Rattan Lal, winner of the World Food Award: “Agriculture is considered a problem but it must be the solution”


According to data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Program (FAO) – before the pandemic – in 2020 there were 2.9 million people in Chile with some type of food insecurity, i.e. difficulties in physical access , social and economic to eat enough nutritious food to lead a healthy life. In 2022, FAO’s Food Systems and Policy Officer, Joao Intini, told The meter that “nearly 600,000 people are hungry in Chile and 3.4 million have faced uncertainty regarding their ability to eat adequately.”

In that same interview, Intini indicated that climate change is one of the relevant factors when considering agriculture in countries. The last few months have seen floods, heatwaves, droughts and temperature swings across much of the planet due to the climate crisis, impacting people’s ability to feed themselves.

Rattan Lal, soil expert and director of the CFAES Center for Carbon Management and Sequestration at the Ohio State University, as well as an adjunct professor at the University of Iceland and India Agricultural Research, received the 2020 World Prize for Food, one of the most important awards in this sector – argues that the pandemic has highlighted the fragility of food globalisation.

“Every human being needs safe, nutritious and healthy food three times a day, and such an important activity as agriculture is seen as a problem. In fact, we have a responsibility to turn it into a solution,” said Lal in an interview. with The meter.

The illustrious scientist is one of the guests of the Future Congress, an event that will take place between Monday 16 and Friday 20 January.

Soil and climate change expert

Rattan Lal was born in 1944 in what was then the British Raj, the colonial regime of the United Kingdom and what is now Pakistan. After independence and division, he had to leave his native country and go with his family to India, where he settled as a refugee.

He is director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center (C-MASC) at the Ohio State University and Goodwill Ambassador for the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) for sustainable development issues, he is a member of the Scientific and Lines of Action 1 and 3 of the 2021 and 2007 United Nations Food Security Summit were among those recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize certificate for their contributions to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), when the IPCC is been named a Nobel Prize winner.

In addition, he was named to the Thomson Reuters list of the world’s most influential scientific minds (2014-2016) and is among Clarivate’s highly cited researchers in agriculture (2014-2021), as well as being ranked number one in agronomy and agriculture in general.

“Producing more with less”

The scientist argues that agriculture should not be seen as a problem to the climate crisis, but rather as a solution. Currently he is responsible for a major part of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and also contributes to soil degradation, salinization, excess water abstraction and reduction of agricultural genetic diversity.

“Scientific knowledge exists to do better agriculture and produce more with less, less input of chemical fertilizers, less input of pesticides, less input of energy, less input of those chemicals that become greenhouse gases, less rice cultivation. in puddles, less overgrazing. So if we can learn to produce more with less and protect the soil and restore it, that will lead to agriculture as a solution,” he explains.

In this sense, he adds that the relevant actors in the decision-making process have a duty to create policies that favor agriculture and nature.

“Every country should develop a land policy,” he says.

“Soil is a living entity, 25% of biodiversity lives in the soil. If a human being, be it a human being, a butterfly, an eagle or a lagoon, the soil also has the right to be protected, restored , thrive and produce healthy and nutritious food,” he adds.

Lal says public policies can incentivize farmers by paying them for ecosystem services to create healthy soil. And as a result, these translate into methods of carbon sequestration, better water quality and increased biodiversity, which is currently in crisis.

“Lawmakers, in combination with the private sector, farmers and academics can really play a major role in the transformation,” says the scientist.

Rattan Lal also mentions that another major player is indigenous peoples, who have been defending territories around the world for centuries.

“I think the goal here is not to forget indigenous knowledge and just use modern science. I think we should develop indigenous knowledge and integrate it with modern science,” he explains.

“I have worked in Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean. I know that indigenous knowledge is very useful, but indigenous knowledge cannot address many of the new emerging problems. So integrating modern science with indigenous knowledge is the best solution. I hope that at COP28 we pay attention to indigenous knowledge and at the same time climate justice, because people who come from developing countries and poor countries will suffer the most from climate change,” he adds.

From COP27 to COP28

Rattan Lal, was part of the Inter-American Institute for Agricultural Cooperation (IICA) team for the COP27 which was held in Egypt in November 2022. At the event, he stressed the importance agriculture must play in the adaptation and mitigation of climate change.

Throughout his career he has been a witness and actor of the initiatives that have been signed around the world on climate issues, however he is convinced that decisions must be taken into action.

“We have some very good ideas, but somehow those ideas don’t translate into action. So, at COP28, I think there should be a special session where we address the fact that whatever commitment we make, we have to deliver and implement. Otherwise, the commitment is meaningless,” he concludes.

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