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Saving Millions of Lives through Sustainable Agriculture

Hans Rudolf Herren is truly inspiring. He is a Swiss agronomist who has won recognition through several awards, including the prize considered to be the alternative Nobel Prize, the “Right Livelihood Award 2013”.

Herren is one of the world’s leading experts in sustainable agriculture and is credited with saving the lives of 20 million people.

SWISS REVIEW magazine in its December 2013 issue asks Herren: There is a book entitled: “How Hans Rudolf Herren Saved the Lives of 20 Million People”. How did you save millions of lives?

Herren’s answer: “I would firstly like to point out that I didn’t achieve that on my own. Working with a team, I was able to combat an insect that threatened cassava, the staple food of 200 million people in Africa. The insect, the mealybug, first appeared in the Congo in 1974. It quickly spread across Africa and had reached Senegal, in the far west of the continent, after three years and had appeared in Maputo in Mozambique within another two years. The cassava fields affected were completely destroyed within a year. Chemical treatment across almost the entire continent was not an option and we knew that the cultivation of a resistant plant would take at least ten years, so we looked for a biological method.”

SWISS REVIEW: How did you go about that?

Herren: “We quickly established that the mealybug had been introduced from other regions of the world and had no natural enemies in Africa. So we focused on identifying where the mealybug had come from. First of all, we found a “cousin” in Surinam. We then pinpointed five regions between Mexico and Paraguay. There we eventually found a field containing mealybugs, albeit in very small numbers because natural enemies existed in this region. We transported species that could potentially act as control agents to a quarantine unit in the UK and tested them on cassava plants from Africa. After six months or so it emerged that one of these species, the ichneumon wasp, was an efficient control agent that reproduced easily and was well suited to the environment. We bred the ichneumon wasp in large numbers and dropped them from aeroplanes over the infected regions in Africa. The problem was resolved within a year and a half.”

Herren is a pioneer in combating pests by natural means. In 1998 he established the Biovision foundation for eco-friendly development. It aims to “sustainably improve the lives of people in Africa and to sustain nature as the basis of all life.” It is based in Zurich.

 

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