News Archive

posted 10/16/02

2002 World Food Prize Laureate Joins Earth Institute

Pedro Sanchez, recipient of the 2002 World Food Prize, is joining the Earth Institute at Columbia University as Director of Tropical Agriculture. The Earth Institute is the world's pioneer academic center for mobilizing the sciences and public policy to build a sustainable future, especially for the world's poor.

Sanchez will receive the Prize October 24, 2002, United Nations Day (, at a ceremony at Iowa State University (

"Pedro Sanchez will make an enormous contribution to the Earth Institute through his distinguished research and place-based experience," said Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute. "In helping UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan reduce by half the number of malnourished people who do not know where their next meal is coming from, Dr. Sanchez demonstrates his devotion to enhancing sustainability, especially for the poor."

Professor Sanchez is noted for his path-breaking contributions to reducing hunger and malnutrition in the developing world by transforming depleted tropical soils into productive agricultural fields. Agroforestry, the practice of planting trees in crop fields to improve nitrogen-fixing in crops, has provided nearly 150,000 farmers in Africa with a way to fertilize their soils inexpensively and naturally, raising many out of hunger.

Sanchez will serve several areas within the Earth Institute. At the International Research Institute for Climate Prediction (IRI) he will advance the use of climate information for sustainable agriculture, particularly rain-fed agriculture. At the Biosphere 2, Dr. Sanchez's expertise will be tapped to make the laboratory an optimal research tool. He continues as Chair of the Task Force on Hunger for the UN Millennium Development Goals, directed by Jeff Sachs in Sachs' role as special advisor to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The Task Force's mandate is none less than devising an implementation plan to cut hunger in half by 2015. Now, 800 million people suffer from malnutrition. "Kofi Annan's goal is doable," said Sanchez. "We have the key technologies and know the needed policies to reducing hunger already. What we need is a realistic implementation strategy that combines the political will of the national governments with science, the civil society, the private sector, and the work of UN agencies."

Now a Visiting Professor of Tropical Resources at the University of California, Berkeley, Sanchez has spent much of his career in the tropics. From 1991 to 2001 he served as Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Nairobi, Kenya, with research in 20 countries of Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia. He is also Professor Emeritus of Soil Science and Forestry at North Carolina State University, where he led a project that helped Peru become self-sufficient in rice in only five years, and helped Brazilian scientists to turn over 70 million acres of infertile savanna soils in the Cerrado region into the breadbasket of South America.

He has also pioneered alternatives to slash and burn agriculture at the margins of the tropical rainforests. He is a fellow of the American Society of Agronomy and the Soil Science Society of America, received decorations by the governments of Colombia and Peru, holds an honorary doctorate from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, and was anointed a Luo Elder by farming communities in Western Kenya. Dr. Sanchez received his B.S. in Agronomy and M.S. and Ph.D. in Soil Science from Cornell University. A citizen of the United States, he was born in Cuba, the son of an agronomist.

Cheryl Palm to Join Earth Institute
Joining Sanchez is Cheryl Palm, who will serve as Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Environmental Conservation and Research (CERC), working in the field of tropical agriculture and furthering some of its new research initiatives such as ecosystems, species and disease, biogeography and conservation, and other market-based mechanisms for biodiversity conservation. Dr. Palm will also work with Dr. Sanchez on Earth Institute-wide activities related to tropical agriculture, climate change and the environment. She will also work on soil and agriculture research at the Biosphere 2 Center.

Currently, a Visiting Scholar the University of California, Berkeley, Palm was Senior Scientific Officer at the Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Program in Nairobi, Kenya from 1991 to 2001, and is currently an Honorary Senior Research Fellow with the TSBF Institute of CIAT, the Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical. Her research in Africa applied soil ecology and nutrient cycling concepts to more efficient management of scarce nutrients on smallholder farms, and produced the first practical, quantitative guide for managing organic inputs that estimate their 'fertilizer equivalency values'. Palm has worked throughout the humid tropics, leading the climate change research team of the Alternatives to Slash and Burn Program in Cameroon, Peru, Brazil, and Indonesia, and investigating the tradeoffs between the environment and agricultural production at the humid forest margins. Previously, she has held positions at the Natural Resources Ecology Lab at Colorado State University, the Tropical Soils Program at North Carolina State University, and the Ecosystems Center at Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Dr. Palm received a B.S. and a M.S. in Zoology from the University of California, Davis and a Ph.D. in Soil Science from North Carolina State University.