By DAVID PITT
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - An Israeli scientist who has reached across political and ethnic boundaries to help dozens of countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and South America improve agriculture with new methods of irrigation will receive the World Food Prize, the prize's foundation announced Tuesday.
Daniel Hillel, who is credited with developing drip irrigation methods that conserve water while allowing food to be grown in some of the world's driest climates, was named the winner of this year's $250,000 prize during a ceremony in Washington. He will officially receive the prize Oct. 18 during the annual World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines.
The system Hillel developed, called micro-irrigation, carries water through narrow plastic pipes to plants, where it drips or trickles onto the roots in a continuous way. It has revolutionized agricultural practices in more than 30 countries over the past 50 to 60 years, helping thousands of farmers, said World Food Prize Foundation President Kenneth Quinn, a former U.S. ambassador.
Quinn, in announcing the award, talked not only about Hillel's research but the fact that an Israeli found a way to work with leaders in Arab nations to improve food production.
Hillel's work significantly improved agriculture in Jordon and Egypt, Quinn said. He also worked in Palestinian communities adjacent to Israel, making friends and improving lives.
"He's able to reach across the intercultural gap with this agricultural achievement in order to address that problem that they have in common about how to lift people out of poverty and reduce hunger by working together," Quinn said. "In an area of the world and in lands where the divides _ whether they be ethnic, political, religious, or diplomatic _ seem so great, here is a man who by devoting his life to this peaceful development has sought to bridge those gaps."
Quinn noted several of the letters supporting Hillel's nomination for the prize came from individuals and institutions in Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who delivered the keynote address at the Washington ceremony, spoke of the importance of getting the most out of every drop of water. In many regions of the world, water is either too scarce or too unpredictable to sustain an American style of agriculture, she said.
"For 40 years, Dr. Hillel has worked to solve this problem by bringing his micro-irrigation techniques to the driest and least hospitable growing climates on earth, from Israel to Pakistan to Sudan," she said. "Today, farmers using micro-irrigation produce high-yield, nutritious crops on more than 6 million hectares worldwide. Dr. Hillel's work will become even more important as we grapple with how to feed the world's growing population."
Hillel told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Israel that managing natural resources, respecting ecosystems, and living in an environmentally sustainable manner transcends boundaries.
"I'm a great believer in international cooperation and I've devoted much of my career to it," he said. "I believe in peace. I'm a passionate believer in peace rather than rivalry, enmity and destruction."
Hillel, 81, was born in Los Angeles, but after his father died, he moved at age 1 in 1931 with his family to Palestine, a part of which became the state of Israel in 1948.
At age 9, he was sent to live in a rural, communal settlement known as a kibbutz, where he learned farming practices and gained a respect for the land and preservation of resources. After earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in the United States, he returned to Israel in 1951 and joined the Ministry of Agriculture, where he helped create the first map of the country's soil and water resources.
Within a year, however, he joined a group of settlers who were dedicated to creating a viable agricultural community in the Negev Desert highlands in southern Israel, where water was scarce. Working with those farmers, who were willing to set aside tradition and experiment with new methods, allowed him to develop and refine his ideas on micro-irrigation, he said.
For thousands of years in the Middle East, irrigation involved diverting large quantities of water from rivers, trapping it in basins and using it to soak farmland. The soil would then gradually dry out. It was an inefficient method of growing crops, Hillel said.
The availability of inexpensive, small plastic pipes after World War II created the possibility of moving water to crops in a more continuous fashion. The pipes could be perforated to allow water to drip from small holes down to the roots of plants, Hillel said. In time, fertilizer was added to the water.