Eminent Indian-American soil scientist Rattan Lal was on Thursday named this year's recipient of USD 2,50,000 World Food Prize, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lauding his research in soil science, saying he is helping millions of small farmers around the world with his work on increasing food production and recycling of nutrients.
Dr Lal, 75, was named as the 2020 World Food Prize Laureate for developing and mainstreaming a soil-centric approach to increasing food production that conserves natural resources and mitigates climate change.
"The world's population continues to grow, and we need to use the resources we have more productively and efficiently to make sure everyone has enough food on their table," Mr Pompeo said.
"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 though 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," he said.
A native of India and citizen of the United States, Dr Lal has in his career of over 50 years and across four continents promoted innovative soil-saving techniques that benefited the livelihoods of more than 500 million smallholder farmers, improved the food and nutritional security of more than two billion people and saved hundreds of millions of hectares of natural tropical ecosystems, the World Food Prize organisation said.
Describing his "unbound joy and excitement" on receiving the 2020 World Food Prize, Mr Lal said the "urgent task of feeding humanity is not fulfilled until each and every person has access to an adequate amount of nutritious food grown on a healthy soil and in a clean environment."
US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the scientific innovations, like those developed by Mr Lal, embody the US Department of Agriculture''s motto of 'to do right and feed everyone''.
"The agricultural practices Mr Lal developed and advocated for are now at the heart of efforts to improve agricultural systems," Mr Perdue said.
Mr Lal serves as Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science and founding Director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at The Ohio State University (OSU).
In 2007, he was among those recognised with a Nobel Peace Prize Certificate for his contributions to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, when the IPCC was named co-recipient of the Nobel Prize.
World Food Prize Foundation President Barbara Stinson described Dr Lal as 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.
Stinson added that Dr Lal''=s decades of work to address all of these elements fully warrants his recognition as the 50th World Food Prize Laureate."
"From his humble beginnings as a refugee growing up on a small subsistence farm in India, his determination to learn and
succeed in school propelled him to become one of the world's foremost soil scientists," the organisation said in a statement.
Dr 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 agricultural practices Lal advocated are now at the heart of efforts to improve agriculture systems in the tropics and globally.
The organisation said Dr Lal, one of the most prolific agricultural scientists with more than 100,000 citations, is acutely aware of the necessity of working with national, international and governmental institutions to translate research into impact at the community and farmer level.
Dr Lal''s models indicate 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 percent and decreasing total fertilizer use by half, it said.
Making this a reality will enormously benefit farmers, food consumers and the environment. "Achieving hunger-free humanity, soil degradation neutrality, negative emission farming and pollutant-free water are among principal challenges which can never be ignored," Dr Lal said.
"Sustainable management of soil and agriculture is also essential to keeping global temperatures within the safe range and restoring the environment."
Dr Lal has worked on the premise that the health of soil, plants, animals, people and the environment is indivisible.
He 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 minimised the risks to farmers of droughts, floods, and other effects of a changing climate, the organization said.
World Food Prize Selection Committee Chair and 2009 Laureate Gebisa Ejeta said Dr Lal's "stellar work" on management and conservation of agriculture''s most cherished natural resource, the soil, sets him apart.
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