Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in scores of fascinating conferences, professional association meetings, and educational events. As a Congressional staffer, I organized a couple dozen US Senate hearings. Having just returned from the World Food Prize and Global Youth Institute meetings in Des Moines, I am certain I have never participated in anything as meaningful or inspring as these two events.
With this post, I will try and provide a perspective including pictures and commentary from our 3 day trip. Suffice to say, I’m still processing the breadth and volume of information presented to us, as well as learning more about the people with whom we met. I will plan to add to this post over the next few days.
A confluence of factors created the positive dynamic at the World Food Prize and Global Youth Institute.
Where else to begin but with the challenge… 800 million people on our planet are food insecure, and our population is expected to grow from the current 7.3b to above 10b by 2050. These slides from the Association of Land Grant Universities underscore the disproportionate impact food insecurity has on children.
The World Food Prize brings together, governments, non-governmental organizations, academics, corporations and activists to address the challenges of global food insecurity.
The four 2016 World Food Prize Laureates
Dr. Maria Andrade, Dr. Robert Mwanga, Dr. Jan Low and Dr. Howarth Bouis
“At a time when malnutrition, stunting and early childhood death remain a scourge for millions on our planet, the four 2016 World Food Prize Laureates have uplifted the health and well being of more than 10 million persons through the biofortication of staple crops, particularly the vitamin fortified orange fleshed sweet potato, Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, President of the World Food Prize said. “They have truly fulfilled the dictum attributed to Hippocrates from almost 2,400 years ago – to “Let Food Be Thy Medicine.”
The three-person team from the International Potato Center (known by its Spanish acronym CIP) – Dr. Maria Andrade of Cape Verde, Dr. Robert Mwanga of Uganda, and Dr. Jan Low of the United States – were honored for their achievement in developing the single most successful example of micronutrient and vitamin biofortification – the orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP).
Dr. Andrade and Dr. Mwanga, plant scientists in Mozambique and Uganda, bred the Vitamin A enriched OFSP, while Dr. Low structured nutrition studies and programs that convinced almost two million households in 10 African countries to plant, purchase and consume this nutritionally fortified food.
Dr. Howarth Bouis, the founder of HarvestPlus at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), pioneered the implementation of a multi-institutional approach to biofortification 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, and Vitamin A-enriched cassava, maize and OFSP are being tested or released in over 40 countries.
Our impressive students
Thanks to the guidance of Culver’s Global Studies Institute Director John Buggeln, two Culver seniors, Katie Driscoll (CGA ’17) and Julia Smith (CGA ’17) were successful in competing at the Indiana State Youth Institute conference held earlier this year at Purdue. Several Culver students competed in the state contest by submitting original research papers addressing some aspect of good insecurity. Katie’s and Julia’s papers were accepted for presentation at the international conference in Des Moines. During the Youth Institute, each student presented her paper to a panel of university faculty experts and were given feedback on her presentation. Culver math instructor Sandra Reavill and I had the privilege of chaperoning these two accomplished young women.
Learning about Norm Borlaug
Prior to arriving in Des Moines, I had no idea who Norm Borlaug was. No longer. One of only 7 people to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, The Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal (think Dr. Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela). Borlaug grew up in Iowa, studied biology and plant genetics and is credited with developing strains of wheat and other grain which had draught and disease resistance. These new strains of grain were widely distributed throughout Mexico and SE Asia during the 1960s, a time when hunger was claiming millions of lives annually. Borlaug’s work is widely credited with saving more than 100 million people from starvation.
Borlaug used some of the prize money from the Nobel Prize as well as other resources to create the World Food Prize in 1986. The purpose of the World Food Prize is to recognize the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. In early 1990, John Ruan, an Iowa businessman, permanently endowed the Prize. Ruan’s son, John Ruan III, is now the Chairman of the World Food Prize and is guiding this impressive program into the future.
Meeting John Ruan III
While Norman Borlaug’s scientific insight and vision have propelled the World Food Prize forward, without the leadership and financial support of the Ruan family, this international collaborative efffort would be for naught. John Ruan III, pictured below with Culver students and Culver instructor Sandy Reavill at the Global Youth Institute luncheon, is Chairman of this effort and brings his considerable business acumen to the organization.
We had the opportunity to meet Mr. Ruan which was a big thrill as he is also a Culver Educational Foundation Board member.
Stimulating, compelling, accomplished speakers
Former Malawi President Joyce Banda’s speech was perhaps one of the most moving, humerous, urgent speeeches I have ever heard. She leads an inspring life. Her speech deserves its own post and I will write more about it once I track down a recording of it.
World Bank President Jim Kim’s speech
Another utterly compelling speaker was World Bank President Jim Kim. Beginnng his speech wth the statement, “The greatest stain on the conscience of the world today is hunger in children,” President Kim went on to create a vision of a world in which hunger and malnutrition could be conquered. Not an easy task as 156m chlidren around the world are developmentally stunted due to malnutrition and hunger. Stunting doesn’t just refer to physical growth, but also mental — stunted kids have a vocabulary less than half the size of non-stunted kids. Nonetheless, Kim’s realistic optimism gives hope these challenges can be solved.
Roger Thurow and The First 1000 Days.
Author Thurow, a Wall Street Journal reporter spoke on his new book, The First 1000 Days. Get used to this phrase, because I expect it will become a touch point for public policy. Thurow’s thesis that proper nutrition during the first 1000 days (from conception through a child’s 2nd birthday) can profoundly influence an individual’s ability to grow, learn, and work—and determine a society’s long-term health and prosperity. Thurow tracks four families from around the world to help illustrate this point.
While many factors affect hunger and malnutrition, perhaps the most galling is food waste. The slides below from Monsanto’s presentation illustrate the scale of food waste in our world and the array of tactics for reducing it.
More to follow.
I returned from Des Moines energized and enlightened. I will continue to read and learn more about hunger and malnutrition and I encourage you to do the same.