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Israeli Scientist Wins World Food Prize

Able to Leap over Intercultural Gaps and Quench the Thirst of Arid Lands

Leaping over cultural, religious and political boundaries; lifting people from hunger all over the world; fostering peace and international cooperation. A scientist, not a super hero, achieved amazing feats by helping some of the most arid and barren lands in the world to flourish. These lands, in over 30 countries, have been able to use his methods of irrigation so that thousands of farmers produce crops on more than 6 million acres of land.

Announced as this year’s winner of the World Food Prize at a ceremony in Washington, was Israeli Scientist and Professor Daniel Hillel.

This prize gives recognition to “individuals who have contributed landmark achievements in increasing the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. “ He received this prize for his work in micro-irrigation as well as his accomplishment in reaching over cultural boundaries in solving global issues. It is not only a prize given in a new area of achievement, but also a new recognition for Israel.

Hillel has used his agricultural achievement to peacefully develop international cooperation in order to address the problems of sustainable environmental living, natural resources and ecosystems. “I’m a committed believer in international cooperation, and I’ve devoted much of my career to it. I believe in peace. I’m a passionate believer in peace rather that rivalry, enmity and destruction,” Hillel said.

Hillel, born in Los Angeles and now 81, moved to Palestine when he was a year old in 1931. He lived on a kibbutz in the Jezebel Valley as a child and it was there, as a boy that his fascination with land and plants began. The survival of plants in tough conditions intrigued him and his introduction to agriculture began. After being educated in the US, Hillel returned to Israel in 1951 working for the Ministry of Agriculture. Before the year’s end he joined an agricultural community in southern Israel where there was little water and as he worked with farmers there in the Negev Desert highlands, his micro-irrigation ideas developed. In 1956 his international career began after being sent to Burma to develop its region in the northeast.

In 1957 Hillel earned his PhD at the Hebrew University in soil physics and ecology while beginning his concept for the process of low-volume high-frequency irrigation. This process would allow control and the distribution of smaller amounts of water as well as the addition of fertilizer to the system to meet the needs of the plants. Prior to this irrigation had been done by large volumes of water that would periodically flood the plants.

Hillel was not alone in developing this method and others actually took and commercialized it. He, however, purposefully did not in order to preserve his academic independence and reputation. Where he was most active  in this methodology arena is in spreading its technique to so many countries around the world. World Bank, UN Food and many other agencies worked with Hillel to aid countries facing famine due to water shortage to make small amounts of water into a crop growing water supply.

Hillel was furthered praised for the relationships he built with countries such as Sudan, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and the Palestinian Authority through the sharing of his agricultural technologies. A man who was overwhelmed to be honored with the World Food Prize, Hillel noted that it was all a “collective effort” and was grateful for the recognition.

Having brought life saving water to so many people around the world is indeed a feat of great magnitude by a man of peace, integrity and humility. Linking so many countries as they work together to solve this common problem now and in the future is an ongoing testimony of Hillel’s contribution to the world. To the millions of people around the globe who have food to eat because they can water their crops, he most certainly must be a like a hero.