Lal emphasized the need for high-level political willpower in order to drive the transformation of global agrifood systems, a science-based process in which farmers are considered to be central players and in which agriculture is seen as a fundamental part of the solution to climate change.
San José, 29 August 2022 (IICA). Rattan Lal, the world’s top soil scientist and 2020 World Food Prize laureate, urged the agricultural and environmental authorities of the Americas and the rest of the world to work to ensure that agriculture is recognized as a respectable and vital profession for the planet’s food and nutrition security and that farmers “have access to innovative technology, that credit is available and that attention services are good enough to help them transfer the knowledge that exists into action”.
Lal directs the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center (C-MASC) at The Ohio State University and is also Goodwill Ambassador of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), a position from which he will lead, along with IICA’s Director General, Manuel Otero, the dialogue and consensus–building process with the countries of the Americas ahead of the Conference of the Parties (COP27) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to be held in Egypt in November.
In an interview with IICA, Lal emphasized the need for high-level political willpower in order to drive the transformation of global agrifood systems, a science-based process in which farmers are considered to be central players and in which agriculture is seen as a fundamental part of the solution to climate change.
“Science is available. Yes, we do need more science, but whatever is available is not being translated into action. That requires political willpower […] to translate science into action through policies that are pro-agriculture, pro-farmer and pro-nature”, affirmed Lal, who was named by his colleagues as the world’s most productive and influential scientist in the field of agriculture and agronomy in 2021.
The dialogue and consensus-building process among the American nations leading up to COP27 will involve the Ministers and Secretaries of Agriculture and will be facilitated by IICA, which has organized an event for September 22-23 in Costa Rica.
Reaching a hemispheric consensus on this topic is key as it is expected that agriculture will play a leading role at COP27 in November due to its importance in ensuring food security on a planet with an ever-growing population that must find a way to produce more sustainably, resiliently, inclusively and efficiently.
The Conference of the Parties or COP is an annual meeting of the parties to the UNFCCC—almost every country in the world—at which they present their positions and progress made in terms of controlling greenhouse gas emissions and reducing the negative effects of human action on the climate.
IICA, as a promotor of collective action, played a central role last year in facilitating the consensus of the Americas ahead of the United Nations Food Systems Summit, held in New York in September. The Americas was the only continent at the forum that stood as a single region with a converging position, which put agriculture and farmers at the forefront as guarantors of the planet’s food and nutrition security.
Soil’s “divine” power
Rattan Lal and IICA jointly coordinate the Living Soils of the Americas initiative, currently implemented in Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Chile, El Salvador, Paraguay and Uruguay, with the support Bayer, Syngenta and PepsiCo.
Why is soil important when it comes to reducing emissions? Lal has a clear answer: “One example is that land has soil and it has to be treated like a bank account. You cannot keep taking things out of a bank without depositing things into it. […] It follows the law of return, which says anything you take from soil, you must return to the same place you have taken. If you do not return, soil gets depleted. Soils of Africa, like soils in the Caribbean, in some of the Central American countries, in the Andean region, the soils in South Asia have been depleted, because we take out more than we put back in”.
“This is about education and this is where the farmers have to be helped. […] When farmers are suffering and miserable and desperate, they pass their sufferings to the land. And soil reciprocates with poor yield, with poor quality food, with polluted food and that affects the health of the people. We have to make sure that the people understand that the health of soil, plants, animals, people, the environment and the planet is one and indivisible. This continuity, this connectivity must be respected. This is where we work with farmers, with policy-makers, with the private sector so that we are all in this together”, said Lal.
For Lal, soil is of extreme global importance. “Soil is a living entity. When soil is dead, it cannot produce. Dead soil is dirt. A living soil is the only site in the universe where the roots interlace, which has a divine power, if I can put it that way, (…) to resurrect death into life”.
His vision is holistic: “If soil is a living entity, does it have rights like any other living thing has? In my opinion, it must. Simply because you own it does not mean that you can do anything with it. That you can dump chemicals as you wish; flood it as you like; plow it how and when you want. No, there is life in it and we must be respectful of that life”, expressed the scientist.
On the road to COP27, the IICA Goodwill Ambassador and Chair in Soil Science underpinned that the tropical agriculture of the Americas can be an example for the world on how science is key to producing sustainably. He compared the Brazilian Cerrado (a savanna-like ecosystem located in the heart of the country) to opportunities for African agriculture.
“I saw Cerrado in 1975 and it was no different than Africa today. See what has happened with education, with the investment in agriculture, with the respectability of the farming profession. Obviously, more needs to be done, but at the moment, agriculture in Cerrado is better than in the United States. Over a 25-year period, it has become the largest exporter of food. Africa has the same potential”, he commented.
Who is he?
Name: Rattan Lal
Director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center (C-MASC) at The Ohio State University; member of the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development (BIFAD); and USAID advisor on agriculture and higher education related to food insecurity in developing countries.
2020 World Food Prize laureate and 2007 Nobel Peace Prize co-laureate as part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Goodwill Ambassador and Chair in Soil Science of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).
Recognized in 2021 as the world’s most productive and influential scientist in the field of agriculture and agronomy in a study conducted by Stanford University researchers and published in PLOS Biology.
Listen to the full interview here.
Institutional Communication Division.