Since its founding almost two decades ago, the World Food Prize Foundation has been working to improve global food supplies. At its recent convention in Des Moines, Iowa - the heart of America's farm belt - experts from 26 countries discussed two major nutritional challenges confronting the world in the 21st century: malnutrition and obesity. The Foundation also presented its annual award to an Indian scientist whose work has helped reduce malnutrition across Africa and Southeast Asia.
The World Food Prize, often referred to as the "Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture," was created in 1986 by Nobel peace laureate Norman Borlaug, the Father of the Green Revolution.
The winner of the 2005 World Food Prize award was Dr. Modadugu Gupta of India. World Food Prize Foundation president, Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, says the aquaculturist was recognized for his sustained efforts over the last several decades to bring what he calls a new 'Blue Revolution' to countries in Southeast Asia and Africa.
"Dr. Gupta was teaching landless farmers - very poor farmers - how they could raise fish using land that was unused, pools, roadside ditches that were unproductive," he says. "He would come down to the village, and work with people, show them how to get started. And the amazing sidebar to all this is that he suddenly attracted hundreds of thousands of women who had not been involved in fishing or fish farming at all. So now about 65% of all the people involved in fishing are women, where it was almost zero before he got started."
Ambassador Quinn says Dr. Gupta's fish farming methods require little cost and cause no environmental damage. And his work has resulted in a dramatic increase in freshwater fish production in these countries, by as much as three to five times. Modadugu Gupta says the award committee recognized the important role aquaculture can play in alleviating hunger.
"This prize gives recognition to the fact that fish are an important source for reducing malnutrition in developing countries where I work, and that fish are an important source of animal protein which very important, especially for the poor in developing countries," Dr. Gupta says.
Reducing malnutrition as a way of slowing the spread of HIV and AIDS in Africa was one of the topics on this year's WFP agenda. But Dr. Gupta says improving nutrition will take more than increasing food production. "For example, in India in 1960s, we were importing a lot of food grains," he says. "Now, we have a surplus, but that didn't solve the problem of hunger or people dying of hunger in India. So what's needed is access to the food. That means we have to make the food production cheaper and make the consumers also the producers."
Along with hunger and malnutrition, the problem of obesity was discussed by WFP experts at their annual gathering. According to Foundation president Kenneth Quinn, today, more than 115 million people in the developing world struggle with obesity-related ailments. "Cardiovascular disease is now the number one killer of people on our planet," he says. "And about 80% of those deaths come in developing countries. So as we are making some progress - not enough - in fighting hunger and malnutrition, we have this other terrible problem of obesity and being overweight starting to affect developing countries."
Ambassador Quinn says the annual World Food Prize Award ceremony and symposium present an opportunity for participants to raise issues, share experiences and exchange ideas. And it doesn't end there. The event, he notes, has also become a way to involve the next generation in the Green Revolution.
"We put about 100 high school students and 100 high school teachers in the room with global experts," he says. "This year we had students from Iowa where the prize was given and some other states. We also had students from Canada, Brazil, the Netherlands, and Nigeria. So they're interacting as well and it's amazing. Sometimes students ask the toughest questions. Then, we pick about a dozen American students and send them to work at leading research organizations in Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, India, Philippines, China, Peru, Brazil, Mexico and Costa Rica. They have this interaction at these research centers. "
When World Food Prize delegates return home, they often initiate more discussions with their own organizations and governments, which generates more possible solutions for the world's food problems.