The 2012 World Food Prize was awarded to Dr. Daniel Hillel for conceiving and implementing “micro-irrigation”, a new mode of bringing water to crops in arid and dry land regions. His scientific work was able to revolutionise food production, first in the Middle East, and then in other regions around the world. His work laid the foundation for maximizing efficient water usage in agriculture, increasing crop yields, and minimizing environmental degradation.
First drawn to the critical needs of the water supply when living in the Negev Desert, the new approach Dr. Hillel developed provided for a low-volume, high-frequency, calibrated water supply to plants, which applied water in small but continuous amounts directly to the plant roots, with dramatic results in plant production and water conservation.
The development and promotion of better land and water management demonstrated that farmers no longer needed to depend on the soil’s ability to store water. Dr. Hillel proved that plants grown in continuously moist soil, achieved through micro-irrigation, produced higher yields than plants grown under the old flooding or sprinkler irrigation methods. The new technology Dr. Hillel advanced has improved the quality of life and livelihoods throughout the Middle East and around the world.
Daniel Hillel’s first posting upon returning to the nascent state of Israel in 1951 was with the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture, where he took part in the first mapping of the country’s soil and irrigation resources. He soon left the Ministry to join a group of idealistic settlers dedicated to creating a viable agricultural community in the Negev Desert highlands by nurturing the region’s meager but vital resources.
In 1956 , Hillel was sent by Ben Gurion on goodwill missions to promote sustainable agricultural techniques in Burma. What followed was a long list of similar missions around the world, working for and with international agencies and organizations such as the World Bank, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, to promote water-use efficiency in Africa, Asia, and South America.
Dr. Hillel has also worked with the International Food Policy Research Institute and the International Development Research Center of Canada. He is currently a Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Climate Systems Research, part of the Earth Institute of Columbia University, and is working on the adaptation of agriculture to climate change in association with NASA/Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
He has written over 20 books on soil and water science; and published more than 300 scientific papers, research reports, and practical manuals, on healthy agro-ecosystems. His achievements have been and will continue to be essential to extending the Green Revolution, and confronting the many global challenges in fighting hunger and poverty.
Dr. Hillel’s water management concepts has been promoted by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization as HELPFUL (High-frequency, Efficient, Low-volume, Partial-area, Farm-unit, Low-cost), and have spread from Israel to Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas. The irrigation technology implemented by HELPFUL is now used to produce high-yielding, nutritious food on more than six million hectares worldwide.