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Can soil save us?

GLF Live with Rattan Lal

The question – if soil can “save us” from the disastrous climate trajectory we’ve gotten ourselves on – might sound a bit hyperbolic. But consider yourself one step ahead if you stop to give it some thought. While the search continues for all manner of natural and technological ways to sequester carbon released into the atmosphere, we seem to have forgotten just how much can be stored in the ground beneath or feet. Soil holds an estimated 2,500 gigatons of carbon, which is more than all carbon in the atmosphere and in plants combined. And, scientists believe it could sequester billions more tons of carbon annually with the adoption of more sustainable agricultural and land-use practices.

From food to water to emissions, the transformative powers of soil – a single tablespoon of which can hold more microbes than all people on Earth – are so abundant that it seems self-evident soil will have a heyday in political and scientific attention. It’s just a matter of when. And so, in this GLF Live, we heard from one of the foremost soil scientists and 2020 World Food Prize recipient Rattan Lal on why soil has gone so long overlooked and how we can start to urgently tap into all the benefits it can bring.

Dr. Rattan Lal is a distinguished university professor of Soil Science and director of the CFAES Rattan Lal Center for Carbon Management and Sequestration at Ohio State University, as well as an adjunct professor of University of Iceland and the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), India. He has authored or co-authored over 1,000 refereed journal articles and more than 550 book chapters, and he has written and edited or co-edited more than 100 books. He has received an Honoris Causa degree from nine universities throughout Europe, U.S. and Asia; the Medal of Honor from UIMP, Santander, Spain (2018); the Distinguished Service Medal of IUSS (2018); the World Food Prize (2020); and is a fellow of five professional societies. Dr. Lal received a B.S. from Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, India (1963); M.S. from Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, India (1965); and Ph.D. from Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio (1968). He served as a senior research fellow with the University of Sydney, Australia (1968-69), soil physicist at IITA, Ibadan, Nigeria (1970-87), and professor of soil science at OSU (1987 to date). Dr. Lal has mentored 115 graduate students and 182 visiting scholars from around the world. He has also served as president of the World Association of Soil and Water Conservation (1987-1990), International Soil and Tillage Research Organization (1988-1991), Soil Science Society of America (2006-2008), and the International Union of Soil Sciences (2017-2018). He is a chair in Soil Science and Goodwill Ambassador for Sustainability Issues for the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), and was a member of the 2021 United Nations Food Security Summit Science Committee and Action Tracks 1 & 3. Dr. Lal is a laureate of the GCHERA World Agriculture Prize (2018), Glinka World Soil Prize (2018), Japan Prize (2019), U.S. Awasthi IFFCO Prize (2019), Arrell Global Food Innovation Award (2020), World Food Prize (2020), and India’s Padma Shri Award (2021).


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