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Norman Borlaug on The World Food Prize

posted on October 16, 2007 at 5:35 PM

While domestic political campaigns are debating the apportionment of financial resources dwelling generally on taxes and government spending, geo-politics are fueled by disputes over the availability of physical resources like oil or water or food.

Unlike domestic political campaigns, geo-political discourse is frequently expressed in harsher form: war, genocide, disease, and starvation.

The World Food Prize was created to address hunger, the core of so much of the planet’s malaise. Its roots are in Iowa but its reach is indeed global.

Every year millions of people around the world suffer from hunger. According to the United Nations, globally, more than 800 million lack adequate food supplies and 24,000 die every day due to hunger. While wars and natural disasters create food shortages and starvation, poverty remains the chief cause of hunger.

Borlaug: The environment of poverty and misery is something that needs to be destroyed, from my point of view.

Mundt: Dr. Norman Borlaug, an Iowa native who grew up on a farm in Cresco, dreamt of ending world hunger. In the 1940s and 50s, he developed successive generations of wheat that enabled impoverished farmers to harvest more grain from fewer acres. This "high-yield" agriculture, as it came to be known, is credited with keeping starvation at bay for millions of people in third world countries. Dr. Borlaug's humanitarian efforts earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.

Borlaug: 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.

Mundt: To bring more attention to those words and to the issue of hunger, Dr. Borlaug asked the Nobel Foundation to create a special category for food and agriculture. When the foundation declined, Borlaug sought financial sponsors and in 1986 established what he hoped would be an equally prestigious award, The World Food Prize.

Borlaug: When it was established, it was the same value as the Nobel Prize at that time, $250,000.

Mundt: The annual World Food Prize ceremony is held at the Iowa capitol, and the prize money comes from fellow Iowan and philanthropist John Ruan. Since its inception, more than two dozen people from nearly a dozen countries have been awarded the prize for either their science-based research or their humanitarian efforts to provide food to those in need. The first World Food Prize went to Dr. M.S. Swaminathan in 1987, for spearheading the introduction of high-yielding wheat and rice varieties to India’s farmers. He used his prize money to establish a research center in Chennai, India.

Swaminathan: My dear friend of over fifty years, Dr. Norman Borlaug.

Mundt: Dr. Swaminathan was on hand in July when President Bush presented Dr. Borlaug with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress.

Borlaug: I thank you very much for the support that you have all given.

Mundt: Having years of support has allowed Dr. Borlaug to help foster the next generation of scientists. Through the World Food Prize, he established a Youth Institute, offering high school students workshops and overseas internships to work with scientists' agricultural research projects. The students learn the importance of local food production and see first-hand the poverty and hunger in countries they visit. The hope is some of today's Youth Institute participants will continue the fight against world hunger with the same dedication as the scientists and hunger advocates before them.


Tags: agriculture humanitarian hunger Iowa Norman Borlaug World Food Prize


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