Daniel Hillel is an Israeli water and soil scientist. Hillel's development of micro-irrigation techniques has dramatically improved agricultural output and water efficiency in the Negev desert of Israel, across the Middle East, and in chronically dry regions around the world. Throughout his career, Hillel has used science to bridge cultural and religious divides and improve livelihoods in over 30 countries, including Pakistan, Sudan, Iran, Egypt, Jordan, and Cyprus. Most recently, he has been researching ways to adjust agricultural techniques in adaptation to increasing water shortages resulting from climate change. In 2012, he won the World Food Prize. He is currently working as a senior research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies at the The Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York.
Daniel Hillel was born in 1930 in Los Angeles, California. His family immigrated to Palestine in 1931. At the age of 9, he was sent to live on a kibbutz and grew up in a farming environment. In 1951, after earning a BA and MA at American universities, he returned to Israel and worked for the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture. He received his doctorate in soil physics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Hillel was a founding member of the Sde Boker kibbutz in the Negev desert, where he worked as a surveyor. It was at Sde Boker that Hillel met then-Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, who retired from his office to live at the new settlement with his wife, Paula.
For a time in the 1950s Hillel served as the head of the Soil and Water Institute of Israel's Agricultural Research Service, and he later consulted with governmental agencies in various countries. During his career Dr. Hillel has served as a professor at Hebrew University, the University of Massachusetts, and Columbia University. He has also worked with international organizations such as the World Bank, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the United States Agency for International Development, and theInternational Atomic Energy Agency.
Hillel received the Chancellor's Medal for exemplary service at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1982, a Doctorate of Science honnoris causa from Guelph University of Canada in 1992, and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship and grant in 1993.
In June 2012, it was announced that Hillel would be awarded the 2012 World Food Prize at the annual Borlaug Dialogue international symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, on October 18, 2012. The announcement ceremony, held at the U.S. State Department, was presided over by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who said about Hillel's work:
Dr. Hillel's work will become even more important as we grapple with how to feed the world's growing population…And according to the latest FAO estimates, the world will need to produce 60 percent more food than we do today to feed everyone. In that same time, the demand for water to grow food will rise by almost 20 percent. But our water supply is finite. So if we're going to strengthen food security, we have to get more out of each drop.