From Afghanistan to Cambodia, all throughout the lower Himalayas, extreme weather conditions are becoming the norm. A century ago, the hills were covered in forest. Now they are barren because of population growth, agricultural expansion and demand for firewood and timber.
Deforestation and landscape degradation mean that monsoons bring severe floods and the dry season brings drought, a challenge that curtails agricultural production, said soil expert Rattan Lal, who received the 2020 World Food Prize in a virtual ceremony broadcast from the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Thursday.
“Of course there’s no water, because the previous water all washed away,” Lal said during a telephone interview with Forests News. “The solution is to reforest the hills back to what they were a hundred to 150 years ago — that requires commitment and cooperation among the countries where the watersheds are divided.”
Reforestation in the Himalayas will not stop drought-flood syndrome overnight, but it will stop in 25 to 30 years, in a generation. “It’s not a luxury, it’s required,” said Lal, who began innovating soil restoration techniques, which led to his influential “soil-centric” vision, in the 1990s at Ohio State University (OSU), where he currently serves as distinguished professor of soil science.
He advocates reforesting any land with more than a 5 to 7 percent slope to help with watershed management, climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Over five decades, and across four continents, Lal has honed his expertise in both policy matters and in soil science. The World Food Prize recognizes his work “developing and mainstreaming a soil-centric approach to increasing food production that restores and conserves natural resources and mitigates climate change.”
He is also lauded for the innovative conservation agriculture techniques he introduced, which have so far benefited the livelihoods of over 500 million smallholder farmers, improved the food and nutritional security of over 2 billion people and saved hundreds of millions of natural tropical ecosystems.
In a landmark research paper published in Science in 2004, Lal demonstrated that restoring degraded soils by increasing soil carbon and organic matter improves soil health, sequesters atmospheric carbon and offsets fossil fuel emissions.
He was recognized for his findings, which were adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, when in 2007 the U.N. body was named a joint recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. On Monday, Gore and Lal spoke at a virtual session titled “Translating Climate Science to Action” at the Borlaug Dialogue, a week-long conference held in conjunction with the World Food Prize each year.
“It’s an honor to be on the same program with Dr Rattan Lal,” Gore said. “He’s a longtime friend and a mentor to me.”
REMUNERATION FOR FARMERS
Lal says that farmers should receive…