IITA alumnus named 2020 World Food Prize Laureate!

13 June 2020

The World Food Prize Foundation, on 11 June, announced leading soil scientist and IITA alumnus Dr Rattan Lal, as the 50th World Food Prize Laureate. The Foundation’s Selection Committee chose Dr Lal for “developing and mainstreaming a soil-centric approach to increasing food production while conserving natural resources and mitigating climate change.” World Food Prize Foundation President Barbara Stinson announced the selection in a pre-recorded Laureate Announcement Ceremony, which featured remarks from the U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

IITA alumnus Dr Rattan Lal
IITA alumnus Dr Rattan Lal

“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,” said Stinson. “His decades of work to address all of these elements fully warrants his recognition as the 50th World Food Prize Laureate.”

Growing up on a small subsistence farm as a refugee in northern India, Lal’s determination to learn led him to excel in school, propelling him to become one of the world’s most prominent soil scientists. His 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.

Believing that the health of soil, plants, animals, people, and the environment is indivisible, Dr Lal began his research career at IITA 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.

In his remarks, Secretary Pompeo noted the problem of resource sufficiency and the need for more productive and efficient use of what is available in the face of the continuing growth of the world’s population. “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,” he said.

Secretary Perdue highlighted the importance of the award, noting how it ties into the USDA motto: “To do right and feed everyone”. He said: “The scientific innovations, like those developed by Dr Lal, embody this motto in the work that he and we are doing. The agricultural practices Lal developed and advocated for are now at the heart of efforts to improve agricultural systems.”

During the subsequent World Food Prize Digital Dialogue broadcast, Lal expressed gratitude for the recognition from the Foundation. “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,” he said. “Yet, 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 healthy soil and in a clean environment.”

Lal’s career is in its sixth decade, spanning five continents. He is currently the Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science and founding Director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences of the Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus, Ohio. He is the recipient of several other awards including a recognition certificate from the Nobel Peace Prize, the Medal of Honor from the Menéndez Pelayo International University, and the Japan Prize for outstanding achievements in soil management.

Dr Lal will officially receive the World Food Prize at a formal ceremony in October 2020.

Source: Soil Health Trailblazer Honored as 2020 World Food Prize Laureate