Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Soil Scientist Wins $250K Prize for Helping Farmers and Fighting the Climate Crisis

Food
Soil Scientist Wins $250K Prize for Helping Farmers and Fighting the Climate Crisis
Rattan Lal, distinguished university professor of soil science at The Ohio State University, speaks at an IFPRI policy seminar, "Economics of Land Degradation and Improvement," on Dec. 3, 2015. IFPRI / Milo Mitchell

The demands of feeding a planet rapidly careening toward 10 billion people, coupled with the environmental degradation that industry and development has caused, has left much of the world's soil depleted of nutrients. A professor who studies soil science and is looking to improve the dirt for farmers around the world has been awarded the 2020 World Food Prize for his work, as NPR reported.


Rattan Lal, a professor of soil science and the director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at The Ohio State University, has pioneered farming techniques that prevent soil from losing vital nutrients and even put nutrients back into soil, according to NPR. That work is incredibly important, since data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations show that about a third of the planet's soil is "moderately to highly degraded."

When the nutrients disappear, crop yields are lower and less healthy. That's troublesome for the growing demands placed on farmers.

As NPR reported. Lal believes sustainable agriculture practices are the "win-win-win option" as the world struggles with the climate crisis and food insecurity. "My philosophy has always been that the health of soil, plants, animal, people, and the environment is one indivisible," Lal said.

In addition to improving soil, Lal's work showed how plants could pull carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil to prevent it from combining with oxygen and creating carbon dioxide, which adds more greenhouse gases to an already warming planet, according to The Hawk Eye in Iowa.

"This breakthrough research transformed the way the world saw soils," the World Food Prize Foundation, a Des Moines nonprofit that sponsors the annual $250,000 prize, said in its announcement of the prize.

"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," the foundation said in its release.

The World Food Prize is often described as the Nobel for research in food, according to The Indian Express. It was even created by Nobel prize laureate Norman Borlaug in 1987.

Lal is no stranger to prizes, nor to altruism. Last year, he was awarded $450,000 for the Japan Prize, which is issued by the Japanese government, for his work on soil. He gave all of the prize money to Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, as Columbus Business First in Ohio reported.

Lal's work built upon the tenets that farmers already knew about maintaining and building healthy soil. His work that focused on restoring nutrients had the added bonus of removing carbon from the atmosphere, according to the Toledo Blade.

"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," said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as the Toledo Blade reported. "The billions of people who depend on these farms stand to benefit greatly from his work."

The Kaiser Foundation reported that USAID Acting Administrator John Barsa said, "The global demand for food is growing faster than the world's population. Agriculture and food systems face the challenge of producing more while using less land and water. Dr. Lal's work has advanced our ability to grow more food while minimizing the environmental impact for agriculture — essential for sustainable solutions to end hunger and malnutrition."

Lal's adventurous career has taken him to posts in Australia and Nigeria. He has led soil restoration projects in Asia, Africa and Latin America, integrating no-till farming and use of cover crops, mulching and agroforestry to protect soil, conserve water and return nutrients, carbon and organic matter in the soil, according to LiveMint.

"[Lal] was really the first person to put soil science on the map," said Marco Ferroni of CGIAR, a global agricultural research group, to NPR.

With restaurants and supermarkets becoming less viable options during the pandemic, there has been a growth in demand and supply of local food. Baker County Tourism Travel Baker County / Flickr

By Robin Scher

Beyond the questions surrounding the availability, effectiveness and safety of a vaccine, the COVID-19 pandemic has led us to question where our food is coming from and whether we will have enough.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Tearing through the crowded streets of Philadelphia, an electric car and a gas-powered car sought to win a heated race. One that mimicked how cars are actually used. The cars had to stop at stoplights, wait for pedestrians to cross the street, and swerve in and out of the hundreds of horse-drawn buggies. That's right, horse-drawn buggies. Because this race took place in 1908. It wanted to settle once and for all which car was the superior urban vehicle. Although the gas-powered car was more powerful, the electric car was more versatile. As the cars passed over the finish line, the defeat was stunning. The 1908 Studebaker electric car won by 10 minutes. If in 1908, the electric car was clearly the better form of transportation, why don't we drive them now? Today, I'm going to answer that question by diving into the history of electric cars and what I discovered may surprise you.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A technician inspects a bitcoin mining operation at Bitfarms in Saint Hyacinthe, Quebec on March 19, 2018. LARS HAGBERG / AFP via Getty Images

As bitcoin's fortunes and prominence rise, so do concerns about its environmental impact.

Read More Show Less
OR-93 traveled hundreds of miles from Oregon to California. Austin Smith Jr. / Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs / California Department of Fish and Wildlife

An Oregon-born wolf named OR-93 has sparked conservation hopes with a historic journey into California.

Read More Show Less
A plume of exhaust extends from the Mitchell Power Station, a coal-fired power plant built along the Monongahela River, 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, on Sept. 24, 2013 in New Eagle, Pennsylvania. The plant, owned by FirstEnergy, was retired the following month. Jeff Swensen / Getty Images

By David Drake and Jeffrey York

The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.

The Big Idea

People often point to plunging natural gas prices as the reason U.S. coal-fired power plants have been shutting down at a faster pace in recent years. However, new research shows two other forces had a much larger effect: federal regulation and a well-funded activist campaign that launched in 2011 with the goal of ending coal power.

Read More Show Less