An alumnus of Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) and a renowned agricultural soil scientist from Ohio State University (OSU), Dr Rattan Lal (76), has been declared the winner of the World Food Prize 2020.
The announcement was made by World Food Prize Foundation president Barbara Stinson in an online ceremony from Washington on June 11.
PAU Vice-Chancellor Dr B S Dhillon, in a statement, said PAU may be the only institution in the world to have two alumni as World Food Laureates. The honour was earlier won by PAU alumnus Dr Gurdev Singh Khush, a plant breeder and pioneer in rice genetics. He had won this award in 1996 for his excellence in developing new rice varieties and ushering green revolution in rice farming.
Responding to the congratulatory message from PAU V-C, the winning scientist Dr Rattan Lal remarked, “To be a graduate from PAU is a great honour in itself. I want to thank you, the faculty staff and students of PAU for their support and good wishes. I look forward to visiting the university which has been long overdue.”
Lal, referring to Khush, said he was “a big inspiration and a unique role model to follow”.
Dr Lal did his graduation (B.Sc in agriculture) from Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) in 1963, M.Sc (soils) in 1965 from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) and PhD (soils) in 1968 from Ohio State University.
A professor of Soil Science at Ohio State University, he is also the founding director of the university’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center.
Stinson, while announcing him as the winner, termed Dr Lal as “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”.
Dr Lal’s research in the 1990s revealed that restoring degraded soils through increasing soil carbon and organic matter not only improved soil health, but helped combat rising carbon dioxide levels in the air by sequestering atmospheric carbon. He provided leadership to a range of soil restoration projects in Asia, Africa and Latin America, integrating no-till farming and use of cover crops, mulching and agro-forestry to protect soil, conserve water and return back nutrients, carbon and organic matter in the soil. Additionally, Dr Lal’s research seeks wider use of soil conservation measures focused on soil health in developed countries.
Dr Lal was born in Karyal in erstwhile Punjab (now in Pakistan). He was conferred the honorary degree of Doctor of Science by PAU in 2001.
The World Food Prize was created by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug in 1986 to recognise scientists and others who have improved the quality and availability of food. The foundation that awards the $250,000 prize is based in Des Moines. This award is considered to be the Nobel Prize in Agriculture.