Dr. Rattan Lal announced the 2020 World Food Prize Laureate for his innovations in food/agriculture


Last Tuesday, Secretary of State Pompeo and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the 2020 World Food Prize Laureate virtually. Dr. Rattan Lal was selected to be the 2020 Laureate. Dr. Lal is an expert in soil science and agro-ecology, a way of viewing agriculture systems as ecosystems. The World Food Prize was founded by Norman Borlaug, the nobel prize winning wheat breeder and father of the Green Revolution. It is considered the foremost prize in agriculture and has even been called the Nobel Prize for food and agriculture. ~

Dr. Lal’s career has spanned over five decades and four continents. According to the World Food Prize, Dr. Lal “has promoted soil saving techniques, benefitting 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.” Born as a poor refugee in India, Dr. Lal is now considered one of the world’s foremost soil experts. His early research focused on demonstrating the importance of soil nutrients and structure in improving the quality and quantity of food. His findings were a great benefit to farmers in the world’s tropical regions, a region whose soil has been subject to major degradation as agriculture has expanded. Dr. Lal discovered that low organic matter and soil carbon in combination with poor soil practices and harsh tropical climates created a major barrier to full yields from improved crop varieties. Instead of advocating for more inputs into the soil to restore nutrients (fertilizer, irrigation), Dr. Lal advocated for building soil structure through soil preservation practices to trap and hold more nutrients. This approach required fewer inputs, which was also far better for the environment. Fertilizer, when applied in large amounts and imprecisely, has deleterious effects on local ecosystems. Dr. Lal’s method of soil health prevents large runoff of fertilizer and requires less fertilizer overall. ~

Dr. Lal has also been an innovator in the field of Carbon sequestration. Currently, Dr. Lal serves as the Professor of Soil and Director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at Ohio State University. His work there has highlighted the efficacy of using soils as a tool to combat anthropogenic climate change. Healthy and viable soil can hold and trap carbon, preventing it from seeping into the atmosphere and contributing to the greenhouse effect. In fact, Dr. Lal’s research demonstrated that soils can sequester carbon at rates of 2.6 gigatons per year. ~

The selection of Dr. Lal as the 2020 Laureate represents a bit of a shift for the World Food Prize, much like the choice of the 2019 Laureate. 2019’s Laureate, Simon Groot, represented the power the free enterprise can have on improving the lives of smallholder farmers. This year’s pick represents a focus on making agriculture more sustainable and more resilient to the effects of global warming. Dr. Lal also represents that soil is just as important a part to agriculture as the quality of seed or access to water. ~

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