For years Daniel Hillel has worked on an inspired new way to increase water availability to crops in countries with little rainfall. His revolutionary idea has helped to increase food yields around the Middle East and the world. Hillel was recently awarded the 2012 World Food Prize, a prestigious acknowledgment of his gift to crop yields around the world. Oceans 2003 offers kudos to Hillel for his important contribution to agriculture.
But first, a little back story on the award itself. The World Food Prize singles out the work of someone who has improved the quality or availability of food. The WFP was created in 1986 by Norman Borlaug who was a Nobel Prize winner for his development of new wheat varieties that could withstand a variety of conditions. Winners of the WFP have included former presidents, lawmakers and researchers from around the globe. Winners are also awarded $250,000 for their contribution to the world of food.
Mr. Hillel, who has both U.S. and Israeli citizenship, was first inspired to create micro-irrigation while residing in Israel’s Negev Desert. When Hillel first started working on the idea in the 1950s, people thought it was ridiculous. However, he believed that the traditional practice of irrigation was insufficient to maintain crop growth.
For centuries, farmers in the Middle East and in other dry areas of the world have flooded their land from time-to-time and then hoped that the soil would store moisture for the plants. However, Hillel believed that crops grew better with consistent water as opposed to an extreme fluctuation between wet and dry. Micro-irrigation was also the best way to use limited water because it lessened waste like runoff and evaporation.
While the technology is now in use world wide, Israel was the perfect area to introduce the new technique. Many of the first arrivals in the new country were novices when it came to farming so they were amenable to a new way of doing things. Also, the invention of weather-resistant plastic helped to advance the cause of micro-irrigation.
So, although only 20% of Israel is naturally arable, because of drip-irrigation the country produces 95% of its own food. Israel also produces over 40 types of fruits and vegetables and is one of the world’s largest exporters of citrus fruits.
Daniel Hillel, who is now partially retired, will use the World Food Prize winnings to travel, continue to more research, and write.