How a Swiss scientist saved 20 million people

by Isobel Leybold in Zurich,

Insect expert Hans Rudolf Herren’s work in tackling the devastating cassava mealybug crop pest in Africa saved millions of lives and won him the 1995 World Food Prize.

Herren, the subject of a new biography, tells how he managed to naturally control the bug using a method that involved shooting the insect’s natural enemy, a type of wasp, from aeroplanes across huge swathes of Africa.

The scientist was only 31 when he took a job in the middle of a crisis: the mealybug was decimating Africa’s staple crop, cassava. After ten years, his radical, non-chemical solution had turned the situation around and averted a famine. He is so far the only Swiss to receive the World Food Prize.

Herren has since continued his research into insects and natural pest control in plants, animals and humans.

In 1998 he set up the Zurich-based Biovision foundation with friends, using money from his various prizes, to promote sustainable organic agriculture in Africa. He is also president of the non-profit Millennium Institute in Washington, which promotes sustainable development.

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