Dr. Rattan Lal: Winner of the World Food Prize 2020
Dr. Rattan Lal (The Winner of World Food Prize 2020) is a soil scientist who was born in Karnal, West Punjab, India in 1944 and later became a citizen of the United States. He completed his undergraduate studies (B.Sc) at Punjab Agriculture University, his Master studies (MSc) at the India Agriculture Research Institute, and Doctoral studies (Ph.D.) at Ohio State University.
In 1970, Dr. R. Lal worked at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), an institution that aims to increase agricultural output so as to reduce poverty, hunger, malnutrition in the African continent. The institute is headquartered in Nigeria and has branches in several African countries. Dr. Rattan Tal is well known for his soil-centric approach which is based on the premise that the health of the soil, plants, animals, humans, and the environment is one and cannot be separated, so it can be said that one element influences each other.
He is a scientist who has done a lot of research on the importance of soil in affecting the productivity and quality of agricultural produce. According to his thoughts and research results, healthy soil is an important element in increasing crop yields (output) of crops. With a more humane approach, he also emphasized the importance of maintaining soil fertility/health. He considered that by improving soil health and crop yields would increase by up to two times amid the challenges of increasing population growth. in his opinion , the soil is a living thing and that is why soil health is so important. Healthy soil will provide optimal benefits for plant productivity and quality. As a living being, the land is also like humans who have rights, if humans have taken the nutrients from the soil, then they must return them to the land.
In his various scientific researches, Lal emphasized the importance of maintaining soil organic matter and soil carbon. Research conducted by Dr. Rattan Lal shows that low soil organic matter and carbon combined with an erratic tropical climate and current agricultural practices tend to deplete soil nutrients. Its impact will inevitably reduce soil productivity and fertility levels. With the worsening conditions of soil fertility, planting the land with superior varieties/cultivars of plants cultivated cannot produce optimally according to their potential yield, even with the help of adding chemical synthetic fertilizers.
His hard work in research can be seen in his activities. As a follow-up of his research, dr Lal expanded his research activities to 1/3 of the land on earth and to 3.2 million people affected by land degradation (degradation of soil physical, chemical, and biological characteristics). From the results of this research, most of the soil on earth has lost 25% -75% of the carbon content from its original condition. According to theory, the carbon content in the root zone of plants is 2%, in fact, many soils in the tropics only have 0.1% carbon content. if viewed from an economic impact, this condition will decrease in household income of farmers by up to 10%, even more from the decrease in carbon content and soil organic matter due to decreased plant productivity.
In improving soil degradation and providing solutions to this incident, Dr. Lal then emphasized the importance of soil health because it can save water irrigation and fertilization by up to 30%. Dr. Lal is not only trying to improve soil health and increase soil productivity in the sub-Saharan African region (countries in the southern African continent) but also throughout the world. To spread his knowledge, he also invited researchers from all over the world to come to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and share experiences. He also traveled around the world spreading his knowledge to various countries such as Brazil, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Peru, Thailand, and several other countries.
Improve soil health, by increasing the carbon content and organic matter in the soil can give benefits for the soil and plants. This action also has the advantage of reducing CO2 levels in the air by sequestrating carbon in the atmosphere. Carbon sequestration is the capture and storage of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere over a long period of time. Dr. Lal is also researching the potential of a soil for carbon storage. Soil can store 1500 gigatonnes of organic carbon in the soil organic matter content and 750 gigatonnes of inorganic carbon. Dr. Lal saw this potential to lower carbon levels in the atmosphere and thus reduce the increase in Earth’s temperature. The hope is that carbon taken from emissions of various fuel products can be stored in the soil and used to increase soil and crop fertility.
The breakthroughs that he has made in the field of soil (soil science) have changed the world’s paradigm in seeing land. Soil is an important element that plays a role in the issue of climate change and global warming. Several world institutions such as the United Nations have adopted methods of restoring land through the sequestration of carbon in the atmosphere. He also has many roles in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations Climate Change Conferences (UNCCC).
He is also a leader in soil science societies and organizations and mentors 350 students and researchers from around the world as well as a keynote speaker at 500 activities/seminars and visited 105 countries to introduce and educate a soil-centric approach in strengthening food security. Many of his research colleagues around the world rate Dr. Lal as one of the most influential researchers in the world. For his various research and contributions, he has won several awards such as the Japan Prize (2019), the GCHERA World Agriculture Prize (2018), the Glinka World Soil Prize (2018), the Liebig Award (2006), the Swaminathan Award (2009), the Norman Borlaug Award (2005), and World Food Prize 2020.
The world food prize. 2020. Dr. Rattan Lal. Retrieved from https://www.worldfoodprize.org/en/laureates/2020_lal/