Pedro Sanchez attributes the roots of his life’s work in soil sciences to the fact that he always liked to “play with dirt.” That boyhood pastime was nurtured by the fact that his family owned a fertilizer blending business in Cuba, and it eventually led Sanchez to become a world-renowned soil scientist. He is now the director of the Earth Institute’s Tropical Agriculture and Rural Environment Program and a senior research scholar. After his undergraduate education in soil sciences at Cornell University, where he took some particularly influential seminars on starvation in India, Sanchez headed to the Philippines as a graduate student in tropical soils, becoming what he calls “a foot soldier in the Green Revolution,” working on rice.
Sanchez hopes that what he saw happen in the Green Revolution in Asia in the 1970s can now happen in Africa. Sanchez, who served as director general of the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, from 1991 to 2001, and as co-chair of the UN Millennium Project Hunger Task Force, is committed to making Africa “get out of hunger” in the next 10 to 20 years. It is happening, Sanchez says. You only need to look at Malawi, a country where Sanchez has served as an advisor. “Five years ago Malawi was 43 percent dependent on food aid, and because of political will, Malawi has doubled its yield in the past two years, and food prices remain low.”
Sanchez, who also directs the African Soils Information Service (AfSIS), which is developing a digital soils map of the world, received his B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in soil science from Cornell University. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Society of Agronomy, the Soil Science Society of America, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He serves on the Board of Agriculture and Natural Resources of the National Academy of Sciences. Sanchez has received honorary Doctor of Science degrees from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium; the University of Guelph, Canada; and Ohio State University, USA. He is professor emeritus of soil science and forestry at North Carolina State University. He has received decorations from the governments of Colombia and Peru, and was anointed Luo Elder with the name of Odera Akang’o by the Luo community of Western Kenya. Sanchez is the 2002 World Food Prize laureate and a 2004 MacArthur Fellow.