It was lightly raining outside the Iowa State Capitol building in downtown Des Moines, a rarity in this 2012 year of drought. Inside the magnificent building, approximately 750 people from all over the world packed into the chambers of the Iowa House of Representatives to honor a scientist for his work with water—micro-irrigation. After working most of his life without attracting much attention for his innovative invention, Dr. Daniel Hillel was prominently honored as the 2012 recipient of the World Food Prize.
The annual award, considered to be the Nobel Prize of food and agriculture, goes to winners chosen each year based on their contributions to improve the quantity, quality and availability of food around the world.
The ceremony took place October 18. Hillel, in his acceptance speech, received several standing ovations. He called for world leaders and researchers to work together to end hunger around the globe. Hillel cautioned the audience, however, that careful attention is needed to ensure that this mission of increasing food production and availability is carried out in ways that efficiently manage precious land and water resources and preserves natural ecosystems.
The 2012 laureate, honored for new irrigation technique, calls on world leaders to work together to end global hunger
The 2012 World Food Prize was awarded to Hillel, an 82-year-old Israeli scientist who as an irrigation researcher pioneered the development of a radically innovative way of bringing water to crops in arid and dry-land regions of the globe. Hillel was presented with the $250,000 award check that goes to the winner each year.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, H.E. Ban Ki-moon, was on hand as the keynote speaker. Ban opened his remarks at the World Food Prize Laureate Ceremony at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines by describing how this year's severe drought in Iowa and the U.S. Corn Belt will affect food prices and the availability of food and saying, "Iowa is that important. Iowa nourishes the world."
In recognizing Hillel, the U.N. Secretary-General stated, "…we draw hope from contributions like those of this year's honoree, Dr. Hillel." Ban went on to say, "Imagine trying to coax crops out of the dry ground of the Middle East," and that Daniel Hillel "stared at hard circumstances. Instead of waiting for a rainstorm, he had a brainstorm."
Hillel's work improving irrigation methods has impacted the lives of millions
Hillel's water management concepts – promoted by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization – have spread improved water management principles, designing practical applications and achieving wide outreach to farmers, communities, researchers and agricultural policymakers in more than 30 countries. Hillel has impacted the lives of millions, Ban said.
Hillel was born in America but has worked a long time in the Middle East and has a dual citizenship in the United States and Israel. The Israeli-American irrigation researcher toiled for decades developing and promoting the micro-irrigation practice—which improves crop yields and conserves scarce water resources in arid climates by giving the plants a continuous drip of water and letting the soil store the moisture for the plant roots. His idea was a radical departure from the centuries-old method of flooding fields.
Hillel said his micro-irrigation method was first used by farmers in Israel but the pace of adoption has increased around the world because of recent droughts and the need to feed a growing population. Micro-irrigation can now be found being used in more than 30 countries, including the U.S. Hillel said "this work is not done, as long as there are still hungry people in the world."
"This work is not done, as long as there are still hungry people in the world"
The celebration and ceremony at the Iowa State Capitol didn't mask the fact that millions of people around the world are still hungry. Today, about 870 million or one of every 8 people in the world are chronically undernourished, noted Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize. He told the audience, "At tonight's celebration, and rightly so, we honor our laureate, but it's important that we always remember the cause that brings us all together."
During the hour and one half live television broadcast of the ceremony and the speeches on statewide Iowa Public Television, Hillel's scientific achievements were noted as well as his dedication to working with people across borders to help improve food security for all. It was of particular significance that Hillel's nomination for the World Food Prize contained letters of support from individuals and organizations in Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
People attending the ceremony were treated to a night of tributes, musical performances and a celebration of the history of the World Food Prize. A chair was left empty near the podium in memory of Iowa native Normal Borlaug, who created the award in 1986. Special artistic tributes included opera music by Antonin Dvorak, performed by the Bryant Park Quartet from New York. A special tribute to Hillel was a performance by Israel's leading international concert and recording artist, Noa. She sang several selections showing her musical and lyrical talent and delivering a message of the need for peace and understanding among all people of the world to end hunger and poverty.
Over 1,400 people from 65 nations come to Iowa for annual World Food Prize symposium
The evening of festivities was part of a week of discussions and seminars attended by more than 1,400 people from 65 countries that come to Des Moines to attend the annual World Food Prize symposium. The event held each year in mid-October in Iowa's capital city attracts attendees from agribusiness, academia, government officials and representatives of non-profit organizations. The meetings discuss better ways to develop a nutritious and sustainable food supply to feed a growing world population.
Also at the ceremony in the state capitol, two Iowa students were recognized for excellence in their research and work abroad as participants in the Global Youth Institute in summer 2011. Anthony "AJ" Wenndt is from Keystone, Iowa and a sophomore at Grinnell College completed his internship at Icipe-African Insect Science for Food and Health in Mbita, Kenya. While there he studied rural smallholders' use of Push-Pull Agriculture near Lake Victoria. Wenndt received the John Crystal Award.
The other Iowa student winner is Pavane Gorrepati from Davenport, a freshman at Yale University. She received the Elaine Szymoniak Award for excellence in completing her internship at the China National Hybrid Rice Research and Development Center in Changsha, China. While in China, Gorrepati examined both the scientific and human elements of hybrid rice.
ABOUT THE WORLD FOOD PRIZE: The World Food Prize was founded in 1986 by Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, recipient of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize. Since then, The World Food Prize has honored outstanding individuals who have made vital contributions to improving the quality, quantity or availability of food throughout the world. Laureates have been recognized from Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Denmark, Ethiopia, India, Mexico, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United Nations and the United States. For more information visit the World Food Prize website.