Daily Israel Report

Israeli Scientist Named World Food Prize Winner

Dr. Daniel Hillel, an Israeli-American scientist who created an innovative irrigation method, named winner of the 2012 World Food Prize.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 6/13/2012, 4:16 AM

Irrigation in southern Israel
Irrigation in southern Israel
Flash 90

Dr. Daniel Hillel, an Israeli-American scientist who created an innovative way of bringing water to crops in arid regions, was named on Tuesday the winner of the 2012 World Food Prize.

Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation, announced the name of the recipient, who will be presented with the $250,000 award in October.

“This year we honor Dr. Daniel Hillel, a scientist from Israel, for his pioneering work in the Middle East that revolutionized food production in that region and around the world,” Quinn said in a statement. “Dr. Hillel laid the foundation for maximizing efficient water usage in agriculture through a method known as micro-irrigation, which has impacted millions of lives.”

Quinn emphasized the importance not only of Dr. Hillel's scientific achievement but also his dedication to working with people across borders, to help improve food security for all.

“Confronting hunger can bring diverse people together across even the broadest political, ethnic, religious or diplomatic differences,” Quinn said, adding, “Dr. Hillel's work and motivation has been to bridge such divisions and to promote peace and understanding in the Middle East by advancing a breakthrough achievement addressing a problem that so many countries share in common: water scarcity.”

Quinn noted that “It is significant that Dr. Hillel's nomination for the World Food Prize contained letters of support from individuals and organizations in Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.”

Dr. Hillel said on Tuesday that while he is pleased to be receiving the award, the urgent work of providing water and food for humanity is by no means finished.

“My joy and gratitude at being granted the World Food Prize this year is tempered by the realization that the work this award recognizes is far from complete,” he said.

“The task of improving the sustainable management of the Earth's finite and vulnerable soil, water, and energy resources for the benefit of humanity while sustaining the natural biotic community and its overall environmental integrity is an ongoing and increasingly urgent challenge for our generation and for future generations. Meeting this challenge will require enhanced global cooperation and integrated scientific research.”

A native of Los Angeles, California, Dr. Hillel moved at an early age to Israel. He spent part of his childhood in the Jezreel and Jordan Valleys, where he acquired a lifelong interest in agriculture and ecology.

In 1951, after earning a master's degree in earth sciences at Rutgers University in New Jersey, he went to Israel to help in the young state's development. He took part in surveying the country's land and water resources and was a founding member of Sde Boker in the Negev.

His research has led to a shift from what was then the prevailing method of irrigation. The new methods conceived and developed by Dr. Hillel applied water in small but continuous amounts directly to plant roots, cutting the amount of water needed to nourish crops, maintaining their consistent health and resulting in higher crop yields to feed more people.