Soil health trailblazer honored as 2020 World Food Prize Laureate

Published: July 16, 2020
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Leading soil scientist Dr. Rattan Lal was recently announced 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.

From his humble beginnings as a refugee growing up on a small subsistence farm in India, Lal’s determination to learn and succeed in school propelled him to become one of the world’s foremost 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.

Over his career spanning more than five decades and four continents, Dr. 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 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,” said Dr. Lal, who now serves as Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science and founding Director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at The Ohio State University (OSU). “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 a healthy soil and in a clean environment.”

Dr. Lal’s 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 adopted his strategy of restoring soil health as a means to sequestering carbon.

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

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