Micro-Irrigation Pioneer Awarded 2012 World Food Prize

WASHINGTON, DC, June 12, 2012 (ENS) – Dr. Daniel Hillel, an Israeli-American scientist who created an innovative way of bringing water to crops in arid regions was named the winner of the 2012 World Food Prize in a ceremony today at the U.S. State Department.

Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation, announced the name of the recipient, who will be formally presented with the $250,000 award in October.

“This year we honor Dr. Daniel Hillel, a scientist from Israel, for his pioneering work in the Middle East that revolutionized food production in that region and around the world,” Quinn said. “Dr. Hillel laid the foundation for maximizing efficient water usage in agriculture through a method known as micro-irrigation, which has impacted millions of lives.”

Quinn emphasized the importance not only of Dr. Hillel’s scientific achievement but also his dedication to working with people across borders, to help improve food security for all.

Dr. Daniel Hillel with Palestinian leaders (Photo courtesy World Food Prize)

“Confronting hunger can bring diverse people together across even the broadest political, ethnic, religious or diplomatic differences,” Quinn said. “Dr. Hillel’s work and motivation has been to bridge such divisions and to promote peace and understanding in the Middle East by advancing a breakthrough achievement addressing a problem that so many countries share in common: water scarcity.”

“It is significant that Dr. Hillel’s nomination for the World Food Prize contained letters of support from individuals and organizations in Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates,” he said.

While he is pleased to have received the award, Dr. Hillel said the urgent work of providing water and food for humanity is by no means finished.

“My joy and gratitude at being granted the World Food Prize this year is tempered by the realization that the work this award recognizes is far from complete,” Dr. Hillel said.

“The task of improving the sustainable management of the Earth’s finite and vulnerable soil, water, and energy resources for the benefit of humanity while sustaining the natural biotic community and its overall environmental integrity is an ongoing and increasingly urgent challenge for our generation and for future generations,” he said. “Meeting this challenge will require enhanced global cooperation and integrated scientific research.”

“It is a task, indeed a collective responsibility, that we cannot shirk and must indeed broaden and intensify,” he said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an audience of dignitaries at the announcement event, “In many regions of the world that so many of you are from or you work in, you know that water is either too scarce or too unpredictable to sustain what we think of as regular agriculture. For 40 years, Dr. Hillel has worked to solve this problem by bringing his micro-irrigation techniques to the driest and least hospitable growing climates on earth, from Israel to Pakistan to Sudan.”

“Today, farmers using micro-irrigation produce high-yield, nutritious crops on more than six million hectares worldwide,” Clinton said. “Dr. Hillel’s work will become even more important as we grapple with how to feed the world’s growing population.”

“We know the facts: Nearly a billion people already go to bed hungry every night,” the secretary said. “By the year 2050, the global population is estimated to reach nine billion. And according to the latest FAO [UN Food and Agriculture Organization] estimates, the world will need to produce 60 percent more food than we do today to feed everyone.”

“In that same time, the demand for water to grow food will rise by almost 20 percent,” Clinton said. “But our water supply is finite. So if we’re going to strengthen food security, we have to get more out of each drop.”

A native of Los Angeles, California, Dr. Hillel was taken at an early age to Palestine. He spent part of his childhood in pioneering settlements in the Jezreel and Jordan Valleys, where he acquired a lifelong interest in agriculture and ecology.

As senior research scientist with Columbia University’s Earth Institute Dr. Daniel Hillel introduces his new book, “The Natural History of the Bible: An Environmental Exploration of the Hebrew Scriptures,” February 2006. (Image from video courtesy Earth Institute)

In 1951, after earning a master’s degree in earth sciences at Rutgers University in New Jersey, he went to Israel to help in the young state’s development. He took part in surveying the country’s land and water resources and was a founding member of Sde Boker, the first settlement in the Negev Highlands.

His research has led to a shift from what was then the prevailing method of irrigation. In the first half of the 20th century, farmers typically applied large amounts of water in brief periodic episodes of flooding to saturate their fields, followed by longer periods of manufactured drought to dry out the soil.

The new methods conceived and developed by Dr. Hillel applied water in small but continuous amounts directly to plant roots, cutting the amount of water needed to nourish crops, maintaining their consistent health and resulting in higher crop yields to feed more people.

Promoted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Dr. Hillel’s water management conceptshave spread around the world and are now used on more than six million hectares worldwide.

By integrating complex scientific principles, designing practical applications and achieving wide outreach to farmers, communities, researchers and agricultural policymakers in more than 30 countries, Dr. Hillel has impacted the lives of millions.

Dr. Hillel will be formally awarded the World Food Prize at the 26th Annual Laureate Award Ceremony at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on October 18, in conjunction with the Borlaug Dialogue international symposium, themed “Partnership and Priorities: Transforming the Global Food Security Agenda.”

The World Food Prize was created in 1987 by Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Norman Borlaug, and is the foremost international award recognizing individuals who have contributed landmark achievements in increasing the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.

The prize was endowed by John Ruan Sr. Continuing his legacy, Iowa businessman John Ruan III now serves as chairman of the organization.

A Selection Committee of experts from around the world oversees the nomination and selection process, and is chaired by Professor M.S. Swaminathan, who was the first World Food Prize Laureate.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.