World Food Prize talks to focus on food security

2009-10-14 11:40

Growing and distributing food in a volatile world will be the focus

of talks this week as agriculture officials from around the globe converge on

Des Moines for the World Food Prize symposium.

This year’s conference comes shortly after the death of founder and

Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug. Borlaug’s work on high-yield,

disease-resistant crop strains helped to more than double world food production

between 1960 and 1990.

Starting Wednesday, world leaders will discuss ways to ensure

people have access to food, particularly in areas that are poor or troubled by


“There is considerable potential for volatility and even violence

in the future based on potential food shortages,” said Kenneth Quinn, president

of the Des Moines-based World Food Prize Foundation.

Efforts to improve the world food supply could be hindered by such

things as increasing food prices and climate change that reduces crop

production, he said.

In uncertain times, “countries have a tendency to revert back to

national sovereignty and perhaps close their borders for the export of food,”

Quinn said.

That can further disrupt the global food supply because many

countries depend on food imports, he said.

“We want to pose the question: What are the prospects of this and

what do we need to have in place to deal with it?” Quinn asked.

Dr. Gebisa Ejeta will be honoured as this year’s recipient of the

$250,000 World Food Prize. The Ethiopian scientist, now a professor at Purdue

University, will be recognised for his breakthroughs in the 1980s in developing

a drought-resistant sorghum widely used in Africa.

He later developed a type of sorghum resistant to a persistent


U.S. Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack and his

counterparts from Canada, Egypt and the Netherlands will speak on Thursday


The former president of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano, also is

scheduled to speak, along with Dupont chief executive Ellen Kullman and Archer

Daniels Midland Co. chief executive Patricia Woertz.

The headline speaker Thursday will be Bill Gates, co-chairman of

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and co-founder of Microsoft Corp. The

Gates Foundation has made agricultural development and fighting world hunger one

of its priorities.

Frank Swoboda, the World Food Prize’s director of planning, said

the diverse group of people attending this year’s event shows the importance of

global food security and Borlaug’s legacy.

The agricultural scientist died September 12 from complications of

cancer. He was 95.

“When he won the Nobel Peace Prize and since then he would always

tell people, you can’t build peace on an empty stomach,” Swoboda said. “It was

that way of thinking ... that before we can have a stable world, a plentiful

world, we have to make sure basic needs are being met and that we have plenty of


Borlaug, who grew up in Iowa, established the World Food Prize in

1986 to honour efforts to solve global hunger. There will be tributes to him

throughout the week, including a memorial service and screening of a film about

Borlaug’s life. A new Borlaug Hall of Laureates will be dedicated


Swoboda said Borlaug’s legacy is inspiring, but “there’s still a

great deal of work to be done.”

The United Nations estimates there are 1 billion hungry people


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