The World Food Prize, hailed by some as the Nobel Prize of agriculture, was presented at the 2017 Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, in October. The prize, founded by 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug, an Iowa seed breeder who revolutionized agriculture in India, Pakistan and Mexico during the Green Revolution, hopes to encourage those fighting hunger.
This year, Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank, was honored as the World Food Prize laureate. As Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development from 2011 to 2015, he implemented an e-voucher system that sent vouchers for seed and fertilizer to farmer’s mobile phones, eliminating corrupt fertilizer distribution. He organized the 2006 African Fertilizer Summit, one of the largest gatherings of African heads-of-state to specifically discuss agriculture, and was a key player in the early years of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.
Adesina donated his $250,000 cash prize to African youth programs in agriculture. He sought to end stunting in children due to malnutrition and encourages young people into agricultural entrepreneurship.
This year’s Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium, attended by more than 4,000 people, focused on “The Road Out Of Poverty,” to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Africa. Africa’s rural farmers are mostly women and subsistence-farming on fewer than four acres. Simple technology and practices are helping bring agricultural Extension education to these areas. For example, planting information is delivered through mobile phones and planting strings mark how far apart to plant and fertilize seed.
Many agricultural development organizations, such as the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the African Development Bank and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, are working to connect rural areas to cities. More industrialized growing knowledge and better access to inputs would improve farm productivity and fulfill the growing demand for food in Africa’s cities. Stronger infrastructure and more trade policies opening borders for private industry could allow farmers to process and transport food to market.
In developed countries, discussion themes included innovation, consolidation and more sustainable practices. New gene-editing techniques allow researchers to develop crops more quickly, more easily and with more flexibility to alter the crop. The regulatory framework of this technology is still being formed, but research has already started in several crops including corn, wheat, rice, soybeans, potatoes, sorghum, oranges and tomatoes. Several agribusiness companies, including Bayer and DuPont Pioneer, discussed the industry’s consolidation and framed their mergers as an opportunity for more innovation.
As for sustainability, executives from Kellogg, Cargill and Elanco discussed how their companies plan to reach and create a more reliable, sustainable system for African smallholder farms. For Elanco, this includes better storage systems to reduce grain loss to spoilage and disease, and more infrastructure to open up a meat and dairy industry in Africa. Kellogg is also focusing on reducing carbon emissions.