Food & Beverage Perspectives
4 Biotech Scientists Awarded 2016 World Food Prize

4 Biotech Scientists Awarded 2016 World Food Prize

Four biotechnology researchers were named the winners of the 2016 World Food Prize for their work in countering world hunger and malnutrition through biofortification, the process of breeding critical vitamins and micronutrients into staple crops. Thanks to their combined efforts, more than 10 million people are now positively impacted by biofortified crops, with a potential of several hundred million more in the coming decades.

Four biotechnology researchers were named the winners of the 2016 World Food Prize for their work in countering world hunger and malnutrition through biofortification, the process of breeding critical vitamins and micronutrients into staple crops. Thanks to their combined efforts, more than 10 million people are now positively impacted by biofortified crops, with a potential of several hundred million more in the coming decades.

The four recipients—Maria Andrade, Robert Mwanga, Jan Low and Howarth Bouis—were announced June 19 at the U.S. State Department and will equally split the $250,000 prize. They will receive the World Food Prize at a ceremony in Des Moines, Iowa, on Oct. 13, 2016, as a part of the Borlaug Dialogue—a three-day international symposium that addresses cutting-edge issues in global food security.

“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 Gayle Smith, administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). “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."

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 to counter the devastating effects of vitamin A deficiency, which contribute to high rates of blindness, diarrhea, immune system disorders, and premature death in children and pregnant women in Africa. They undertook a multi-year effort to develop disease-resistant, drought-tolerant, high yielding varieties of orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) that can flourish in the variable soils and climatic conditions found in sub-Sarahan Africa.

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 2 million households in 10 separate African countries to plant, purchase and consume this nutritionally-fortified food.

Over a 25-year period, 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, along with vitamin A-enriched cassava, maize and OFSP are being tested or released in more than 40 countries.

The World Food Prize was established in 1986 by Borlaug in order to focus the world’s attention on hunger and on those whose work has significantly helped efforts to end it. This year marks the 28th anniversary of the $250,000 World Food Prize, which recognizes individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.

According to the United Nations, the global population is predicted to reach more than 9 billion by 2050, which will put significant strains on the global food supply. In June 2011, agriculture ministers from the G-20 countries agreed to an action plan aimed at stabilizing food prices and increasing food production that calls for establishing an international information sharing scheme to ensure transparency in agricultural markets.

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