Investing in Ag R&D, Investing in the Future of Nutrition

Posted by on June 29th, 2016 | 0 Comments »

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By: Zoë Womack, Policy and Research Intern

 

 

 

“Hippocrates said, ‘Let food be thy medicine,’” stated Ambassador Ken Quinn, President of the World Food Prize Foundation, at the World Food Prize Announcement Ceremony on June 28th.

The hunger community, representatives from the private sector food and agriculture industry, and the diplomatic corps fathered at the U.S. State Department to hear the announcement of the 2016 World Food Prize Laureate. To our surprise, this year’s Prize will be given in October to not one, but four Laureates who have worked together and dedicated their lives to fighting malnutrition through their research on the biofortification of crops.

WFP-Laureates

PHOTO: World Food Prize

Dr. Maria Andrade from Cape Verde, Dr. Robert Mwanga from Uganda, and Dr. Jan Low and Dr. Howarth Bouis from the United States have all been named Laureates of the 2016 World Food Prize. The scientists are being honored for their development and implementation of biofortification, a term coined for breeding staple crops with critical micronutrients and vitamins.

These four Laureates illustrate the power of investing in agriculture research and development, exemplified also by Dr. Norman Borlaug, credited with being the leader of the Green Revolution.

As a scientist and a plant breeder, Dr. Borlaug developed wheat varieties that were disease-resistant and high-yielding, and he applied his research in Mexico, India, and Pakistan where he “saved a billion lives” worldwide from starvation. Now plant science is moving to improve not only yields in important crops, but also to fight a “hidden hunger” caused by micronutrient malnutrition.

Micronutrient malnutrition affects almost two billion people across the globe in the form of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Through the combined efforts of the four World Food Prize Laureates and the organizations that champion them, over ten million people have been positively impacted by these biofortified crops, with the potential of reaching several hundred million more with improved nutrition in the coming years.

Harvest Plus Children

PHOTO: Harvest Plus

Three of the scientists working together on a team for the International Potato Center—Andrade, Mwanga, and Low—have developed one of the archetypes of biofortification, in that it exemplifies all the capabilities and potentials of a crop that is bred to be nutrient dense. The orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) contains high levels of Vitamin A, and has been planted, purchased and consumed in ten African countries, reaching almost two million households.

Dr. Bouis, the fourth Laureate, is the founder of HarvestPlus at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and has led the implementation of a multi-institutional model for plant breeding and biofortification which currently reaches more than 15 million smallholder farming families. Prior to this, he was an economist at IFPRI where he centered his research on the diets and nutrient uptake of low-income households in Asia. His work allowed him to conclude that mineral and vitamin deficiencies severely impacted nutrition, restricting communities in their health and economic productivity. Dr, Bouis is confident that by 2030, almost one billion people will have benefitted from these biofortified foods.

Dr. Norman Borlaug believed that “there are no miracles in agricultural production.” Today, through their hard work, we honor four Laureates who are enabling the intersection of nutrition with agriculture, producing food that improves health and ends hunger.

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