2012 World Food Prize Honors Water Scientist

Winner's work illustrates critical importance of water sustainability and working across borders to ensure adequate food for all people.

Published on: Jun 20, 2012

An Israeli scientist who pioneered a radically innovative way of bringing water to crops in arid and dry-land regions was named the winner of the 2012 World Food Prize in a ceremony June 12 at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered the keynote address. This is the first time the World Food Prize Foundation, based in Des Moines, Iowa, has given the award to someone from the Middle East.

"Water has been a very big topic of concern here at the State Department," Clinton said. "We have tried to focus the government's attention and the world's attention on the importance of getting ahead of what will be a devastating crisis if we are not smarter and more purposeful in addressing these issues. Now it is especially fitting that we honor someone who understood the critical role water plays in agriculture and the importance of using every last drop efficiently."

2012 World Food Prize Honors Water Scientist
2012 World Food Prize Honors Water Scientist

Former U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation announced the name of the recipient, Daniel Hillel. Hillel will be formally presented with the $250,000 award in October at the annual World Food Prize symposium and ceremony in Des Moines. The World Food Prize is headquartered in Des Moines where the conference on world food production issues is held each October. The ceremony honoring the 2012 laureate will take place October 18 at the State Capitol.

This year's winner laid foundation for maximizing efficient water use in agriculture

"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 Hillel's scientific achievement but also his dedication to working with people across borders, to help improve food security for all.

"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."

Born in U.S. but raised in Israel, Hillel became aware of critical issue of water scarcity

Born in the United States but raised in Israel, Hillel was first drawn to the critical issue of agriculture and water scarcity during his days living in the highlands of the Negev Desert. His research led to a dramatic shift from the prevailing method of irrigation.

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

Hillel's water management concepts – promoted by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization – have spread around the world and are now used on more than 6 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, Hillel has impacted the lives of millions.

He will be formally presented the prize at ceremony Oct. 18 in Des Moines

"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. 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. 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."

The June 12 announcement was hosted at the U.S. State Department by Kerri-Ann Jones, Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, and also included Jonathan Shrier, the State Department's Acting Special Representative for Global Food Security.

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

World Food Prize was created in 1987 by former Iowa farm boy, Norman Borlaug

Daniel Hillel's full biography, photos and more information are available at www.worldfoodprize.org/laureate. Video clips from the June 12 announcement are available at www.stateondemand.state.gov.

The World Food Prize was created in 1987 by Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Norman Borlaug, who grew up on a farm in northeast Iowa and went on to become a crop scientist and is recognized as the Father of the Green Revolution. The World Food Prize 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., a Des Moines business leader and philanthropist. Continuing his father's legacy, Iowa businessman John Ruan III now serves as chairman of the World Food Prize organization. A selection committee of experts from around the world oversees the nomination and selection process for the award each year. The panel is currently chaired by Prof. M.S. Swaminathan, who was also the first World Food Prize Laureate.

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, Ghana, India, Mexico, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United Nations and the United States.