By: Jan Mazotti Issue: Vision Section: Community
The World Food Prize Foundation
Civilization as it is known today could not have evolved, nor can it survive, without an adequate food supply. Yet food is something that is taken for granted by most world leaders despite the fact that more than half of the population of the world is hungry. Man seems to insist on ignoring the lessons available from history. Man's survival, from the time of Adam and Eve until the invention of agriculture, must have been precarious because of his inability to ensure his food supply. During the long, obscure, dimly defined prehistoric period when man lived as a wandering hunter and food gatherer, frequent food shortages must have prevented the development of village civilizations. Under these conditions the growth of human population was also automatically limited by the limitations of food supplies.” - Dr. Norman Borlaug
In December 1970, Dr. Norman Borlaug, a native Iowan, presented his work and findings to the Nobel Committee. He knew a thing or two about the challenges of feeding the world’s hungry and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his research surrounding wheat improvement—getting more from the plants and helping them stand up better in difficult conditions such as disease or drought. He took his initial findings and new “miracle wheat” from fields in Mexico and worked tirelessly in India and Pakistan, which were facing imminent starvation. By working with the two governments, enhancing agricultural methods and introducing new varieties of wheat, he saved millions of lives. A pragmatic guy, Borlaug avoided “academic butterflies” interested only in publishing. He was a devoted and competitive spirit who didn’t mind the manual labor of the fields. That is why he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Understanding the criticality of hunger in the world and after winning the Nobel Prize, Borlaug approached the Nobel Committee and asked them to add a new prize—one for agriculture—to the mix. They said no, as Alfred Nobel, the man behind the prize, had already stipulated the components of the Nobel Prize in his will. There was nothing they could do. Frustrated, but not out, Dr. Borlaug, started the World Food Prize in 1986 in New York with the sponsorship of the General Foods Company. It functioned well for a few years, but a 1990 New York Times story detailed the loss of sponsorship by General Foods upon their acquisition by Philip Morris. Realizing that Des Moines was the bread basket of the world, The Des Moines Register picked the story up and business leaders all over Iowa discussed hosting the World Food Prize. Shortly thereafter, the Iowa legislature and a businessman named John Ruan stepped up and together sponsored the Prize. Over time, the Prize has become the “Nobel Prize for food and agriculture,” and with an endowment by the Ruan family, a $250,000 annual prize is given annually to individuals who have advanced human development by increasing the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.
The United Nations Millennium Development Goals call for decreasing by half the proportion of people suffering from hunger by 2015. The bad news is that hunger may have spiked in 2009, as a result of the global food and financial crisis, causing progress toward alleviating hunger to be stymied in most underdeveloped regions. Despite some progress over the last few years, one in four children in the developing world is still underweight—and that number is twice as high in rural areas. However, those engaged with the World Food Prize appear to be making great strides in that area.
“Right now there is a huge challenge before us regarding population growth and how we will be able to feed the world. How are we going to make the best use of our global resources for the population? These are the same questions Dr. Borlaug and his teams were dealing with in the 1970s.” said Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, president of the World Food Prize. “He had seen firsthand the starving people around the world during his travels. He knew these issues up close and personal. And he felt so strongly that he started our organization to shine a spotlight on those who were making strides in enhancing the world’s food supply,” he said.
The Prize has gone to many internationally renowned people who have helped increase the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world or who have been instrumental in moving the needle forward in the food, hunger, and agriculture industries including, recently, David Beckmann, President of Bread for the World; Jo Luck, CEO of Heifer International, as well as others from around the world including the United States, Ethiopia, Brazil, India, China, Sierra Leone, Denmark, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Bangladesh. It’s been awarded to everyone from politicians, to economists who give small farmers microloans, to people who work in NGOs, to scientists. The 2011 World Food Prize Laureates, celebrated at the 2011 Laureate Award Ceremony and Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium in Des Moines, were John Agyekum Kufuor, former President of Ghana, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, former President of Brazil. Both were chosen for their personal commitment and visionary leadership while serving as the presidents of Ghana and of Brazil, respectively, in creating and implementing government policies to alleviate hunger and poverty in their countries and their ties to the Millennium Development Goals.
The significant achievements of these two former heads of state illustrate that visionary and transformational leadership truly can effect positive change and greatly improve people’s lives. President Kufuor launched the Ghana School Feeding Program, which provides one nutritious, locally-produced meal per day to over one million children in kindergarten through junior high school, dramatically reducing chronic hunger and malnutrition while boosting attendance. Under President Kufuor’s leadership, Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African country to cut in half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger and poverty, in alignment with UN Millennium Development Goals. President Kufuor also significantly increased smallholder (small farm) production through economic investment in the agricultural sector and by creating incentives for private investors to partner with local farmers.
President Lula made it a priority to build critical policies that would ensure three meals a day for all Brazilians, achieving the UN Millennium Development Goal to halve the proportion of people suffering from hunger and poverty. President Lula created the “Zero Hunger” initiative to provide greater access to food, strengthen family farms and significantly enhance rural incomes and today, 93 percent of children and 82 percent of adults now eat three meals a day in Brazil. President Lula’s policies focused on improving educational opportunities for the poor and ensuring their inclusion in society. He used a collaborative approach, calling upon all levels of government and society to implement reforms.
THE BORLAUG DIALOGUE & THE GLOBAL YOUTH INSTITUTE
The Borlaug Dialogue is a three-day event which has been called “the premier conference in the world on global food security.” In 2011, the symposium brought in 1,400+ people from 75 countries that included political leaders, researchers from around the world, business executives, and farmers to discuss how their efforts connect and what they can do to improve global food security. With the world population projected to climb to 9 billion by 2050, amidst a wide range of new agricultural, environmental, climate, health, geopolitical, economic, and demographic challenges, the World Food Prize is “trying to connect all of the players and the next generation to work in these fields and make progress. That’s one of our main goals!” Quinn said.
And, it’s working. Celebrating their 25th Anniversary, The World Food Prize actively addressed how everyone can effectively work together to create more and better food in the decades ahead. They brought in global leaders—U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack; USAID Administrator, Rajiv Shah; UN Messenger of Peace, Her Royal Highness Princess Haya Al Hussein; and President of Malawi, Bingu Wa Mutharika. They brought in business leaders as well including World Food Prize Chairman John Ruan III; Deere & Co. Chairman & CEO Samuel Allen; Monsanto Company Chairman, President, & CEO Hugh Grant; DuPont President, Chair & CEO Ellen Kullman and other notables from related industries. The symposium has addressed everything from how participants could confront the hunger challenges of tomorrow, to the dualities of global hunger and obesity, to the challenges of global aging and nutrition, to dealing with cultural differences.
The Global Youth Institute is another program sponsored by the World Food Prize. It brings together more than 100 high school students from across the U.S. and other countries to interact with the experts at the Borlaug Dialogue and discuss pressing food security and agricultural issues with international experts. Students must write a five-page paper on a food security issue from a preselected list of countries and topics—it might be irrigation, it might be women’s land rights, it might be nutrition—look at the issues, and come up with their own solutions. The students present their ideas on these issues surrounding global food security and hunger to global experts and former laureates. The top students are sent on international internships during the summer where they work at global research centers or in a new program with the USDA. “One of the things that Dr. Borlaug really believed in was inspiring the next generation to carry on this work—that they understand the importance of agriculture, as well as the whole food system,” said Megan Forgrave, director of communications for the World Food Prize. She went on, “These days kids think that their food comes from the grocery store. Because so many people live in cities now, we’re a bit removed from farms and the agricultural sector.”
“The World Food Prize is the forum for hunger and agriculture-related discussions. We have many partnerships with different organizations that really hold the expertise—we’re just the place to bring them all together and put a spotlight on this huge global issue,” said Forgrave.
Also in 2011, the World Food Prize opened its headquarters known as the Hall of Laureates in the former Des Moines Public Library. Built in 1903 and sitting majestically on the Mississippi riverfront, the building has been fully refurbished and is designed to earn a LEED Platinum certification—one of a handful in the U.S. that are LEED Platinum certified and on the National Historic Register. Because of the global implications of hunger and food security, the building was infused with murals of humanitarian stories of those affiliated with the organization, agricultural history, global challenges, the great achievements of the laureates and Dr. Borlaug—making it a beautiful hall and an educational center.
When Dr. Borlaug and John Ruan talked about bringing The Prize to Iowa in 1990 they were both over 70 years old. “Here were these two older guys starting off to build this new thing—most people are retired by then. They were men with vision, and they worked to make that vision a reality,” stated Forgrave.
And indeed, Borlaug and Ruan have left this legacy that has engaged all of the key elements of true community involvement—academia, business, community and government organizations—to come to fruition and cause positive change. It’s women, it’s men, it’s Africa, it’s India, it’s the U.S., it’s the biggest names in business, it’s the biggest names in NGOs, all coming together. The World Food Prize is a story of true vision, courage, and hard work. “They have engaged a diverse array of people at the World Food Prize, more than any other conference I go to,” said Rajiv Shah, USAID Administrator.
“When the Nobel Peace Prize Committee designated me the recipient of the 1970 award for my contribution to the "green revolution", they were in effect, I believe, selecting an individual to symbolize the vital role of agriculture and food production in a world that is hungry, both for bread and for peace. I am but one member of a vast team made up of many organizations, officials, thousands of scientists, and millions of farmers, mostly small and humble, who for many years have been fighting a quiet, oftentimes losing war on the food production front,” said Borlaug in his 1970 Nobel Lecture.
He went on, “For the underprivileged billions in the forgotten world, hunger has been a constant companion, and starvation has all too often lurked in the nearby shadows. To millions of these unfortunates, who have long lived in despair, the green revolution seems like a miracle that has generated new hope for the future. There can be no permanent progress in the battle against hunger until the agencies that fight for increased food production and those that fight for population control unite in a common effort. Fighting alone, they may win temporary skirmishes, but united they can win a decisive and lasting victory to provide food and other amenities of a progressive civilization for the benefit of all mankind.”
Because of his achievements to prevent hunger, famine and misery around the world, it is said that the visionary and determined Dr. Borlaug has "saved more lives than any other person who has ever lived."
Now that is vision in action!