Berkeley agricultural expert wins prestigious 2002 World Food Prize

By Sarah Yang, Public Affairs


prof. sanchez

Professor Pedro Sanchez has spearheaded programs to fight hunger by helping small farmers utilize inexpensive natural resources.
Photo courtesy of Pedro Sanchez

15 August 2002 |

Pedro Sanchez, a pioneer in the field of tropical soils and agroforestry at Berkeley, is the 2002 winner of the World Food Prize. The award, announced Aug. 11 by the World Food Prize Foundation, is the highest international honor bestowed upon an individual for achievements in improving the world’s food supply and reducing hunger.

Sanchez, 61, a visiting professor of tropical resources at Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, has led seminal work over the past three decades to turn once-infertile soil into productive farmland. His methods for restoring soil fertility using naturally available resources have dramatically increased crop yields for hundreds of thousands of small farmers from Brazil to Africa.

“He is doing more than increasing crop yields; he is transforming the lives of African farmers who can now feed their families and become self-sufficient because of the programs he has developed,” said Kenneth Quinn, former U.S. ambassador to Cambodia and president of the World Food Prize Foundation. “His work perfectly embodies the spirit of the World Food Prize.”

Sanchez will receive $250,000 as part of the award in a ceremony scheduled for Oct. 24 in Des Moines, Iowa, where the foundation is based. The prize was established in 1986 by Norman Borlaug, winner of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize, for his work in world agriculture.

In addition to his position as visiting professor, Sanchez is a senior research fellow at Berkeley’s Center for Sustainable Resource Develop-ment and chair of the United Nations Task Force on Hunger. Before coming to Berkeley in January, Sanchez spent 10 years as director general of the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry, now known as the World Agroforestry Centre.

While at the Kenya-based center, Sanchez spearheaded innovative programs that helped small farmers utilize inexpensive, natural resources instead of very costly fertilizers to return nutrients to depleted soil.

By planting native leguminous trees with the crops or mixing rock phosphates into the soil, nearly 150,000 farmers in Africa were able to increase crop yields two to four times over.

“What’s unique about Pedro is that he is more than just a great scientist; he is skilled in developing policy and building an institutional framework that takes the research into the real world,” says Agriculture and Resource Economics Professor David Zilberman, co-director of Berkeley’s Center for Sustainable Resources. “He combines the best qualities of a scientist, a policymaker, and a leader.”

A native of Cuba, Sanchez grew up with a love of agriculture. His father owned a farm and a fertilizer business.

“My father’s love for the soil played a large role in my decision to devote my efforts to solving the world’s food problems,” says Sanchez. Over the decades, through his research, he has seen the devastating effects of hunger in developing nations.

“I’m impatient to get hunger over with,” says Sanchez. “There’s no room for complacency when you see kids who are malnourished and, as a result, more susceptible to diseases.”

“We are most fortunate to have Pedro Sanchez based at Berkeley and the College of Natural Resources,” says Paul Ludden, incoming dean of the college. “He is a passionate advocate for the use of science to address the problem of hunger in the world and has dedicated his whole career to this effort.”

A widely published scientific author, Sanchez holds numerous honors, among them the International Soil Science Award, presented by the Soil Science Society of America, and the International Service in Agronomy Award, presented by the American Society of Agronomy.

He also has an honorary doctorate from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. One of the honors he treasures most is being named a Luo Elder in 2001 by the Luo community of western Kenya, in recognition of his work eliminating hunger from many villages in the region.

His work has earned him the admiration of his peers at Berkeley. “All the people who have won the World Food Prize are people who made a difference,” says Zilberman. “It’s a select group, and Pedro belongs among them.”

Sanchez is the second academic from Berkeley to win the award. The late Ray Smith, professor emeritus in the Division of Insect Biology at the College of Natural Resources, was co-winner of the World Food Prize in 1997 for his work in the field of integrated pest management.

Information about the 2002 World Food Prize, including a statement by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, is available at


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