News Archive

posted 10/05/03

Earth Institute's Pedro Sanchez Receives MacArthur Foundation 'Genius Award'

Dr. Pedro Sanchez, Director of Tropical Agriculture at the Earth Institute. Photo by Bruce Gilbert.

Pedro Sanchez, director of tropical agriculture at the Earth Institute and 2002 World Food Prize recipient, has been named a MacArthur Fellow for 2004.

As the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation celebrates its 25th year of grantmaking, Sanchez is one of 24 people to receive this honor, also known as a “Genius Award.” He will receive $500,000 over the next five years to be used in an area of his choosing. Since its inception in 1981, 659 people, ranging in age from 18 to 82, have received the award.

“For over two decades the MacArthur Fellows Program has been at the core of the Foundation’s efforts to recognize and support individuals who inspire us,” said Jonathan F. Fanton, president of the MacArthur Foundation. “The new MacArthur Fellows illustrate the Foundation’s conviction that talented individuals, free to follow their insights and instincts, will make a difference in shaping the future.”

“I am extremely honored to have been named a MacArthur Fellow, and will work doubly hard to research every avenue, expend every effort, and develop every mean to alleviate global hunger,” said Sanchez.

Sanchez is a soil scientist whose practical and economical solutions to problems in land productivity in developing countries have established him as a leader in world agriculture. The practice of planting trees in crop fields to improve nitrogen-fixing in crops – agroforestry -- has provided nearly 250,000 farmers in Africa with a way to fertilize their soils inexpensively and naturally. The improved crop yield subsequently raised many out of hunger.

In addition to his work on tropical agriculture at the Earth Institute, Sanchez advances the use of climate information for sustainable agriculture, particularly rain-fed agriculture at the International Research Institute for Climate Prediction (IRI).

Sanchez continues as co-chair of the task force on hunger for the UN Millennium Development Goals, directed by Jeffrey Sachs in his role as special advisor to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Working in conjunction with the Earth Institute, the Millennium Development Project’s mandate is to cut hunger rates in half by 2015. Ultimately, the UN-backed Initiative will strive to eradicate extreme global poverty, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and ensure environmental stability by 2015.

“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,” said Sachs, Earth Institute director.

In March 2003, Sanchez served as a member of an Earth Institute delegation to Uganda that met with President Museveni. The mission resulted in a Declaration of Intent with the Ugandan Government for the Earth Institute to conduct cross-disciplinary, multi-sectoral, collaborative scientific and technological research, development and education on the City of Kampala and its hinterland, including Lake Victoria Basin. While in Uganda, Sanchez spoke about strategies for improving agricultural production to an audience of more than 300 policymakers.

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 production in only five years, and helped Brazilian scientists turn more than 70 million acres of infertile savanna soils in the Cerrado region into the breadbasket of South America.

He pioneered the use of leguminous trees to augment soil nitrogen content naturally in regions of east and southern Africa; when supplemented by phosphate fertilization obtained from local sources, crop yields increase from 200 to 400 percent. This trial project virtually eliminated reliance on costly imported chemical fertilizers for 250,000 subsistence farmers.

Pedro Sanchez (right) on site in Kenya with Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs. Photo credit: Lisa Dreier

The World Agroforestry Centre plans to extend Sanchez’s model with the objective of reaching many millions of people over the next decade. This program is particularly important in sub-Saharan Africa, where people are severely vulnerable to malnutrition and starvation.

Sanchez is the author of “Properties and Management of Soils of the Tropics,” as well as numerous scholarly articles and policy analyses. 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 for his work eliminating hunger from many villages in the region.

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.

Sanchez joins 19 other Columbians who have been named MacArthur Fellows over the past two decades, more recently including: Caroline Walker Bynum, Barbara Fields, Edward Hirsch, Richard Howard, Sherry Ortner, Kara Walker and Patricia Williams.

For more information on the work of Pedro Sanchez, please visit our other Earth Institute links:

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is among the world’s leading academic centers for the integrated study of Earth, its environment, and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines—earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences—and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through its research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world’s poor.