The 2016 World Food Prize laureates were announced on June 28th. Four scientists: Drs. Maria Andrade, Robert Mwanga and Jan Low of the international Potato Center (CIP), and Howarth Bouis of HarvestPlus were recognised for their work on biofortification and the successful example of orange fleshed sweetpotato to combat hidden hunger.
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”.
“The impact of the work of all four winners will be felt around the globe, but particularly in sub-Saharan Africa,” Ambassador 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.”
When asked what his motivation for working on orange-fleshed sweetpotato was, Dr. Robert Mwanga stated, “The main disease called sweetpotato virus disease hits all susceptible varieties. It just kills the crop. So the focus was to breed for resistance to this devastating disease and to combine characteristics that farmers like together. What we call high dry matter, high beta-carotene and the orange-flesh so that these varieties are resistant and can grow in the different conditions the farmers operate.”
Dr. Maria Andrade, focused on drought resistance. She quipped: “In 2005, a major drought affected Mozambique. Some of our planting material could not survive because of the severe drought. It was then we realized the need to have our own breeding program to serve Mozambique and have spillover effects into the neighboring countries. In four years, we had released 15 drought tolerant orange-fleshed sweetpotato varieties.”
Both Dr. Mwanga and Dr. Andrade advocated for use of the orange-fleshed sweetpotato varieties in their countries under the slogan ‘The sweet that gives health’.
Dr. Jan 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 biofortified food.
Dr. Howarth Bouis, the founder of HarvestPlus, 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, along with vitamin A-enriched cassava, maize and orange-fleshed sweetpotato are being tested and released in over 40 countries.
Thanks to the combined efforts of our four Laureates, over 10 million persons are now positively impacted by biofortified crops, with a potential of several hundred million more in the coming decades. The laureates will receive the World Food Prize at a ceremony that will be held in Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines, Iowa, on the evening of October 13, 2016. 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the World Food Prize.