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4 named World Food Prize Laureates

Four recognized for work in biofortification, which has improved health of 10 million in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

June 28, 2016

10 Min Read

Drs. Maria Andrade, Robert Mwanga, Jan Low and Howarth Bouis were announced today as the 2016 World Food Prize Laureates during a ceremony at the U.S. State Department.

“These four extraordinary World Food Prize Laureates have proven that science matters, and that when matched with dedication, it can change people’s lives,” said USAID Administrator Gayle Smith.  “USAID and our Feed the Future partners are proud to join with renowned research organizations to support critical advances in global food security and nutrition.”


The World Food Prize is the most prominent global award for individuals whose breakthrough achievements alleviate hunger and promote global food security. This year’s $250,000 prize will be divided equally between the four recipients. The prize rewards their work in countering world hunger and malnutrition through biofortification, the process of breeding critical vitamins and micronutrients into staple crops.

Three of the 2016 laureates -- Andrade, Mwanga and Low of the International Potato Center (CIP), which has had sweet potato in its research mandate since 1988 -- are being honored for their work developing the single most successful example of biofortification -- the orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP). Andrade and Mwanga, plant scientists in Mozambique and Uganda, bred the Vitamin A-enriched OFSP using genetic material from CIP and other sources, while Low structured the nutrition studies and programs that convinced almost two million households in 10 separate African countries to plant, purchase and consume this nutritionally fortified food.

Bouis, the founder of HarvestPlus at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), over a 25-year period pioneered the implementation of a multi-institutional approach to biofortificatoin as a global plant breeding strategy. As a result of his leadership, crops such as iron and zinc fortified beans, rice, wheat and pearl millet, along with Vitamin A-enriched cassava, maize and OFSP are being tested or released in over 40 countries.

Due to the combined efforts of the four Laureates, more than 10 million persons are now positively impacted by biofortified crops, with a potential of several hundred million more in the coming decades.

Research efforts. -- >>>


Orange-fleshed sweet potato research

4 named World Food Prize Laureates

Dr. Maria Andrade

Andrade’s OFSP breeding research began in 1997 in drought-prone areas of Sub-Saharan Africa with intensive adaptive trials that led to the release of nine drought-tolerant varieties distributed to farmers in Mozambique in 2001. Her “value-chain” approach incorporated both socio-market and agro-processing strategies to ensure a sustainable program for the long term to address food insecurity, malnutrition, and income generation.

With USAID support, Andrade conducted the first large-scale field testing of 58 OFSP varieties from the U.S., China, Kenya, and Tanzania, and was able to identify eight varieties with high yields. She and the Mozambique government partnered with USAID again in 2000 following a devastating flood in Mozambique to distribute these top-yielding varieties to 123,000 households. Andrade has also partnered effectively with the Mozambique Ministry of Agriculture, and Bouis and HarvestPlus. Her passionate advocacy has resulted in the OFSP program in Mozambique becoming what one donor described as the “calling card” for biofortification work in Sub-Saharan Africa.

A turning point in Maria’s career occurred when she was given the opportunity to join the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture and work in Southern Africa. This exposed her to the international agricultural research environment, broadened her perspective, and showed her the important role she could play in food security. Her interest in this area was reinforced after learning that nearly 70% of the children in Mozambique suffered from vitamin A deficiency, and her subsequent opportunity to work in that country as a plant breeder of biofortified OFSP.

A driving force. -->>>


4 named World Food Prize Laureates

Dr. Robert Mwanga

Mwanga was the driving force behind making sweet potato research a priority in Uganda starting in the mid-1980s, which resulted in the white sweet potato (with low or no Vitamin A content) largely being replaced by Vitamin A-rich OFSP in the diets of the rural poor. His breeding research, mentoring of scientists, and capacity building resulted in the dissemination of new high-yielding, pest- and disease-resistant OFSP varieties in Uganda and throughout East and Central Africa.

From 1986 to 1990, he established and implemented the Roots and Tuber Crops Program at the Namulonge research facility in Uganda, receiving support from USAID. Eventually, sweet potato breeders and technicians from 10 Sub-Sarahan African countries came to his program for training to improve their breeding skills. His efforts in expanding and strengthening the work at the Namulonge facility made it the sweet potato breeding model for other countries in the region.

Like Andrade in Mozamique, Mwanga has been involved in many diverse aspects of the OFSP value chain, including genetics, breeding, developing seed systems, and education of households in regard to nutrition. Of special note is that Mwanga succeeded in breeding high-yielding OFSP varieties in Uganda that also had resistance to a devastating virus. Between 1995 and 2013, his program released 20 OFSP varieties.

Mwanga also recognized the importance of societal and behavioral influences on food selection and consumption by the rural population, and he therefore worked diligently to breed a dry-fleshed consistency, less sweet OFSP that would appeal to consumers, who had for decades previously favored indigenous white or yellow sweet potato varieties that have minimal or no Vitamin A content. His new varieties have been grown and disseminated in Uganda and Kenya to show the feasibility and effectiveness of biofortified Vitamin A-rich OFSP for increasing maternal and child vitamin A intake and nutritional status.

It was important, as well, to persuade farmers of the livelihood and nutritional benefits for their families of growing OFSP. To that end, he combined higher yield traits with virus tolerance and blight resistance in the plants, which increased adoption among farmers. In 2008, he became the International Potato Center’s lead OFSP breeder for East Africa, and by 2014, more than 30% of the farmers in Uganda were growing the OFSP varieties that he developed.

Focused on ending malnutrition. -- >>>


4 named World Food Prize Laureates

Dr. Jan Low

Low, as CIP’s Regional Leader for Africa, recognized the potential of OFSP to combat Vitamin A deficiency among young children in Sub-Saharan Africa. To establish an evidence base that nutritionists could rely on, she conducted a major study among poor African communities in 2005—with support from USAID, the Micronutrient Initiative, and the Rockefeller Foundation—demonstrating that consumption of orange fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) led to a 15% decline in Vitamin A deficiency in children who consumed a daily portion of OFSP compared to children who did not. Armed with that knowledge, she led a seminal study under a HarvestPlus “Reaching End Users” project that was concerned with how to effectively deliver OFSP to poor and vulnerable households. This study firmly established that it was possible to cost-effectively scale up using the pioneering integrated agriculture-nutrition-marketing approach.

In 2006, Low focused research investment on “breeding in Africa for Africa” that was centered in a new science-based program in Mozambique with her team member Andrade to select OFSP varieties that had greater drought tolerance and the more favored dry-fleshed consistency.

She then developed a ten-year project called “Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative--SPHI” (2009—2019), with the goal to favorably position sweet potatoes in the food economies of seventeen African countries, particularly in expanding urban markets, to reduce child malnutrition and improve smallholder incomes.

In 2010, she became the leader of the SPHI and also project manager of its foundation project, the Sweet Potato Action for Security and Health in Africa, or SASHA, project, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She spearheaded SASHA’s collaboration with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa to train the next generation of sweet potato breeders. Under Low’s leadership, and with the support of HarvestPlus and other donors, CIP has expanded its OFSP biofortification research presence to 12 African countries.

Breeding high-nutrition staple crops. -- >>>


4 named World Food Prize Laureates

Dr. Howarth (“Howdy”) Bouis

Bouis began his work in the mid-1980s at the International Food and Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, D.C., where his early research showed that by increasing nutrients in staple crops accessible to low-income families, malnutrition and under-nutrition could be significantly reduced and general health, productivity, and livelihoods could be greatly improved.  His thesis was that through conventional breeding techniques, it would be possible to increase the micronutrient content of staple foods like rice, wheat, maize, cassava, beans, pearl millet, and sweet potatoes, which are the primary foods accessible to the rural poor.

In the early 1990s, Bouis’s interests and research focused on the diets of poor households and nutritional outcomes in Asia, especially how nutrient intakes were influenced by food prices and household incomes. The conventional wisdom among economists had been that energy (calories) was the primary dietary factor constraining better nutritional outcomes in developing countries. His research indicated otherwise – that variation in diets between the poor and rich was explained overwhelmingly by the level of non-staple food consumption (non-staple foods having high mineral and vitamin content). Bouis became convinced that research on nutrition in developing countries should focus on dietary quality, not energy.

Bouis created the organization HarvestPlus (within IFPRI) in 2003 as a global multi-sector, multidisciplinary effort to improve nutrition and public health through crop biofortification. Scientific institutions and implementing agencies around the world have cooperated to bring the transformational power of biofortification to bear in uniting agriculture and nutrition – using plant breeding to enrich the staple food crops that low-income rural families eat every day with essential vitamins and minerals.

Bouis persevered relentlessly in the face of skepticism and opposition from public health experts and crop breeders as he pursued his vision that agriculture could provide more nutritious staple crops, which could reduce the micronutrient deficiencies that can cause malnutrition, blindness, disease and even early death among vulnerable populations in Africa and Asia, and Latin America, particularly children under the age of five.

Bouis pioneered the implementation of a strategy that not only improves the nutritional content of staple crops, but delivers these crops to poor farming households in Africa and South Asia with the goal of improving nutritional outcomes on a large scale.

Along with national agricultural breeding programs, several non-governmental organizations and research institutions have been part of the HarvestPlus biofortification endeavor, including the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

As a result of his leadership, countries where crops have been released include: Bangladesh (zinc rice); the Democratic Republic of Congo (iron beans and Vitamin A cassava); India (iron pearl millet, zinc rice and zinc wheat); Nigeria (Vitamin A cassava and maize); Rwanda (iron beans); Uganda (Vitamin A OFSP and iron beans); Mozambique (Vitamin A OFSP); Zambia (Vitamin A maize), and Pakistan (zinc wheat).

It's been 30 years since Norman Borlaug established World Food Prize. -- >>>


30th anniversary

In announcing the names of the 2016 Laureates, Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, President of the World Food Prize, noted “they are truly worthy to be named as the recipients of the award that Dr. Norman E. Borlaug created to be seen as the Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture”.

2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the World Food Prize by the late Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Norman E. Borlaug.

“The impact of the work of all four winners will be felt around the globe, but particularly in sub Saharan Africa,” Quinn added. “It is particularly poignant that among our 2016 recipients are two African scientists who are working on solutions to tackle malnutrition in Africa, for Africa.”

Andrade, Mwanga, Low and Bouis will receive the World Food Prize at a ceremony at the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines, Iowa, on the evening of Oct. 13, 2016. The event is the centerpiece of a three-day international symposium entitled the Borlaug Dialogue, which regularly draws more than 1,200 people from 60 countries to discuss cutting-edge issues in global food security.

Also included in the World Food Prize week-long series of events is the Iowa Hunger Summit on Oct. 10 and the three-day Global Youth Institute, which includes 400 high school students and teachers from across the U.S. and several foreign countries and is designed to inspire the next generation of high school students to explore careers in agriculture and fighting hunger.

Source: World Food Prize

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