Faculty Profile: Professor Rattan Lal

Professor Rattan Lal, Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science, School of Environmental and Natural Resources, and Director of the CFAES Dr. Rattan Lal Carbon Management and Sequestration Center (C-MASC),  will change your mindset when it comes to food security and indeed life on earth. That’s how big his reconceptualization of soil is; it’s a total paradigm shift from taken-for-granted ideas about farming and agriculture. He looks at soil as the all-encompassing organism of life on Earth, and soils as a being either “alive” or “dead.” In Dr. Lal’s words, “Soil biota is the bio-engine of the Earth” (2019 Japan Prize Presentation). “Soil biota” is a reference to the life-support elements of the soil, naturally occurring carbon, minerals, other nutrients, and the microorganisms which exist there. His specialty is carbon sequestration, but his expertise goes far beyond the carbon aspect of soil research. Water, an important part of this “living soil” equation, remains central to the question of food security, his area of expertise. Soil health and organic carbon stock are necessary protections of our water resources (2019 Japan Prize Presentation).  According to Lal, fertile and productive soil is essential to the food and water security that humanity and indeed all life on earth require.  

image of professor lal

Professor Lal, Laureate of the GCHERA World Agriculture Prize (2018), Glinka World Soil Prize (2018), the Japan Prize (2019), and the U.S. Awasthi IFFCO Prize (2019), and the World Food Prize (2020), speaks around the world on matters relating to the environment and food security.  He is acquainted with nearly every type of environment and local climate and how agricultural practices adapt to diverse circumstances. He spoke at the U.N. Climate Summit in Morocco in 2016 and 2019 (pictured below), in Spain in 2019, and in Bonn, Germany in 2018. He presented Distinguished Service Medals to the Minister of Agriculture of Morocco in 2019, to the Minister of Environment of Germany in 2018, and to the Minister of Agriculture of France in 2017. Professor Lal remains very generous with his time, however. Especially when it comes to educators, Professor Lal makes every effort to free himself up to give a lecture and converse with interested teachers at every level and in every discipline. He spoke to teachers in our Global Seminar on agriculture last summer on the critical role of soil in saving our atmosphere, protecting the living things on Earth, and how humanity can ensure food security into the future.   

image of Professor Lal at the Climate Summit in Morocco

Professor Lal at the Climate Summit in Morocco

Professor Lal’s most recent award, the World Food Prize, recognizes scientists who have made strides in securing the world’s food supply. Currently, 2 billion are food-insecure. As Lal says,”2 billion people are coming to dinner. How are we going to feed them?” His work on soil and defining agricultural practices based on both science and practical approaches revolutionize our ability to maintain soil health while also producing abundant crops. His perspective on soil and what he calls “the Rights of Soil” considers an array of farming practices, both high-tech and traditional, that respect the soil’s need to be consistently replenished after crops have withdrawn carbon and nutrients. Because the soil can’t merely grow plants, it must grow plants that are full of the vitamins and minerals our bodies need to thrive.  

Professor Lal’s global vision for food security is comprehensive and translates science into action (2018).  If farmers around the world adopt the practice of planting cover crops, or crops planted to revitalize the soil, it could have major positive impacts on climate change, water resource management, and food security. You can hear him explain this idea in his own words below in the 2-minute video, “translating Science into Action.”  We invite you to watch additional videos we link to below which explain his vision more detail, in addition to some key articles that address our most urgent global issues, including an article he wrote on COVID-19 pandemic and what it’s teaching us about climate and environment (Lal, 2020b). Agriculture is a key culprit in the global water crisis, as it uses up 70% of freshwater worldwide (Ritchie, 2017). At the same time, it also is a major contributor to climate change (Lal, 2018), especially when the aforementioned extractive processes are used to grow crops. Yet, humanity needs agriculture for its food and therefore its survival, a terrible conundrum we face as a species. Yet, there is hope, Lal states that all farmers would have to give up is 10 percent of their crop yield if they implemented sustainable practices (2018).  

Sources:

Rattan Lal: Translating Science into Action | CFAES. (2018). Retrieved January 14, 2021, from https://cfaes.osu.edu/news/videos/rattan-lal-translating-science-action

Dr. Rattan Lal Gives 2019 Summer Commencement Address. (2019). https://cmasc.osu.edu/news/dr-rattan-lal-gives-2019-summer-commencement-address

Lal, R. (2004). Soil carbon sequestration impacts on global climate change and food security. Science. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1097396

Lal, R. (2013). Soil and Sanskriti. Journal of the Indian Society of Soil Science, 61(4). https://www.indianjournals.com/ijor.aspx?target=ijor:jisss&volume=61&issue=4&article=editorial

LAL, R. (2015). The soil–peace nexus: Our common future. Soil Science and Plant Nutrition, 61(4), 566–578. https://doi.org/10.1080/00380768.2015.1065166

Lal, R. (2019). 2019 Japan Prize Commemorative Lecture: Prof. Rattan Lal. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEpCv9BwEWc

Lal, R. (2020a). Soil Matters. https://u.osu.edu/globalteacherseminar/resource-guide-middle-east/

Lal, R. (2020b). Soil Science Beyond COVID-19. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation.

Lal, R. (2020c). Where Does our Food Come From? It’s the Soil Stupid.

Lal, R. (2020d). World Food Prize Digital Dialogue: Live with the Laureate. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYVYvWv2S1w

Semantic Scholar Link. (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2020, from https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Soil-carbon-sequestration-impacts-on-global-climate-Lal/9151910efb402f695ec52f006c5628fb29791d49

Hannah Ritchie (2017) – “Water Use and Stress”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/water-use-stress

 

Teaching Water: Resources and Approaches

Our annual teacher seminar is going on this week and the theme this year is the environment. The Middle East Studies Center conducted sessions on water scarcity in the afternoon yesterday. Dr. Faisal Rifai, Executive Director of the Euphrates Tigris Initiative for Cooperation (ETIC), retired Professor of Hydraulic Engineering, Aleppo University, focused on the role of water in the Middle East in his presentation. and resources for translating the information into the classroom.  Dr. Melinda McClimans, Assistant Director of the Middle East Studies Center, presented resources for translating the information into the classroom and facilitated a discussion session which are now available on this page.  Teachers valued the image of Karacaöen Reservoir below for challenging students’ stereotypes about the Middle East’s climate.

 

The Karacaöen Reservoir in the Taurus mountains of Turkey. Image of Karacaöen Reservoir. Duesentrieb 17 November 2006. CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikimedia Commons

The Karacaöen Reservoir in the Taurus mountains of Turkey.
Image of Karacaöen Reservoir.
Duesentrieb 17 November 2006. CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikimedia Commons

Social Studies Classroom Ideas

Image of items shared by teachers

Science Classroom Ideas

Image of items shared by teachers

Language Classroom Ideas

Outcomes of the Water Forum

We hosted a water forum for OSU faculty on February 8th with the goal of building community and developing a more clear identity in regard to water research. What happened: three groups formed and discussed the question “What would it look like if OSU was the premier scholar community focused on water security studies, advocacy, and world-wide change?” The keynote’s vision for water security and the SDGs were frequent touch points in these discussions. One group proposed a shift in focus to “water justice” rather than “water security,”emphasizing the social dimension with critical analyses of who benefits from water research and water management projects.
The human dimension of water research is central to the goals of our “Global Water Contexts” project. This forum and subsequent discussions have motivated us to more fully consider the human experience of water through the humanities. The value of community building with local community members is another part of this.  From a global standpoint, water is a part of advocating for a global perspective at Ohio State, inclusive of multiple cultural perspectives. We discussed outcomes in terms of both curriculum and potentials for our research and outreach orientations at OSU. Some next steps for the Middle East Studies Center and our partners at OSU include:
  • Addressing education/translation needs by identifying the key “units of study” (Taba, 1999) for water research at OSU, and explicitly communicating how we conceptualize water research.
  • Accounting for water justice in our educational and science translation work.
  • Working with stakeholders on campus to serve OSU’s water research marketing and communications needs – clarifying our strengths.
  • Community building as part of water research, both internally and in connection with outside stakeholders.
  • Developing a fund-raising plan
Many of the above are interrelated as we seek to “tell the story of water research at OSU” as one of the participants stated. By telling this story more effectively we will be able to engage potential students, faculty hires, and numerous partners who wish to support our water research goals. Since the forum, my group has continued to discuss a vision for water research communities at OSU and we have reached out to key stakeholders on campus and beyond.  So, I will continue to post updates here on this web site – if you have any comments or relevant information please do not hesitate to get in contact.

What is “Strategic Doing?” An explanation of how we will be facilitating the break-outs

When I shared the final forum agenda yesterday I got a few questions about the break-outs we have scheduled in the morning.  The framing question for the breakouts is “What would it look like if OSU was the premier scholar community for water security studies, advocacy, and world-wide change?” Each table will explore diverse assets individuals could tap into for collaborative conversation and research. An asset could be mental or physical; for example, a knowledge base, a technical skill, access to a research facility, or a pedagogical tool.

You might consider ahead of time what assets you would be comfortable sharing on Friday, and what other assets might benefit from what you offer, or might benefit your research.  We hope your tables will come up with compelling questions that fill a gap in local/global water research, while also building upon our own strengths here at OSU. You also might simply brainstorm ways we can solve each other’s practical and logistical problems, or the types of grants or conference papers which would lead to more substantive projects.

The pedagogical assets are of particular value because, as educators we can all relate to this need in the classroom. Likewise, an essential part of interdisciplinary research is making your research lenses explicit in your own mind before sharing them with others – just as you do with your students.  I invite you to think about analytical lenses you are using right now in your research; e.g., “remote sensing,” “algae detection,” “land use,” “practitioner perspectives,” “gender,” etc.

For more information, check out the format for the break-outs which follows Purdue’s “Strategic Doing” methodology.

Image of an Oasis in Israeli Desert

Blueprint Negev trees in the Israeli desert. by David Shankbone, CC.2.0 Source: Flickr

Keynote to Present a Vision for Future Water Security

I am very pleased to announce the keynote speaker for our upcoming water research forum will be Vanesa Rodríguez Osuna, Senior Scientist at CUNY Advanced Science Research Center, and Project Director at sequa gGmbH.  She will present a vision for the future of water security that she and her colleagues developed at the request of the UN’s High Level Panel on Water. She will break down some of the key challenges scientists and water management practitioners face if we are to go beyond the grey-green dichotomy of water management. This vision shows how this is necessary if we are to solve the world’s water crisis.

Image of the Shatt al Arab marsh area of the Tigris, Iraq

A view of Shatt Al-Arab from the northern part of Basra city. The building in the middle is in Sindibad Island. The palm trees further left from that are on the opposite side of the river in Al-Jibasi area.
by Aziz1005 [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

image of Mosul Dam

Water pours from a water way at the Mosul hydro-electric Dam water levels are higher than usual due to snow melting on May 14., 2003. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Brendan Stephens) (Released)

Water Security Starts with Clear Information

It’s essential that we do a better job protecting the minute fraction of drinkable water on planet earth and begin focusing on water renewal (See this 5-minute video: Are We Running Out of Water?). Regardless of which region, we need as accurate a view as possible of where the freshwater is, what its properties are, and what obstacles may be blocking access to it. Vorosmarty et al. (2018) observed that current environmental surveillance systems are “fragmentary” and require “guesswork” (p. 318, Box 1. “A vision for water security”).
Map of Global Freshwater

Total renewable freshwater resources of the world, in mm/yr ( 1 mm is equivalent to 1 l of water per m²) (long-term average for the years 1961-1990). Resolution is 0.5° longitude x 0.5° latitude (equivalent to 55 km x 55 km at the equator). Computed by the global freshwater model WaterGAP. Petra Döll – uploaded by Hpdoell [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

What information is needed to make the picture of global water resources more complete? OSU researchers are making breakthroughs on environmental sensing via satellites, for example, but there must be other pieces of the puzzle. The authors of this vision also suggest that “a skilled practitioner workforce. . . which can rapidly assimilate new knowledge from the water sciences and convert it into practical solutions” is also necessary.
These two perspectives on water knowledge: bird’s eye (or, rather, satellite’s eye), and on-the-ground contextual, are what we seek to bridge during our water research forum on February 8th. Join us! Register here.

The central focus of the forum is a Water Security Vision for the future which entails: “The ever accelerating environmental and societal challenges of the rapidly developing world, particularly in the water sector, are today routinely met with novel solutions that have moved beyond the typical and unitary focus on engineering-based approaches of the past to embrace blended grey-green approaches to water management.” Vorosmarty et al (2018, p. 318). These approaches will require skilled workforces and knowledge sharing for local water management practices around the world.

Realism and Hope: Integrating local perspectives into conversations on how to solve the water crisis

According to Vorosmarty et al. (2010), “nearly 80% of the world’s population is exposed to high levels of threat to water security.” I learned from Danny Wright, CEO of Gravity Water, however, that more people are affected by water cleanliness issues than water scarcity issues because more of the world’s population lives in tropical climates (global map below) with plenty of precipitation. By integrating local perspectives into conversations on how to solve the water crisis, perhaps a more realistic direction may be found for overcoming the global water crisis.

Looking at water through the lens of war (Klare, 2002), the Middle East is the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” for water resource conflict with numerous cross-border tensions surrounding the Nile River and Euphrates Tigris river basins. Yet, at the same time, extraordinary cross-border cooperation in the region makes the Middle East a source for hope.

Our goal is to provide a framework for these conversations which will draw in multiple scientific, scholarly, and regional perspectives.  You can see the diversity of regional water circumstances from the map below – each region bring different knowledge-bases based on their environmental circumstance which could inform cultural and/or technological solutions.

 

Global Map of Biomes

Image credit: GRIDA, authors, Philippe Rekacewicz assisted by Cecile Marin, Agnes Stienne, Guilio Frigieri, Riccardo Pravettoni, Laura Margueritte and Marion Lecoquierre.

Could the Middle East hold the answers to the global water crisis?

The Marib Dam in Yemen is case study in the complicated relationships between engineering, civilization, and tradition.  The original dam was “built in about 115BC irrigated thousands of acres of agricultural land and made Marib rich agriculturally. . . In the 1980s, Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s Founding Father, offered to fund a new dam” (1). The new dam encountered unintended consequences (2), such as posing a drowning hazard for locals (2), permanently damaging traditional irrigation structures (2), and becoming both a casualty (2) and an instrument of war (1).


Ancient Dam of Marib, Yemen (University_of_Calgery, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Yemen’s traditional means for water-efficient agriculture was a system of irrigation which would maximize the monsoon rains. Channels would be dug to capture some of the torrential waters flowing in the wadis.  The water pressure would cause the water to penetrate deep into the soil and avoid excessive evaporation and desalinization.

Tiered systems of irrigation are another traditional means of irrigation in Yemen which can be traced back to the Queen of Sheba’s dam pictured above. Unfortunately the roads and other construction necessary to build the new Marib dam permanently damaged these delicate, hand-made structures (2).

We posit the Middle East may hold important keys for addressing the world’s water resource management issues. These are the main reasons:

We will explore these topics in future posts. We will also explore this question at our faculty research forum on water contexts of the Middle East and the rest of the world. Please join us on Feb. 8th.

 

image of Mosul Dam

Water pours from a water way at the Mosul hydro-electric Dam water levels are higher than usual due to snow melting on May 14., 2003. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Brendan Stephens) (Released)

Image of an Oasis in Israeli Desert

Blueprint Negev trees in the Israeli desert. by David Shankbone, CC.2.0 Source: Flickr

Image of Water Fall

Kayseri Falls, Turkey, By Doron CC-BY-SA-3.0 from Wikimedia Commons

Citations:

Source 1: https://www.thenational.ae/world/the-dam-that-sheikh-zayed-built-1.128295
Source 2: Hehmeyer, 2015. “Hydraulic engineering and water management under harsh conditions: Past and present, lessons from Yemen

Research on Global Water Contexts – Join the Forum on February 8th

We are seeking to build a research community which will draw upon multiple perspectives on water resource management issues and the role of culture.   So far we have faculty from School of Environment and Natural Resources, Anthropology, the Library, and others, registered for the forum on February 8th.  A paradigm shift is needed if we are to solve the most pernicious water issues of our time, as well as prevent the impending disasters resulting from climate change, desertification and pollution. Ensuring justice for all communities affected by water issues is also a key to solving these issues, as industry often turns a blind eye where profit is concerned.  The new paradigm we are proposing is human-centered, and taps into local funds of knowledge for practical and technological solutions. Solutions could draw from local traditions for water conservation in addition to the latest break-through technologies. Please contact us if you would like any further information.
Image of Topkapi tile

Topkapi Tile

The forum will familiarize you with current research interests at OSU and will entail a facilitated discussion session in order to spark projects and identify avenues for support and funding. We will also provide lunch to those who register. We are currently seeking an exciting keynote, as well, and could use your input. We will pose the following question to spark thinking at the forum:
  • What if the Middle East had the capacity to solve the global water crisis?
Please complete this survey to let us know what you are hoping to get out of the forum.  We would also like your input on our goals and and insight you might have from your students as to potential interest in courses and their desire for real-world relevance in their studies.
We would like to thank our partners: the Discovery Themes, the Global Water Institute, the Office of Research, the Mershon Center for International Security Studies, International Programs in Agriculture, and the Middle East Studies Library.

Conversations on Water Research at OSU to Continue

We will convene a water research forum on February 8, 2019 to gather faculty input and facilitate networking between faculty in numerous disciplines focused on water. Please RSVP.

There is a water crisis of global proportions, with 1.1 billion people lack access to clean water world-wide.  Six thousand children are dying per day due to that, and 80% of disease can be attributed to a lack of clean water (Water Ambassadors, Canada).  At OSU, the Middle East Studies Center, the Mershon Center, International Programs in Agriculture, and the Office of Research in the College of Arts and Sciences, have facilitated conversations between faculty of many different departments focusing on water. We will continue these activities by hosting annual forums on water research with a focus on topics such as transboundary conflict/cooperation.

Image of Water Fall

Kayseri Falls, Turkey, By Doron CC-BY-SA-3.0 from Wikimedia Commons

With over 250 scholars researching water resource issues at OSU, including 4 of our Middle East faculty (Lal, Marquaire, McCorriston, Ranjbar), OSU has the potential to produce knowledge which could make an impact on various local water issues around the world.  The cross-sections of social justice movements, environmental activism and water resource management issues make this a particularly salient topic for the Middle East. We have therefore made it a priority to facilitate cross-disciplinary research connections at OSU on this topic, and to curate water research.

We propose activities to draw new faculty from the sciences, technology, engineering and math, to focus on our world area, and partner with faculty from other departments for a multi-disciplinary approach. This is in line with our university’s efforts to develop knowledge relate to broad themes such as sustainability, health, and food, via “Discovery Themes,” the curricular rubric at OSU for promoting multidisciplinary research relevant to global issues.  The Office of Research will facilitate a charrette in the first year to gather stakeholder input. We will design subsequent forums based on faculty needs and interests and publish proceedings.