Washington: Eminent Indian-American soil scientist Dr Rattan Lal, who won the prestigious World Food Prize 2020, has called for the immediate stopping of burning of crop residue in India, saying taking everything away from the land is not good as there is a law of return.

Lal, 75, was on Thursday named the recipient of the USD 250,000 World Food Prize, considered to be equivalent to a Nobel Prize for agriculture, in recognition of his contribution to increase the global food supply by helping small farmers improve their soil's health.

In his career spanning more than five decades and four continents, Lal has promoted innovative soil-saving techniques benefiting the livelihoods of more than 500 million small farmers, the World Food Prize Foundation, which is based in Iowa, said in a statement.

His work has also improved the food and nutritional security of more than two billion people and saved hundreds of millions of hectares of natural tropical ecosystems, it said.

The foundation said that Lal, a native of India and citizen of the US, will receive the 2020 World Food Prize for developing and mainstreaming a soil-centric approach to increasing food production that restores and conserves natural resources and mitigates climate change.

Lal, a Distinguished Professor in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at the Ohio State University, said that he would donate the USD 250,000 award money for future soil research and education.

Soil science has been recognised by this award. I feel very happy about it, he told PTI after the announcement. The eminent soil scientist called for the immediate stopping of burning of crop residue in states like Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.

Taking everything away from land is not good for land. There is a law of return. Whatever you take from the earth, you must return it back, he said.

Stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana is a major cause of air pollution not only in the two states but also in Delhi, the national capital. The two states annually generate 220 lakh tonne and 65 lakh tonne of paddy stubble, respectively.

Lal said that organic matter content in the surface layer should be between two and three per cent. But soil in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi, Central India and Southern parts contain maybe 0.5 per cent or maybe 0.2 per cent.

They are severely depleted, degraded. Consequently, not only that the productivity is low, yields are low, but also the use efficiency of inputs, like fertilizer irrigation varieties, is also low. When crops are grown on an unhealthy soil, the quality of the food, nutritional quality is also poor.

When health of soil is degraded, the health of people is also degraded. I think it's very important for India and other developing countries to really pay attention to restoring the health of the soil, he said. Brick-making, which is fast depleting soil, is another major concern for Lal.

India should have a soil protection policy, he said, adding that certain parts of agricultural land cannot be taken out for brick making. He also called for rewarding farmers who help in protecting the soil by not burning crops, more use of compost and manure.

Soil protection policy is important. We should have a regular soil health assessment report every five years at the national level. How is soil changing and we should protect agricultural land against other usage patterns like urbanisation, brick making, he said, adding that fertilizer is not a good substitute for crop management.

Stating that the crop yields in India are about half of that in China and even lesser than that of the United States, Lal noted that there appears to be no reason for that.

We should have a crop yield as good as any country. The health of our soil is poor. We have given a lot of emphasis on varieties. Varieties are important. (But) one cannot do anything if the soil is poor. That is a part which we must recognise.

I think Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi can do quite a lot on that part, improving soil health and (launch a) soil health movement, he said.

Lal said the award is especially important because the first recipient of this prestigious award in 1987 was Indian agricultural scientist Dr M S Swaminathan, the father of India's Green Revolution.

In a country like India, he said, soil is prone to degradation because of harsh climate and other factors.

So, this award to a soil scientist highlights the importance of restoring and managing soil health. We need to give more attention to Dharti Mata (mother earth). Our shastras and puranas also indicated that we must pay respect to Dharti Mata. So, this award means a lot to me, Dr Lal said.

Dr Lal's stellar work on management and conservation of agriculture's most cherished natural resource, the soil, set him apart, said Gebisa Ejeta, chair of the World Food Prize Selection Committee and 2009 recipient of the award.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lauded Lal's research in soil science, saying he is helping millions of small farmers around the world with his work on increasing food production and recycling of nutrients.

The world's population continues to grow and we need to use the resources we have more productively, and efficiently to make sure everyone has enough food on their table, Pompeo said.

US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the scientific innovations, like those developed by Lal, embody the US Department of Agriculture's motto of to do right and feed everyone.

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Washington, Mar 4: US Vice President Kamala Harris has called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza for at least the next six weeks, as she called on the Israeli government to "do more" to increase the flow of aid in the war-ravaged enclave.

Harris made the ceasefire call on Sunday during a speech in Selma, Alabama, to commemorate the 59th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the annual remembrance of the landmark civil rights movement.

"The threat Hamas poses to the people of Israel must be eliminated, and given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate ceasefire for at least the next six weeks, which is what is currently on the table," Harris, 59, said.

"This will get the hostages out and get a significant amount of aid. This would allow us to build something more enduring to ensure Israel is more secure and to respect the right of the Palestinian people to dignity, freedom, and self-determination," the Indian-American leader said amidst applause from the audience.

"Hamas claims it wants a ceasefire. Well, there is a deal on the table. And as we have said, Hamas needs to agree to that deal. Let's get a ceasefire. Let's reunite the hostages with their families. And let's provide immediate relief to the people of Gaza," Harris, a Democrat, said.

Meanwhile, Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal immediately welcomed the call.

"The Vice President has called for an immediate ceasefire and urgent aid into Gaza. This is the first time this language has been used by the administration. It is important. Now let's back it up with a policy shift," said the 58-year-old Democratic lawmaker.

Addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Harris said, "What we are seeing every day in Gaza is devastating. We have seen reports of families eating leaves or animal feed, women giving birth to malnourished babies with little or no medical care, and children dying from malnutrition and dehydration."

Asserting that too many innocent Palestinians have been killed, she said, "Just a few days ago, we saw hungry, desperate people approach aid trucks, simply trying to secure food for their families after weeks of nearly no aid reaching Northern Gaza."

"And they were met with gunfire and chaos. Our hearts break for the victims of that horrific tragedy and for all the innocent people in Gaza who are suffering from what is clearly a humanitarian catastrophe," Harris said amidst applause from the audience.

"People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane. And our common humanity compels us to act. As President Joe Biden said on Friday, the United States is committed to urgently get more lifesaving assistance to innocent Palestinians in need," she said.

"Yesterday, the Department of Defence carried out its first airdrop of humanitarian assistance, and the United States will continue these airdrops. And we will work on a new route by sea to deliver aid," she said.

"And the Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses. They must open new border crossings. They must not impose any unnecessary restrictions on the delivery of aid. They must ensure humanitarian personnel, sites, and convoys are not targeted. And they must work to restore basic services and promote order in Gaza so more food, water, and fuel can reach those in need," Harris said.

At the same time, Harris said that Israel has a right to defend itself. "And President Joe Biden and I are unwavering in our commitment to Israel's security," she said.

A day earlier, the Central Command and the Royal Jordanian Air Force conducted a combined humanitarian assistance airdrop into Gaza between 3:00 and 5:00 pm to provide essential relief to civilians affected by the ongoing conflict.

Various C-130 aircraft dropped 38,000 meals along the Gaza coastline, allowing civilian access to critical assistance.

"And those locations were chosen specifically as areas where we thought people would be able to best access the aid. There were 66 total bundles, 22 on each aircraft, which were dropped into Gaza to help alleviate the intense hunger and desperate situation there," a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call.