“The work of Israeli scientist and professor Daniel Hillel is boundless. His research has contributed not only to the state of Israel, but also to Arab countries and famine-struck countries — in effect, to every country suffering from a harsh climate.”
This is the wording of the statement the World Food Prize organization released yesterday, upon deciding to grant its $250,000 prize to Professor Hillel. Hillel, 81, was one of the founders of the drip irrigation method, and his research on improving the land use helped farmers all over the world produce many more yields from meager and arid soil.
“The scientific research he undertook helped hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, without them knowing that they owe their food to the work of this industrious and intelligent man,” said World Food Prize Foundation President Kenneth Quinn. He said that among those who recommended granting Hillel the prestigious price were many scientists from the Arab world, including from Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, all of whom were aware of his contribution to the field.
Hillel, a native of Los Angeles, came to Israel as a child and returned to the United States to study science and water engineering. He returned to Israel in 1951. One year later, he established along with a dozen friends the community of Sde Boker in the Negev desert.
“After a year, in 1953, we suddenly saw a command-car convoy, which included an official black car,” Prof. Hillel said Monday, June 11. “Suddenly the car reached us and stopped, and out came an old man with white hair blowing in the wind and a staccato voice, and barked at us, ‘What are you doing here?’ We understood we were looking at Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who decided to pay us a surprise visit. Ben-Gurion explained that he and his wife wanted to join the group. We were in shock. When Ben-Gurion saw what we had developed, and especially the intelligent use of water droppers through perforated pipes, which succeed in bringing water directly to the roots, he got very excited and asked me to share our research with countries in the world — so I did.”
Professor Hillel will receive the prize in a festive ceremony that will take place in Washington in October.