Hans Herren / Biovision Foundation

(2013, Switzerland)

...for his expertise and pioneering work in promoting a safe, secure and sustainable global food supply.


The Swiss agronomist/entomologist Dr Hans R. Herren is one of the world’s leading experts on biological pest control and sustainable agriculture. When a new pest threatened the cassava root in Africa, he designed and implemented a successful biological control programme that has been credited with saving millions of lives. Later, Herren was the co-chair of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), endorsed by 59 countries. Today, Herren is helping farmers in Africa to combat hunger, poverty and disease through ecologically sound agriculture with his Swiss-based Biovision Foundation. With his theoretical and practical work, Herren has proven that an agriculture anchored in agro-ecological principles can nourish a world with a growing population and changing needs.

Contact Details

David Fritz, Head of Communications and Campaigns
Phone: +41-44-500 49 84
Cell Phone: +41-79-312 84 13




Hans R. Herren was born on 30 November 1947. As a child he experienced the negative impacts of introducing herbicides and pesticides on his father’s farm in Switzerland. He graduated in entomology from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zürich) and took a PhD in biological pest control in 1977 which was followed by two years of post-doctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley.

From 1979-94, Herren worked at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria, first as Director of its Biological Control Programme, then from 1992 as Director of its Plant Health Management Division. During this time, he worked on biological pest control programmes for the cassava mealy bug, cassava green mites and the mango mealy bug as well as integrated pest management programmes for other pests of cowpeas and maize. He also founded the Biological Control Centre for Africa in Cotonu, Benin.

From 1994-2005, Herren was Director-General of the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe). Under his leadership, the Centre developed the 4-H paradigm (the integration of Human, Animal, Plant and Environmental Health into a single framework for research and development), the Push-Pull method to fight the stem borer and the striga weed, which constitute a big threat to small-scale farmers growing maize in Africa. From 1994 to 2005 Herren was Editor-in-Chief of the international journal Insect Science and its Application. Herren is also a member of the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS).

Saving millions of lives with the world’s biggest biological pest-control programme

Cassava was imported to Africa from South America in the 16th century and is currently being grown in around 40 African countries. Up until the 1970s it had very few enemies or pests in Africa, evolving to one of the continent’s main staple crops, making up a great part of daily nutrition for about 200 million Africans. In the 1970s, however, the mealy bug was accidentally imported to the African continent and, as a pest of the cassava root, expanded rapidly across Africa, threatening the survival of millions of people. The spraying of pesticides, initiated by the affected governments, did not prove to be successful and if expanded across the continent would have had dire consequences both on people and the environment, while not providing a lasting solution to the problem.

Herren was hired by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), based in Nigeria, to develop an alternative approach. To this end, he developed the Africa-wide Biological Control Programme, built up an international coalition and secured the funding to fight the cassava mealy bug by natural means. With the help of this worldwide network, the natural enemy of the mealy bug, a parasitic wasp, was identified in Paraguay. After further research, Herren began rearing the wasp first under quarantine conditions while testing for safety and efficacy. Once it had been ascertained that the wasp would not turn itself into a problem for the African agro-ecosystem, he began one of the biggest release campaigns in human history. Some 1.6 million wasps were released between 1982 and 1993, from a specially equipped low-flying airplane as well as on the ground, in 24 countries in the cassava belt, from Senegal to Angola.

The programme re-created the natural balance between the mealy bug and its natural enemy, thus ensuring a sustainable and long-term solution of the mealy bug problem. It has been estimated by the World Food Prize that the programme saved the lives of 20 million people. According to Right Livelihood Award Laureate (1993) Vandana Shiva, “there has never been a programme with as high an impact on food and nutrition security in such a short, effective, socially and environmentally sound way”.

Co-Chairing the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)

In 2004, Herren became Co-Chair of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). Like the IPCC in the field of climate science, the IAASTD was an intergovernmental process, under the co-sponsorship of the FAO, GEF, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, the World Bank and WHO. It evaluated the relevance, quality and effectiveness of agricultural knowledge, science, and technology with respect to meeting development and sustainability goals of reducing hunger and poverty, improving nutrition, health and rural livelihoods, and facilitating social and environmental sustainability. The results were agreed by 400 scientists and endorsed by 59 governments at a plenary meeting in Johannesburg in 2008 and published in a report series “Agriculture at a Crossroads” in 2009.

The report emphasises the need for higher productivity and more equal distribution of agricultural products and recommends organic agriculture and agro-ecological practices as the way forward that will ensure the long-term productivity of the soil and a multifunctional agriculture. The report argues the urgency of putting this new paradigm in place without further delay and that ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option because the current agricultural systems, based on exploitation of non-renewable natural resources and external inputs, endanger global food production in the medium and long term. The report also emphasises the need to bring farmers, and in particular women, into the research and extension cycle.

However, ‘developed’ countries have since shown little willingness to implement the IAASTD report’s findings, which Herren attributes to the report’s critical position on trade liberalisation for agricultural products, and its doubts on the potential of genetic engineering to solve the key problems of hunger and poverty. The problem, says Herren, is “the vested interests of a few corporations and large farmers that work against the only sensible solutions”.

Even though the IAASTD secretariat has now been dissolved, Herren, together with his Biovision Foundation and an alliance of over 140 international NGOs, is advocating for the implementation of the report’s results – a subject on which he has given more than 250 speeches. Herren’s goal is that the FAO, with the support of the Committee on World Food Security (CSF), should get a mandate to implement the IAASTD findings. He lobbies for the establishment of a permanent body to regularly review agricultural science, knowledge and technology for development and aims to build up a strong alliance on the policy level pushing for sustainable agriculture.

Biovision Foundation

In 1998, Herren founded the Biovision Foundation for Ecological Development with the mission to combat hunger and poverty at their roots and to disseminate ecological methods that sustainably improve living conditions in Africa. Today, Biovision has almost thirty projects in Eastern Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda) and Switzerland. Its budget of around CHF 7 million is financed by over 35,000 donors: individuals, foundations, Swiss state bodies and businesses.

Biovision works on the ground in Eastern Africa to improve small-scale farmers’ livelihoods by transmitting scientifically-based knowledge and methods of ecological farming. At the core of these projects is the Farmer Communication Programme, which disseminates vital information to smallholders. It uses different channels such as a farmers’ newspaper (over 240,000 farmers reached), a radio show (up to four million listeners every week), an internet platform (www.infonet-biovision.org with over 30,000 hits a month) and SMS services to effectively communicate ecological methods to farmers all over East Africa.

In addition, Biovision works on advocacy projects with the goal to change policies and raise awareness among consumers and the broad public. These projects advocate a general shift in paradigm in international agricultural policies by implementing the IAASTD report and inform Swiss consumers about the ecological and social impact of their consumption patterns.

Other roles

Since 2005, Herren has been president of the Millennium Institute in Washington D.C., which helps decision makers understand the interconnectedness between economic, social, environmental factors, and issues of peace and security. The institute offers a variety of tools and advisory services to governments and the private sector that enable holistic long-term planning, while taking into account the existing environmental, social and economic boundaries.

Herren has won a number of awards, including the World Food Prize (1995), the One World Award from Rapunzel (2010) and the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement from the University of Southern California (2003).

Herren lives in Washington D.C., Rome, and California where he has a vineyard he is managing according to organic agriculture principles. He is a citizen of Switzerland. 


Award Acceptance Speech by Hans R. Herren

(Note: the full-text version of the speech differs from the speech delivered during the Award Ceremony)

2 December 2013  

In this short speech, I would like to highlight a few milestones in a career that was far from written into stone, but a career in which some unique opportunities arose, to contribute to transforming the way we do agriculture, and pull us away from the treadmill that benefits only few and costs lots in terms of human, animal, plant and environmental health.  

It was cold and windy in Chicago in late April 1979. Fortunately, we had a cosy nook at the Airport Hilton for the breakfast interview with then Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Dr. Bill Gamble. He had invited me to a job interview following up on my application for a scientist position.  But he was not interested in hiring me for the job I had applied for. Rather, he wanted to talk to me about his pet project, the control of the cassava mealybug, that had recently invaded Central Africa causing famines and distress, and for which he was searching for a specialist in biological control. I thought that this would be a formidable challenge, but I had never been in Africa, and so I went on a month-long mission to decide if this was the job for me. I saw the lower Congo region and the huge devastation and starvation; I saw the IITA campus with its modern laboratories and greenhouses and also the fine research fields. I said yes to Dr. Gamble’s offer, or was it a challenge, and reported to the duty station in Ibadan October 1st 1979…and the rest is history.

June 1979, Lower Congo. All we knew at the start of the project was that the cassava mealybug, as it came to be known, had been introduced to Africa accidentally from somewhere in the Americas, probably during the mid-seventies. Cassava is the staple of over two hundred million people in Africa’s middle belt. The fields that were attacked by the mealybug were wiped out within one season.  

The mealybug, being new to Africa, did not have any natural enemies. Therefore, it spread across the continent extremely fast. In some eight years, it reached Mozambique in the East and Senegal in the West. I had two challenges to get started:
•    Develop a strategy to bring the mealybug under control as fast as possible
•    Find the funding for the project, given that there was money (limited to one year) for my position, but everything else had to be raised.

The strategy was to: 
1.    Find the mealybug somewhere between Mexico and Argentina where something keeps it from building up destructive populations; 
2.    Hopefully find the natural enemy (control agent is difficult to understand) that keep the mealybug at very low population levels in the Americas; 
3.    Organise for the quarantine of the yet to be found natural enemies; 
4.    Carry out detailed studies on the natural enemies to be imported and eventually released, to ensure that they were ecologically safe; and 
5.    Mass-produce and release the natural enemies across an area equivalent of one and a half time the United States. 

Other key pieces of the puzzle were the design and construction of natural enemies’ production facilities, as well as equipment to allow for the aerial release of the natural enemies, at a scale never undertaken…there was after all urgency and also a huge area to be dealt with. These plans saw me being labelled a megalomaniac at a donors meeting in Rome.  

Finding the money to find the mealybug: The fund raising was the second challenge, as there was lots of work to do in several African countries for a start and also in the Americas with the exploration work. I needed to assemble a team of entomologists to deal with mass rearing of the beneficial insects once found, and then organise the releases and, most importantly, the follow-up. I also saw the unique opportunity not only to solve a major problem, but also to develop local research and development capacities in biological control, something that was absent on a continent where there was a drive to introduce a green revolution, with its bandwagon of pesticides and fertilisers. 

Eventually, after a year and a half of work, the mealybug, and its natural enemies were found in the border areas between Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina. Parasitic wasps and ladybugs species were brought to Africa after comprehensive studies in the quarantine station established in London. They were carefully checked for their specificity to the cassava mealybug and to make sure that they were disease free.  

Summer 1981: About two years into the program, we released the first beneficial wasp and ladybugs into the cassava fields on the IITA campus in Nigeria. Within three months, the mealybug had mostly disappeared. The natural enemies were eliminating the mealybug at a rate that surprised my team and myself. We rejoiced, and went into high gear.

We rapidly grew out of space for the mass rearing operation on the Ibadan campus, and with the aerial release operation, we needed a new home. Nigeria had refused to allow our aircraft an easy fly in and out of the country with its delicate and short-lived cargo.

Spring 1988: Inauguration of the Africa Center for Biological Control, in Cotonou, Benin. It took about two years to design and build the new facility. On the entrance gate, a wrought iron sculpture of the wasp Epidinocarsis lopezi, with which, together with my super team, I would like to share the honour today. This two millimetre long insect has single handedly, across dry areas, tropical forests, highlands and lowlands, wherever cassava grows, and that is everywhere, managed to establish itself and bring under permanent control the worst pest the African continent has had to deal with.

1992: Job done, team built. The livelihood of over 200 million people were restored and about twenty million lives were saved, with a total investment in the project of 20 million US $ - about one dollar per life saved and so much for the megalomaniac! The cassava mealybug was under control - no pesticides nor permanent external inputs needed. The farmers could continue to grow their preferred and locally and culturally adapted cassava varieties. There was by now also a very strong team of specialists in biological control in 24 countries, equipped with all that was needed to perform biological control programs on local pests. These teams and facilities still operate in most countries today. 

Spring 1994: need for a new challenge and a telephone call. 
The search committee for a new Director General for the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) based in Nairobi was having difficulties in finding a suitable candidate, and I was encouraged to throw my hat into the ring. Which I did.

Fall 1994: Inauguration of the new DG at ICIPE
, new challenges and new opportunities. Exactly what I needed. The first task was to develop a new strategy and find money to revamp the severely lagging research centre! With my experience from IITA, I launched a new research paradigm that would promote a systemic integration of disciplines and topics around insects (good and bad), and we came up with the four H paradigm, that is Human, Animal, Plant and Environmental Health, all connected, with insects at the centre. My idea was to do the research and development work in a positively spinning spiral, starting wherever the key problem was and on to the next level and so on. 

1995: Dallas and Des Moines, Jack Kilby Award and World Food Prize. 
These were the first prizes to recognize the tremendous impact the Cassava Mealybug Biological Control Program had across the African continent.

1998: Creation of the Biovision Foundation in Zurich. With three friends, following a suggestion from Andi Schriber on how to best make good with the prize money. Biovision adopted as basis for its extension activities in East Africa ICIPE’s 4-H paradigm. It is the communities, with which the Foundation works, who decide what the most important problem is and then start working their way up in the positive spinning development spiral. 

There were many successful projects that emerged from ICIPE during my tenure - from Malaria control, to safeguarding the biodiversity in forests. We were looking for solutions, which the farmer could apply without accruing costs, such as the Push-Pull method to deal with insect pests, weeds and low yields in maize and other crops. Clever observations have shown that certain plants attract pest insects, while other plants would attract beneficial insects. This is now one of the classic models of agroecology, being adapted to many different crops and cropping systems. Bringing the pieces together, rearranging the puzzle so that everything actually worked in harmony and creating synergies was the challenge. 

The Biovision Foundation supports many projects along the 4-H paradigm, with great success. One that is particularly prominent is the Farmer Communication Program, which comprises four main elements: an information database, a printed magazine, a radio program and outreach with local information centres. This programme fills a huge gap, as farmers are in need of information on how to grow better crops, raise better and more productive animals, restore soil fertility and deal with pests and diseases. Once they have access to this information, they will start testing different options, exchange with their neighbours and set in motion their development.

2005: Without conducive policies, the best of science cannot bring the expected changes. I felt that it was time to move into the next higher gear and apply the push-pull approach also in support of sustainable development. The tipping point with the realisation that science had hit a glass ceiling, and was kept from impacting sustainable development came with the privilege to be co-Chair of the IAASTD report, Agriculture at a Crossroads, an undertaking that took four years and recruited more than 400 experts to write one global and five regional reports. The critical question was: How can we nourish the world in fifty years time, especially given the uncertainties resulting from climate change, growing population and diminishing natural resources? The answers to this question made the point that there is a need to change course in global agriculture, that business as usual was not an option and that a new paradigm, beyond the green revolution was needed, and fast. The paradigm must pay attention to agriculture’s multifunctionality, and its key role in the three sustainable development dimensions: environment, society and economy…in that order. The question then: how does one change course in agriculture? For me there was only one way, change the policies, and invest seriously in the suggested changes recommended by the report.

Changing policies requires also having tools to better inform these policies, preferably in multistakeholder processes. This is what I choose to do since joining the Millennium Institute. We provide tools and capacity development to Governments and civil society groups, empowering them for the decision making process and ensuring that they have ownership of their development agenda. 

Now, the Millennium Institute, among others, is working together with the Biovision Foundation in a project that will develop guidelines for countries to carry out their own assessment and inform their own national agricultural and food system policies, in multistakeholder processes. 

In conclusion, my vision and course of action for a thriving earth can be seen in my present endeavours and responsibilities at the Biovision Foundation and the Millennium Institute: “A future for all, naturally” - improve the livelihoods of people and respect the rights of Mother Earth by working from the bottom up, empowering people through education and knowledge sharing, and horizontally, informing better policies where all participate as equals in making decisions for the future. This vision has grown out of my personal experience in the last half century. 

I would like to thank the Right Livelihood Award Jury Members for this recognition and great honour.

The story would not be complete without expressing my thanks and love to my wife Barbara and children Matthew, Jeremy and Gisele, as well as to the IITA, ICIPE and Biovision teams that have helped, inspired and motivated me along the way.


Watch a movie about Hans Herren and the Biovision Foundation via this link.


Leading scientist says agroecology is the only way to feed the world.Interview with Hans R. Herren by the Organic and Non-GMO report - December 2011. Read online here.


Scientific publications by Hans Herren

 A selection of scientific publications by Hans R. Herren:

Holt-Giménez, Eric, Annie Shattuck , Miguel Altieri, Hans Herren and Steve Gliessman. We Already Grow Enough Food for 10 Billion People ... and Still Can't End Hunger. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture, 36 (6), 2012.
Online available here.

Herren, H.R. Ecosocial Consequences and Policy Implications of Disease Management in East African Agropastoral Systems. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106 (31), 2009: 13136-13141.

Bassi, Andrea M., A. Drake, E.L. Tennyson and H.R. Herren. Evaluating the Creation of a Parallel Non-Oil Transportation System in an Oil Constrained Future. Draft version. 2009. 
Online available here.

Hassanali, Ahmed, Hans R. Herren, Zeyaur R. Khan, John A. Pickett and Christine M. Woodcock. Integrated Pest Management: The Push-Pull Approach for Controlling Insect Pests and Weeds of Cereals, and Its Potential for Other Agricultural Systems including Animal Husbandry. Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, 363 (1491), 2008: 611-621

Pasquet Remy, S., Alexis Peltier, Matthew B. Hufford, Emeline Oudin, Jonathan Saulnier, Lénaic Paul, Jette T. Knudsen, Hans R. Herren, and Paul Gepts. Long-Distance Pollen Flow Assessment through Evaluation of Pollinator Foraging Range Suggests Transgene Escape Distances.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105 (36), 2008: 13456-13461.

Stige, Leif Christian, Jørn Stave, Kung-Sik Chan, Lorenzo Ciannelli, Nathalie Pettorelli, Michael Glantz, Hans R. Herren, and Nils Chr. Stenseth. From the Cover: The effect of Climate Variation on Agro-Pastoral Production in Africa. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 103, 2006: 3049-3053.

Zhou, Guofa, Noboru Minakawa, Andrew K. Githeko, Guiyun Yan, and Herren, H.R. Association between Climate Variability and Malaria Epidemics in the East African Highlands. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 101 (108), 2004: 2375-2380.

Herren, H.R. Genetically engineered crops and sustainable agriculture, in: Methods for Risk Assessment of Transgenic Plants, 35, IV. Biodiversity and Biotechnology. Eds. K. Ammann, Y. Jacot and R. Braun, 2003 Birkhäuser Verlag Basel/Switzerland.

Herren, H.R. The War against Poverty: The Way Forward. Resource Management for Poverty Reduction: Approaches and Technologies, Selected Contributions to Ethio-Forum 2002.  Eds. Aseffa Abreha, Getachew Tikubet and Johann Baumgaertner. Published by the Ethiopian Social Rehabilitation Fund 2003.

Herren, H.R., Neuenschwander, P. Biological Control of Cassava Pests in Africa. Annual Revue of Entomol, 36, 1991: 257-283.

Herren, H.R. Africa-Wide Biological Control Project of Cassava and Cassava Green Mites: A review of objectives and achievements. Insect Science and Application, 8, 1987: 837-840.



Hans R. Herren contributed to the following reports:

United Nations Environment Programme. Avoiding Future Famines: Strengthening the Ecological Foundation of Food Security through Sustainable Food Systems. 2012. Online available here.

United Nations Environment Programme. Green Economy Report. 2012.
Online available here.

International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development. Agriculture at a Crossroads. Eds. Beverly D. McIntyre, Hans R. Herren, Judi Wakhungu and Robert T. Watson. 2009. 
Online available here.

Häni, Fritz J., Laszlo Pinter and Hans R Herren (eds.). Sustainable Agriculture: From Common Principles to Common Practices. International Institute for Sustainable Development and Swiss. 2007.
Online available here.  


Books about Hans R. Herren

Herbert Cerutti. Wie Hans Rudolf Herren 20 Millionen Menschen rettete - Die ökologische Erfolgsstory eines Schweizers. Orell Füssli Verlag, Zürich 2011.

Publications by Biovision

The Biovision Foundation publishes a monthly newspaper named 'The Organic Farmers', newsletters, papers and an annual report.

All can be accessed through the Biovision website.



Right Livelihood Award Foundation

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