- In a career spanning five decades and five continents, he developed a soil-centric approach to increase food production.
Soil scientist and professor, Rattan Lal, will receive the 2020 World Food Prize for developing and mainstreaming a soil-centric approach to increasing food production that restores and conserves natural resources and mitigates climate change.
The international award, presented by the World Food Foundation, recognizes achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world.
Lal, whose career in science spans five decades and five continents, currently serves as Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science and founding Director of the Carbon Management & Sequestration Center at the Ohio State University (OSU).
According to the foundation, Lal, “has promoted innovative soil-saving techniques benefiting the livelihoods of more than 500 million smallholder farmers, improving the food and nutritional security of more than two billion people and saving hundreds of millions of hectares of natural tropical ecosystems.”
The foundation says Lal’s “pioneering research on the restoration of soil health in Africa, Asia and Latin America led to revelations that impacted agricultural yields, natural resource conservation and climate change mitigation.”
“The unbound joy and excitement of receiving the 2020 World Food Prize reminds me about the gratitude, privilege and honor of working for farmers from around the world,” Lal said.
Always working on the premise that the health of soil, plants, animals, people and the environment is indivisible, Lal began his research career at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria, developing soil health restoration projects across Asia, Africa and Latin America.
He explored and transformed techniques such as no-tillage, cover cropping, mulching and agroforestry that protected the soil from the elements, conserved water and returned nutrients, carbon and organic matter to the soil. This in turn improved the long-term sustainability of agroecosystems and minimized the risks to farmers of droughts, floods, and other effects of a changing climate.
Last year, Lal won the 2019 Japan Prize, considered one of the most prestigious honors in science and technology. The prize recognizes scientists and engineers from around the world for original and outstanding achievements that “not only contribute to the advancement of science and technology, but also promote peace and prosperity for all mankind.”
Other awards include the Glinka World Soil Prize from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Agriculture Prize from the Global Confederation of Higher Education Associations for Agricultural and Life Sciences.
Lal received his B.S. from Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana; M.S. from Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi and Ph.D. from the Ohio State University.
Indian geneticist Monkombu Sambasivan Swaminathan received the first World Food Prize in 1987 for spearheading the introduction of high-yielding wheat and rice varieties to India’s farmers.
Two years later, social entrepreneur Varghese Kurien, known as the ‘Father of the White Revolution’ in India, received the award for his coordinating breakthroughs in production with effective management and distribution strategies. Kurien’s career was dedicated to streamlining those strategies with the skills and knowledge of rural and small-scale producers.
Other Indians who won the World Food Prize include B.R. Barwale, founder of independent seed company Mahyco, strengthening seed supply and distribution throughout India (1998), geneticist and plant breeder Surinder Vasal, known for his contributions in developing a maize variety with higher content of usable protein (2000); biologist and fisheries scientist Modadugu Vijay Gupta, for development and dissemination of low-cost techniques for freshwater fish farming (using tilapia species) by the rural poor (2005); and India-born Mexican scientist, Dr. Sanjaya Rajaram, for his scientific research in developing 480 wheat varieties that have been released in 51 countries.