Pedro A. Sanchez

Dr. Pedro A. Sanchez is an internationally known expert on managing tropical soils for increased food production while conserving the environment. Sanchez is senior research scholar and director of the Agriculture and Food Security Center at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

Sanchez is the 2002 World Food Prize laureate and a 2004 MacArthur Fellow. He attributes the roots of his life’s work in soil science to the fact that he always liked to “play with dirt.” That boyhood pastime was nurtured by the fact that his family owned a diversified farm, the distributorship of Chilean nitrates in Cuba and a fertilizer blending plant, and it eventually led Sanchez to become a world-renowned soil scientist. He earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in soil science from Cornell University.

After his undergraduate education at Cornell University, where he took 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 is pleased that what he saw happen in the Green Revolution in Asia in the 1970s is beginning to happen in Africa. He served as director general of the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, from 1991 to 2001, as co-chair of the United Nations Millennium Project Hunger Task Force from 2002 to 2005 and as director of the Millennium Villages Project from 2004 to 2010. He is committed to making Africa “get out of hunger” in the next 10 to 20 years.

Sanchez is professor emeritus of soil science and forestry at NC State. A faculty member from 1968 to 1991, he served as the first professor of tropical soils and led the Tropical Soils Research Program. He has lived in the Philippines, Peru, Colombia and Kenya, and supervised research programs in more than 25 countries in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa. Sanchez has written groundbreaking books on tropical soil science and hunger. He has received honorary degrees and decorations from universities and governments. He was anointed chief by the Luo in western Kenya with the name of Odera Akang’o, and by the Ikaram of southern Nigeria with the name of Atunluse.

At Sanchez’s induction into the National Academy of Sciences in 2012, NAS president Ralph Cicerone summarized his contributions: “Sanchez has led path-breaking research on soil management for improved food production in the tropical world. His work has influenced research in agronomy, ecology, and changed the way technology is used to increase food production.”