Farm Progress

Roots of Peace founder named 2023 World Food Prize Laureate

Heidi Kühn will receive the $250,000 prize for her work to restore agriculture in former conflict zones.

Compiled by staff

May 11, 2023

3 Min Read
Kühn pours coffee beans into a bag
TRAINING FOR SUCCESS: Heidi Kühn's organization, Roots of Peace, trains farmers to grow high-value crops for export and trade in areas affected by conflict.Roots of Peace

A humanitarian and peace activist who has spent more than 25 years restoring agriculture in former conflict zones has been named the 2023 World Food Prize Laureate.

The World Food Prize Foundation will award the honor to Heidi Kühn for her model that revitalizes farmland, food security, livelihoods and resilience after devastating conflict. Kühn founded the nonprofit Roots of Peace in 1997 to replace the remnants of war with farmland. The organization also trains farmers in modern agricultural practices, from planting and harvesting to marketing through international exports.

The announcement was made by U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad, World Food Prize Foundation President, at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. The event featured remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack and World Food Prize Foundation Chief Operating Officer Mashal Husain.

After initially working with some of the leading vintners from her native California to restore grape production to de-mined land, Kühn and Roots of Peace have since helped establish fruit orchards as well as nut, seed and spice production on former battlefields. In Afghanistan alone, Roots of Peace has helped generate high-value exports of cherries, pomegranates, almonds, saffron and other crops worth an estimated $491 million since 2010, supporting rural livelihoods and economic recovery.

Roots of Peace has since developed a pioneering market-led model that carries out initial agricultural assessments to identify viable opportunities for smallholder farmers before working with partners to clear mines so farmers can make productive use of the land.

Kühn’s work has supported de-mining partners in Afghanistan, Angola, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Croatia, Israel, Iraq, Palestinian areas, and Vietnam, allowing local farmers safe access to irrigation canals and arable land for cultivation. Most recently, Roots of Peace has partnered with the Rotary Club of Ukraine to begin work in the country, where the UN estimates around 30 percent of the country could be mined as a result of the ongoing conflict.

Ambassador Branstad says, “Heidi Khün embodies the commitment of Dr. Norman Borlaug, who founded the World Food Prize, to cultivate peace through agriculture. I am honored to announce her as the 2023 Laureate for her work to provide a way forward for more than a million people living in war-torn regions around the world."

“It is with immense gratitude and a sense of responsibility that I humbly accept the World Food Prize this year on behalf of Roots of Peace and the farming families of war-torn countries across the world,” says Kühn, who was visiting minefields in Azerbaijan when the announcement was made.

“This prestigious award underscores the importance of our mission to revitalize agriculture in post-conflict areas, as a means of healing both the land and its people,” Kühn says. “As we rejoice in this recognition, we must not forget the millions of families affected by the tragedies of war, who seek hope, stability, and sustenance through the nurturing power of agriculture.”

Around 60 million people in almost 70 countries and territories continue to live at risk of landmines, according to the United Nations, including rural communities where farming is the main source of livelihood and income. 

“With conflicts proliferating in so many parts of the world, nations are increasingly finding it necessary to confront the daunting challenge of rebuilding food systems, livelihoods and communities after conflict. The Selection Committee recognized that Heidi Kühn’s work shows the world the vital role agriculture must have in the resilient recovery from conflict and restoration of peace,” says Gebisa Ejeta, 2009 World Food Prize Laureate and chair of the World Food Prize Selection Committee.

Learn more about Kühn’s work and the World Food Prize award.

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