The ‘Basler Zeitung’ of 16th October 1995 carried as its main headline: „Valais scientist receives the World Food Prize.“ It was the very first time that this renowned prize was awarded to a Swiss person.
Herren, who earned his PhD from ETH Zürich with his work on organic control of the larch bud moth in Engadine, was honoured with the prize due to his success in combating the cassava mealybug, a pest rampant in all of Africa, with wasps and ladybirds- a chemical-free method which incurred no costs to farmers.
In this way Herren prevented mass famine. But the Cassava Project was just the beginning for Hans Rudolf Herren and his team. At the Institute for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi, which Herren presided over as Director General until 2005, subsequent intensive research was undertaken to find new methods to control pests that infest plants, destroy crops, kill animals and spread hunger and disease.
Hans Rudolf Herren began his work in Africa in 1979 at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria, after completing his postdoctorate in agricultural science and entomology at Berkeley University, California. He was employed at the IITA until 1994, where as Director he mounted one of the largest programmes in organic pest control ever realised. He documented the groundbreaking successes which later led to the World Food Prize. Herren left his mark on the IITA not only in a scientific respect; he was also responsible for management, thus he formed a Department for Plant Health and brought about large-scale reorganisation. He used this experience from 1994 onwards to develop the Institute for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) into a world-leading centre of excellence - particularly in the area of malaria mosquito control.
With the award money from the World Food Prize, Hans Rudolf Herren created the Biovision Foundation. For his efforts to improve nutrition and the basis to sustain life, he was awarded the German Brandenburg Prize in 2002, and in 2003 the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement. Since 2005 Herren has been president of the Millenium Institute in Washington (USA). Beside his engagement in different international committees for the support of the ecological and sustainable development Dr. Herren together with Prof. Judi Wakhungu, Kenya, leads the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development IAASTD, of which the report has been published in April 2008.
In 2013, Hans Rudolf Herren and his Biovision Foundation won the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize.
Africa remains an important region for action for this man from the Lower Valais. But in the meantime his focus is in Changing Course in Global Agriculture - towards an agro-ecological approach which will not only feed the people better and healthier, but will maintain biodiversity and will protect the environment as a whole. Even climate change can be slowed significantly with this approach. As President of the Millennium Institute (MI) in Washington, Hans Herren also supports governments in planning changes in their agricultural policies with systemic models developed by MI.