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Irrigation Pioneer Wins World Food Prize

Irrigation pioneer Daniel Hillel checks his orchards near his home in Israel
Irrigation pioneer Daniel Hillel checks his orchards near his home in Israel

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From VOA Learning English, this is the Agriculture Report in Special English.

A researcher who helped make crops grow in dry land areas received the World Food Prize last week. Daniel Hillel was recognized for his work in developing what is called “micro-irrigation” or “drip irrigation.” It has made farming possible in places where there is little rainfall or water.

Daniel Hillel’s farm near his home in Israel shows his ideas at work.

“Each tree row is fed by these plastic tubes that drip water at the base of the tree.”

Watering plants drop by drop has changed agriculture by reducing the amount of water needed to grow crops.

Jan Hopmans is a hydrologist at the University of California at Davis. He studies water-related issues in society. He says farmers now depend on drip irrigation in many areas, including vineyards in Spain, onion fields in Africa, and even farms in the United States.

“We in California grow about fifty percent of the fruits and vegetables of the continental United States. And the reason that is possible is because of, indeed, these drip and micro-irrigation techniques.”

The World Food Prize Foundation says Daniel Hillel was born in California at the beginning of the Great Depression. After his father died, his mother moved the family to Palestine, where her parents lived. The area eventually became part of the state of Israel.

Daniel Hillel got his start in dryland farming as a settler in Israel’s Negev Desert in the nineteen fifties.

“The issue was efficient use of water. Because land is available. It’s extensive. Water is limited.”

Desert farmers were not able to push water through irrigation canals to their crops, the way farmers have since ancient times. So Mr. Hillel and others gave plants just what they needed, just where they needed it.

“The idea was to apply the water little by little, the way you spoon-feed a baby.”

The method worked so well that soon Mr. Hillel was traveling the world, showing others how to do it.

Experts say drip irrigation is an idea whose importance is growing, as climate change and rising population stretch water supplies in many parts of the world.

“This is where water use, water availability, water-use efficiency and climate change and crop production all converge. And this has been really the essence of my career.”

Contributing: Steve Baragona