By Kristen Reesor
DES MOINES, Iowa – Four biofortification experts received recognition for their contributions to improving the health of millions at the 2016 Laureate Award Ceremony for the World Food Prize on Thursday.
The 2016 laureates –Maria Andrade, Howarth Bouis, Jan Low and Robert Mwanga –were greeted with standing ovations as they each entered the Iowa State Capitol House of Representatives chamber.
Andrade, Mwanga and Low are from the International Potato Center. The World Food Prize honored them for developing and promoting the consumption of the orange-flesh sweet potato, a crop enriched with vitamin A.
Bouis, the founder of HarvestPlus at the International Food Policy Research Institute, won the World Food Prize for leading a plant breeding strategy where nutrient-fortified crops have been released or tested in more than 40 countries.
The laureates’ achievements in biofortification, according to the World Food Prize, have helped improve the health of 10 million people and have the potential to affect up to one billion people by 2030.
“I’ve learned science can only serve the poor if we scientists actively take leadership in motivating and organizing the many actors and institutions involved in bringing new agricultural technologies to farmers and consumers,”Bouis said.
Low gave her speech in the form of a poem. She said, “Our deepest joy is watching children consume their first biofortified fruits, improving the odds for healthy lives.”
Low’s rhyming remarks were not the only artistic touches in the award ceremony. Music was involved throughout the night, from the Southeast Polk High School band playing on the Capitol steps before the ceremony began to country singer Emily West performing “I want to live”— a song from the first World Food Prize award ceremony in 1987.
African opera singer Bongiwe Nakani was scheduled to sing at the ceremony as well, but a delayed flight trapped her in Vienna. In her absence, former Borlaug-Ruan intern Anne Micheal Langguth played a violin piece.
Leslie Odom Jr, from the Broadway musical Hamilton, performed the final songs of the evening. He sang a song from the musical in which Andrew Jackson and Aaron Burr tell their children they will fight for them to have prosperous futures. Odom Jr said it was a fitting song for the occasion because The World Food Prize recognizes individuals who invest in children’s health and the organization strives to inspire the next generation to tackle the issue of world hunger.
Some members of the next generation received recognized at the ceremony for their work to improve food security.
Isiah Brandt won the 2016 John Chrystal Intern Award for research on rural youth in Kenya. Madeline Poole was one of the two winners of the 2016 Elaine Szymoniak Intern Award. She conducted research on rhizobacteria in India. The other recipient was Precious Listana, who focused on forming self-help groups in India.
Students, scientists, dignitaries, 14 past World Food Prize laureates and more attended the award ceremony. Many family members of the late Norman Borlaug, founder of the World Food Prize, and the late John Ruan, who brought the World Food Prize to Iowa, also attended. Ruan’s grandson and World Food Prize Chairman, John Ruan III, sat on stage next to an empty chair.
“It’s open so that (Borlaug) spirit is always here with us,” Quinn said.
President Barack Obama sent a letter read by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack saying,“This year’s honorees—two African scientists and two Americans—remind us that we need not come from similar backgrounds or origins to help ensure global food security.”
In the House Chambers, as many as 40-50 languages were spoken from people all over the world who came to celebrate agriculture, Quinn said.
“In any of those languages, hunger is a terrible word.”
This story is published in collaboration with the University of Missouri. Read more about their reporting project at the World Food Prize here.