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Former Presidents win World Food Prize

posted on October 14, 2011

According to the United Nations World Food Programme, there are 925 million undernourished people in the world today. Hunger and malnutrition pose the single-greatest risk to global health — greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

While wars and natural disasters often create food shortages and starvation, poverty remains the chief cause of hunger -- and the cruel irony is that the world is full of food. For decades, Planet Earth has provided enough food to sustain every man, woman and child.

Dr. Norman Borlaug, Founder, World Food Prize: "You know, when people become very elite, they think differently. They've never seen hunger. They've never seen children starving..."

For generations, scientists like Dr. Norman Borlaug dreamed of ending world hunger. In the 1940s and 50s, Borlaug developed wheat hybrids enabling 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. And Borlaug came to be known as the "Father of the Green Revolution" -- the period with the greatest food production increase in history.

 Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, and to this day, remains the only winner from the agricultural community.

Dr. Norman 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."

Borlaug passed away in 2009 at the age of 95. But he never gave up his fight against hunger or his passion to honor those who shared his conviction. The former Iowa farm boy appealed to the Nobel Foundation to establish a recurring prize for agriculture – a request the Foundation respectfully declined.

 Ultimately, his vision to honor individuals making significant contributions to food security issues gave birth to the World Food Prize…. A $250,000 award presented annually to those making exceptional achievement in increasing the quantity, quality and availability of food.

The World Food Prize was awarded for the 25th time this week to two leaders, John Agyekum Kufuor, former president of Ghana, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, former president of Brazil.

The pair successfully achieved the stated Millennium Development Goal of cutting poverty in half by 2015. Their countries of Ghana and Brazil, are to date, the only member nations to achieve that lofty goal, four years ahead of schedule.  

During Kufuor's two terms as president, Ghana cut in half the proportion of its people who suffer from hunger, and the proportion of people living on less than a dollar per day. Ultimately, hunger was reduced from 34 percent in 1990 down to 9 percent in 2004.

John Agyekum Kufuor: “With the encouragement of the government I led, the people managed to double the produce from a low of 350,000 tons a year to over 700,000 tons by the time I was leaving office. Today they have hit 1 million tons, an all-time record of the history of the country.” 

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s national initiatives — embodied in his Zero Hunger strategy — were well aligned with the UN Millennium Development Goals.  During his tenure, Brazil trimmed the ranks of its hungry by 50 percent and also reduced the percentage of citizens living in extreme poverty, from 12 percent in 2003 down to 4.8 percent in 2009.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva: “People don’t have the slightest idea of what you can make the wheel of the economy move, when we manage to distribute the money to the poor people and the mother will go to the bakery, will go to the supermarket, they’ll buy, they’ll shop, and the supermarkets will need much more products on the shelf, and they’re going to order more small agriculture farmers that will have to produce more corn, more rice, more beans, more fruits, because people have to learn that the poor enjoy to eat well. Poor don’t like to eat in a miserable situation. The poor don’t enjoy misery.”  

Tags: agriculture Brazil farmers food Ghana hunger John Agyekum Kufuor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva news presidents World Food Prize