“My dream is for food security worries to be something of the past.”
Portrait by Brianne Lehan and Lyon Duong/UF Photography. Artwork: "Oscar" from the series Terrain, 2012, by Jackie Nickerson, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
Research professor of tropical soil science, UF/IFAS
This World Food Prize Laureate works to reduce hunger while protecting the environment.
What keeps you going?
Sanchez led a team that tripled rice yields in Peru in the 1970s and has been instrumental in boosting corn yields in sub-Saharan Africa, which have nearly doubled since 2005. Farmers in more than 20 countries use the soil-improvement strategies he helped develop. “When a farmer comes to me and says, ‘Because of what you have taught us, my family is no longer hungry and I have my dignity restored’ — wow. That’s more important than all the honors I’ve gotten,” he says.
What concerns you about global food security?
“Political unrest. Under peaceful situations, farmers in Africa are doing a lot better.”
How do you stay optimistic?
“I see the results of our efforts. I never did any of these things alone. Most of the time I led a group of people and when I saw it was taking off, I drew back and let others do the leading. Now I see my students or colleagues rising into high places and taking over.”
What role do land-grant universities play?
“They’re essential in linking world food security and environmental sustainability. This university and the other land-grants know how to grow crops or livestock or trees in ways that have very little negative effect on the environment and get high yields in the process. What would happen if we didn’t have them?”
What impact to you hope to have in the long term?
“My hope is that in 20 years, we can say, ‘Remember when we were worried about food security in the world? Remember when nutrition was a concern? Remember when agriculture was damaging the environment?’ My dream would be that in most countries, this will be something of the past.”
Read more about Sanchez's journey in this column by Jack Payne, UF's senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
This is part of a series highlighting people at the University of Florida working to protect our well-being and the health of the planet, paired with works from the Harn Museum of Art exhibition “The World to Come: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene.” See more at ufl.to/theworldtocome.