On Monday October 17th 2016, The Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS), awarded the International Potato Center (CIP) Orange-Fleshed Sweetpotato (OFSP) team the prestigious Al-Sumait Food Security Prize, for its role in improving food security and nutrition. CIP is sharing this million dollar award with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). This is further recognition of CIP’s OFSP research; making the case for an agricultural intervention in nutrition, delivering resilient nutritious sweetpotato to ensure the elimination of childhood blindness and reduction of stunting, and the contribution of sweetpotato to African farmers and households to address Vitamin A deficiency – one of the most common forms of undernourishment.
Dr. Adnan Shihab-Eldin, Director General of KFAS which administers the awards, said that the Board of Trustees is proud to award the prizes to all the recipients who have made major contributions to improving the lives of millions of people throughout Africa. “We are deeply humbled by the efforts demonstrated by Al-Sumait prize laureates in the pursuit of scientific discoveries to meet the challenges of disease, nutrition, food production and climate change,” he said. He added that the laureates were in the front line in eliminating some of Africa’s health challenges despite there being limited resources and acknowledged that both of the teams awarded represent innovative, exciting initiatives being done to address the challenges facing Africa.
CIP adopted sweetpotato as a mandate crop in 1988. However, as most dominate varieties in Sub-Saharan Africa are white-fleshed, which has no beta-carotene, a team of researchers began working on introducing pro-vitamin A rich orange-fleshed sweetpotato in 1995. Research has shown that Vitamin A sweetpotato can reduce the prevalence and duration of diarrhea, which is one of the leading causes of preventable death in children under five. Through the generous support of donors and partners, CIP’s OFSP team dedicated more than 15 years to breeding the Vitamin A-enriched OFSP, using genetic material from CIP and dominant local varieties, while simultaneously structuring the nutrition studies and programs that, together with a multidisciplinary team of breeders, agronomists, seed specialists and social scientists from CIP and partners, has now resulted in nearly 2.8 million households in 10 separate African countries planting and consuming this nutritionally biofortified food.
The prize recognized the work IITA does on key areas that have contributed to food security for millions of Africans, including Striga resistant maize and drought-tolerant maize, Vitamin A maize with the first released orange maize varieties coming from IITA, soybean varietal enhancement and deployment across Africa, cowpea germplasm-varieties from IITA’s genebank cowpea have increased incomes in northern Nigeria, cassava breeding work, plantain and banana varietal improvement, and 10 years of systems research in a project called Consortium for Improving Agriculture-based Livelihoods in Central Africa (CIALCA).
The Al-Sumait Prizes honor individuals or institutions who help in the advancement of economic and social development, human resources development and infrastructure in Africa through sustained research and innovative projects that impact the lives and welfare of Africans, especially the poor and underprivileged. The awards were the initiative of His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al- Sabah, the Amir of the State of Kuwait.
Professor Kevin Marsh from the University of Oxford and African Academy of Sciences, Kenya, was also awarded the 2015 Al-Sumait Prize for Health to for his sustained efforts to control and eradicate malaria. Professor Marsh, whose work has made a great impact on the health of tens of millions of children in Africa, has a broad research interest in child health in the tropics, and in developing and strengthening research capacity and scientific leadership in Africa.
The winning laureates will receive their awards from the Amir of the State of Kuwait and the President of Equatorial Guinea during a ceremony at the Fourth Arab African Summit in Equatorial Guinea on November 22, 2016. In speaking about the announcement and anticipation of the award ceremony, Dr. Barbara Wells, Director General of CIP stated, “Our partners and donors share this recognition with us since it is through their consistent support and focus on delivering at scale that we have been able to have a significant impact on eliminating childhood blindness, reducing hidden hunger and contributing to the reduction in chronic malnourishment and stunting in Africa.”