Des Moines, Iowa, October 13, 2016. Four CGIAR scientists, Dr. Howarth Bouis (HarvestPlus), Dr. Jan Low (CIP), Maria Andrade (CIP), and Robert Mwanga (CIP) will be awarded the World Food Prize tonight for their combined success in improving nutrition and health through biofortified crops. The HarvestPlus program works together with ten CGIAR centers to develop climate smart, high yielding biofortified varieties.
The World Food Prize, sometimes referred to as “the Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture”, is the most prominent global award for individuals whose breakthrough achievements alleviate hunger and promote global food security. “These four scientists have changed the lives of millions through their efforts,” noted CIP Director General, Dr. Barbara Wells. “Nutrition studies have shown that biofortified crops improve health and nutritional status when regularly consumed. They made the case that orange-fleshed sweet potato would be accepted in various African diets, they bred resilient nutritious sweet potatoes that people liked, and now the evidence shows that these communities are healthier as a result.”
2015 was a remarkable year for the global biofortification movement. More than 15 million people are now growing and eating these healthier crops. Over 100 varieties of 12 micronutrient-enriched crops are available in 30 countries, and are being tested in an additional 25 countries. HarvestPlus’ goal is to scale up delivery so that a billion people worldwide will be reaping the nutritional and agronomic benefits of these crops by 2030.
About 150 million people worldwide have vitamin A deficiency. In Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, vitamin A deficiency is a leading cause of blindness, disease and premature death among children under five. Pregnant and lactating women are also at high risk of vitamin A deficiency. The vitamin A crops, like orange-fleshed sweet potato, orange maize and orange cassava are great sources of vitamin A. Just 125 grams daily of fresh roots from most orange-fleshed sweet potato varieties contain enough beta-carotene to prevent childhood blindness.
Studies have shown that other biofortified crops have similar nutritional benefits. Eating bread made of high-iron pearl millet reversed iron deficiency and improved physical activity and cognitive performance in Indian children aged 12-16 years within four months. In Rwanda, 75 percent of university-aged women’s daily iron needs were met when they ate biofortified, high-iron beans twice daily—helping prevent and reverse iron deficiency. Improvement in iron status was also accompanied by more physical activity and higher cognitive performance in these women. Clinical trials are underway to show the nutritional impact of zinc crops. Initial data show that zinc absorbed from biofortified wheat is significantly greater than from common varieties.
CIP, which adopted sweet potato as a mandate crop in 1988, began working on introducing vitamin A-rich orange-fleshed sweet potato in 1995 as most dominate varieties in Sub-Saharan Africa are white-fleshed, having no beta-carotene. Research has also shown that vitamin A sweet potato can reduce the prevalence and duration of diarrhea, which is one of the leading causes of preventable death in children under five.
Critical to the success of orange-fleshed sweet potato in Sub-Saharan Africa was the participation of health care providers who promoted the nutritional value of the crop to pregnant and lactating women. Another major lesson learned early in the introduction of orange-fleshed sweet potato was that it was necessary to breed in Africa so that the pro-vitamin A trait, beta-carotene, is prevalent in sweet potatoes with taste and agronomic characteristics that consumers and producers wanted. This required convincing donors and governments to invest in a crop that was largely ignored, considered a crop of the poor and, in most countries, a woman’s crop.
“We still face immense challenges in eliminating hunger and malnutrition but scientists like Howarth Bouis, Maria Andrade, Robert Mwanga, and Jan Low are making great strides toward those goals,” said Dr. Shenggen Fan, director general of IFPRI. “We are proud the World Food Prize Committee believes as strongly as we do in the value of the work of these scientists and CGIAR research.”
About the World Food Prize
The World Food Prize was created in 1986 by Nobel Peace Prize recipient Dr. Norman Borlaug. It is the foremost international award recognizing individuals whose achievements have advanced human development by increasing the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. The prize was endowed by the Ruan family of Des Moines, Iowa. Businessman John Ruan III now serves as chairman of the Foundation and Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, former U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia is the president of the organization. A Selection Committee of experts from around the world oversees the nomination and selection process, and is chaired by Prof. M.S. Swaminathan of India, who was also honored as the first World Food Prize Laureate. Other past Prize winners include former President of Ghana, John Kufour; U.S. Senators Bob Dole and George McGovern; Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus; Professor Yuan Longping of China and former Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme Catherine Bertini.
The International Potato Center, known by its Spanish acronym CIP, was founded in 1971 as a root and tuber research-for-development institution delivering sustainable solutions to the pressing world problems of hunger, poverty, and the degradation of natural resources. CIP is truly a global center, with headquarters in Lima, Peru and offices in 23 developing countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Working closely with our partners, CIP seeks to achieve food security, increased well-being, and gender equity for poor people in the developing world. CIP furthers its mission through rigorous research, innovation in science and technology, and capacity strengthening regarding root and tuber farming and food systems. A full list of donors and partners that supported CIP’s work on orange-fleshed sweet potato can be found at https://www.cipotato.org/wfp.
CIP is part of the CGIAR Consortium, a global partnership that unites organizations engaged in research for a food secure future.
CGIAR research is dedicated to reducing rural poverty, increasing food security, improving human health and nutrition, and ensuring more sustainable management of natural resources. Donors include individual countries, major foundations, and international entities.
CIP is the lead center for the CGIAR Research Program (CRP) on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), and CIP’s work related to orange sweet potato is part of the deliverables of this program and a contribution to the achievement of the CGIAR goals in terms of poverty reduction, enhanced nutrition and food security and natural resources management, which contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).