natural resources and mitigates climate change.
The World Food Prize is considered equivalent to the Nobel Prize in the field of agriculture, and the recipient is awarded $250,000 for improving the quality and availability of food.
Dr Lal’s contribution to soil conservation also increased the global food supply by helping small farmers improve their soil’s health.
— The World Food Prize (@WorldFoodPrize) June 11, 2020
The World Food Prize Foundation President Barbara Stinson announced Lal as the winner in an online ceremony in Washington DC Thursday. The ceremony featured pre-recorded remarks from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.
“Dr Lal’s research in soil science shows that the solution to this problem is right under our feet. He’s helping the earth’s estimated 500 million small farmers be faithful stewards of their land through improved management, less soil degradation, and the recycling of nutrients. The billions of people who depend on these farms stand to benefit greatly from his work,” said Secretary Pompeo
Hailing his work in soil conservation, the foundation’s president said, “Dr Lal is a trailblazer in soil science with a prodigious passion for research that improves soil health, enhances agricultural production, improves the nutritional quality of food, restores the environment and mitigates climate change.”
Dr Lal’s model increases grain yield, decreases land area used
According to The New York Times, the soil scientist’s research led to improved food production along with a better understanding of how atmospheric carbon can be held in the soil to help combat climate change.
Dr Lal’s model indicates that restoring soil health can lead to multiple benefits by the year 2100, including more than doubling the global annual grain yield to feed the growing world population, while decreasing the land area under grain cultivation by 30 per cent and decreasing fertiliser use by half.
While receiving the award, Dr Lal, who is currently the professor of soil science at Ohio State University and founding director of the university’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, said, “We must eliminate hunger. We must also make sure that the food consumed is healthy and this is where the concept of healthy soil, plants, animals, people and the environment is a one and indivisible concept.”
Dr Lal was born in 1944 in Karyal in West Punjab, which is now in Pakistan. In 1947, when India gained independence, Lal’s family resettled as refugees in Rajaund, Haryana.
In Rajaund, his father farmed a few acres, using traditional farming methods. Lal completed his initial education from Punjab Agricultural University and earned his M.Sc. at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in Delhi.
In 1965, he left for Ohio State University to pursue his PhD. Later, his career took him to posts in Australia and Nigeria while leading soil restoration projects in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The World Food Prize was established by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug in 1986. The foundation is based in Des Moines, Iowa in US and the first recipient of this award was Indian agricultural scientist Dr M.S. Swaminathan in 1987, regarded as the father of India’s Green Revolution.