The World Food Prize has announced prolific American soil scientist, Dr. Rattan Lal, as 2020 World Food Prize Laureate.
World Food Prize Foundation President, Barbara Stinson, made the disclosure in an announcement ceremony on Thursday.
Stinson, who described Lai as a “trailblazer” noted that Lai has “prodigious passion for research that improves soil health, enhances agricultural production, improves the nutritional quality of food, restores the environment and mitigates climate change.”
“His decades of work to address all of these elements fully warrants his recognition as the 50th World Food Prize Laureate,” Stinson said.
Selection Committee for the award said that Lai emerged winner for the $250, 000 prize for his contribution towards the growth of sustainable agriculture through his research impacts in soil science.
The Committee praised Lai for his works in developing and mainstreaming a soil-centric approach towards increasing food production that conserves natural resources and mitigates climate change.
Speaking on his selection, Selection Committee Chair, Dr. Gebisa Ejeta, submitted that Lai’s stellar work on management and conservation of the soil set him apart.
“The impact of his research and advocacy on sustainability of agriculture and the environment cannot be overstressed. He is a most deserving recipient and an inspiring leader,” Ejeta, a 2009 Laureate, said.
Ejeta further explained that, “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.
“Making this a reality will enormously benefit farmers, food consumers and the environment.”
In his reaction, Lai restated his commitment to the field of soil science and sustainable agriculture.
Lai noted “Achieving hunger-free humanity, soil degradation neutrality, negative emission farming and pollution-free water are among principal challenges which can never be ignored.”
“Sustainable management of soil and agriculture is also essential to keeping global temperatures within the safe range and restoring the environment,” he added.
The Announcement Ceremony featured pre-recorded remarks from the U.S. Secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo, and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue.
In his remarks, Pompeo observed that Lai’s works were critical to the sustenance of agriculture.
“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, ” Pompeo said.
She added, “Dr. Lal’s research in soil science shows that the solution to this problem is right under our feet. He is 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.”
Lai: From an Indian Refugee to a World Food Laureate
Rattal Lai started his life 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.
Dr. Lal began his research career at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Ibadan, Nigeria, where he worked on the development of soil health restoration projects across Asia, Africa and Latin America.
His research explored and transformed techniques such as no-tillage, cover cropping, mulching and agro-forestry, and helped to protect 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 of farmers to droughts, floods, and other effects of a changing climate.
In 1987, Lai returned to his alma mater, Ohio State University (OSU), where his research showed how atmospheric carbon could be sequestered in soils.
This breakthrough research transformed the way the world saw soils. As a result, soils are now not only the foundation for increasing the quality and quantity of food and preserving natural ecosystems, but an important part of mitigating climate change, as well.
Three separate United Nations Climate Change Conferences have adopted his strategy of restoring soil health as a means to sequestering carbon.
In 2007, Lai was among persons recognized 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.
Lai currently serves as a Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science and as the founding Director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at OSU.
“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.