Dr Rattan Lal, a native of Punjab and a citizen of the United States, will receive the 2020 World Food Prize for developing and mainstreaming a soil-centric approach to increasing food production that restores and conserves natural resources and mitigates climate change.(Twitter)
Dr Rattan Lal, a native of Punjab and a citizen of the United States, will receive the 2020 World Food Prize for developing and mainstreaming a soil-centric approach to increasing food production that restores and conserves natural resources and mitigates climate change.(Twitter)

Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, alumnus and soil scientist wins prestigious World Food Prize

SON OF THE SOIL Equivalent to Nobel Prize in agriculture, Dr Rattan Lal has been awarded for his contribution to increasing the global food supply by helping small farmers improve their soil’s health; to donate award money of $250,000 (Rs 1.9 crore) for soil research
Press Trust of India | By Press Trust of India, Washington
UPDATED ON JUN 12, 2020 12:48 PM IST

Indian-American soil scientist Dr Rattan Lal, an alumnus of Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, has won the prestigious World Food Prize, considered to be equivalent to a Nobel Prize in agriculture, in recognition of his contribution to increase the global food supply by helping small farmers improve their soil’s health.

Dr Lal, 75, in his career spanning more than five decades and four continents, has promoted innovative soil-saving techniques benefiting the livelihoods of more than 500 million small 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 World Food Prize Foundation said in a statement on Thursday.

“Dr Rattan Lal, a native of Punjab and a citizen of the United States, will receive the 2020 World Food Prize for developing and mainstreaming a soil-centric approach to increasing food production that restores and conserves natural resources and mitigates climate change,” the Iowa-based foundation said.

“Soil science has been recognised by this award. I feel very happy about it,” he told PTI in an interview after the announcement.

Dr Lal said that his soil organic matter content in the surface layer should from 2-3%. But soil in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi, central India and southern parts contain maybe 0.5% or maybe 0.2%. (Bharat Bhushan /HT )
Dr Lal said that his soil organic matter content in the surface layer should from 2-3%. But soil in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi, central India and southern parts contain maybe 0.5% or maybe 0.2%. (Bharat Bhushan /HT )

The award is especially important because the first recipient of this prestigious award in 1987 was Indian agricultural scientist Dr MS Swaminathan, the father of India’s Green Revolution, Dr Lal said.

RESTORING AND MANAGING SOIL HEALTH

In a country like India, he said, soil is prone to degradation because of harsh climate and other factors.

“So this award to a soil scientist highlights the importance of restoring and managing soil health. We need to give more attention to Dharti Mata (mother earth). Our shastras and puranas also indicated that we must pay respect to Dharti Mata. So this award means a lot to me,” Dr Lal said.

“Every year, we are astounded by the quality of nominations for the prize, but Dr Lal’s stellar work on management and conservation of agriculture’s most cherished natural resource, the soil, set him apart,” said Gebisa Ejeta, chair of the World Food Prize Selection Committee and 2009 recipient of the award.

Dr Lal is a distinguished professor in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at the Ohio State University.

PAU ALUMNI ASSOCIATION CONGRATULATES DR LAL

The Alumni Association of Punjab Agricultural University, on behalf of vice-chancellor BS Dhillon, faculty, staff and students of the university, congratulated Dr Rattan Lal for the prestigious award bestowed upon him. “The association feels proud of him for bringing laurels to his alma mater and wishes Dr Lal many more years of service to humanity,” professor and dean Surinder S Kukal said in a release.

Over the past five decades, Dr Lal has reduced hunger by pioneering agricultural methods across the globe that not only restore degraded soil but also reduce global warming, the university said in a statement.

“It is a privilege and honour to be of service to the many small farmers from around the world because I was one of them. They are stewards of the land. They are the ones with the tremendous challenge of feeding the world,” said Dr Lal, who is the founding director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center in Ohio.

He said that he would donate the award money of USD 250,000 (Rs 1.9 crore) for the future soil research and education.

Stating that the crop yields in India are about half of that in China and even lesser than that of the United States, Dr Lal noted that there appears to be no reason for that. (HT Photo )
Stating that the crop yields in India are about half of that in China and even lesser than that of the United States, Dr Lal noted that there appears to be no reason for that. (HT Photo )

STOP CROP RESIDUE BURNING IN PUNJAB, HARYANA

Dr Lal said that his soil organic matter content in the surface layer should from 2-3%. But soil in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi, central India and southern parts contain maybe 0.5% or maybe 0.2%.

“They are severely depleted, degraded. Consequently, not only is the productivity and yields low but the efficiency of inputs such as fertiliser and irrigation are also low. When crops are grown on unhealthy soil, the quality of the food and nutritional quality is also poor.

“When the health of soil is degraded, the health of people is also degraded. I think it’s important for India and other developing countries to pay attention to restoring the health of the soil,” Dr Lal said.

The soil scientist called for the immediate stopping of burning of crop residue in states such as Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.

“Taking everything away from land is not good for land. There is a law of return. Whatever you take from the earth, you must return it,” he said.

SOIL PROTECTION POLICY NEEDED

Brick-making, which is fast depleting soil, is another concern for Dr Lal.

“India should have a soil protection policy,” he said, adding that a certain part of agricultural land cannot be taken out for brick making.

He also called for rewarding farmers who help in protecting the soil by not burning crops, more use of compost and manure.

“Soil protection policy is important. We should have a soil health assessment report every five years at the national level. How is soil changing and we should protect agricultural land against other usage patterns such as urbanisation, brick making,” he said, adding that fertiliser is not a good substitute for crop management.

Stating that the crop yields in India are about half of that in China and even lesser than that of the United States, Dr Lal noted that there appears to be no reason for that. “We should have crop yield as good as any country. The health of our soil is poor. We have given a lot of emphasis on varieties. Varieties are important. (But) One cannot do anything if the soil is poor. That is a part which we must recognise.

“I think Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi can do a lot towards improving soil health and (launch a) movement. Modi can also indicate how our religious books preach this. It is a part of our culture,” he added.

(With input from HT, Ludhiana)

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