Rattan Lal: “When diet is bad, medicine is useless”

For the first time, at the last COP27, an entire day was devoted to addressing food as a factor in combating climate change. That decision was promoted and celebrated by Rattan Lal, a soil scientist and Nobel Peace Prize winner. The director of the Ohio State University Carbon Sequestration and Management Center; member of the Board for International Food and Agriculture Development (BIFAD) ; and advisor on agriculture for the White House is in Chile to deliver his reflections on the health of the planet at the 12th Congreso Futuro.

Awarded the 2020 World Food Prize and co-awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize 2007 as part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Rattan Lal looks for opportunities and new challenges to reduce the deterioration of the ecosystem. This time, the scientist assures that one of the important points to attend to is agriculture and soil health as part of a single system. In an interview with Qué Pasa, the award-winning researcher provides the details of his position.

-How can good agricultural management be an answer to combat climate change?

Well, if the question is how can climate change be managed well, the answer is science-based agriculture. Agricultural technology and innovations can and must be the solution to the global environmental problems of the 21st century. Whether it is climate change, the quality and scarcity of water, the loss of biodiversity, soil degradation, denigration of the landscape, poverty and hunger. These are global problems and the solution to all these problems is good agriculture. In fact, the United Nations sustainable development goals depend on healthy soil and good agriculture.

-Should we change the way we eat? What types of food are the most harmful to the environment?

A very old scripture in Sanskrit says when the diet is correct, the Medicine is not necessary; and when the diet is bad, Medicine is useless. So a healthy diet is good medicine not only for people, but also for the planet. So it is very important that we are.

We are 8 billion people now and we are destined to become 10 billion by 2050. Diet can play a very important role. So it’s important to educate people, to say what a healthy diet is and how it can be produced from healthy soil and good agriculture. This is the concept of “one health”. The health of the soil, plants, animals, people, the environment and the planet is interconnected, one and indivisible.


-Should we eat less meat to combat climate change? Is vegetarianism an answer to this?

I don’t want this question to be controversial. We want to talk about healthy food, and healthy food means nutritious, which not only meets protein requirements but also micronutrients. So everything in moderation is a good idea, so if the animal food consists of fish, chicken, combined with legumes, with grains, I think it’s a healthy combination.

Excess of everything is bad. For example, even in the United States and in Ohio, where I live, obesity is a serious problem. 66% of people in Ohio are obese and this is a symptom of a poor diet. So I think that education about what a healthy diet is and what that diet consists of is a very important issue. So yes, a healthy diet can lead to healthy people and a healthy planet.

-The Fund for Damages and Losses agreed at the recent COP27 to consider the food problems of third world countries caused by climate change?

The last COP was the first one that dedicated a day to discussing food issues and how agriculture can be a solution for food and nutrition security, so I was very happy about that. I think now it’s a matter of translating that discussion into action. So when policymakers come home, they need to promote agricultural practices that are climate friendly, that are environmentally friendly, that produce a healthy diet that produce food that produces a healthy environment. That’s not just education, it’s also a process of translating science into action. Everyone saw that COP27 had placed a strong emphasis on agriculture, soil health and food security. That is a very good indication that we are making progress.

COP27. Photo: Reuters

-Is it possible to repair climate change if the main developed countries do not reduce their emission levels?

This is unfortunate. All countries must reduce their level of emissions as signed by the 2015 Paris Agreement. I believe that we have an obligation to the planet. There is only one planet and I think we have an obligation to that and to policy makers They should give it a very high priority. I would like to see a leadership that can implement the agreed policies. There are signs that policymakers around the world understand it, but sometimes have difficulty implementing it due to local politics.

But we should think about finding other sources of fuel. By hydro power, geo power, bio power, wind power and many other forms of power. Hydrogen as an energy source could be a very important component by 2030. In the meantime, we must make agriculture and land a major sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide, once again, through better policies through education. Through cooperation between the private sector, the public sector, academia and the general public with the farmer to implement science-based technologies.

-In your opinion, what should be the main objectives of the countries committed to the next COP28?

We want to again emphasize the importance of no carbon. We should all respect that goal and we should also try to make agriculture use land as a management solution. I would like to see more focus on food, on nutritional quality. I would like to see a day dedicated to food, as happened in Egypt.

I would also like to see a day or half day dedicated to food quality. Nutrition-sensitive agriculture and a healthy diet for people is a healthy diet for the planet.

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