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Eye on the Prize: Feeding the World

Published: Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013 10:33 a.m. CDT

For generations, Iowans have answered the call to feed the world.  That noble vocation continues today as farmers across the state haul in the fall harvest.  Their labor will help curb the pangs of hunger and malnutrition in poverty-stricken communities around the world.

Today’s 21st century stewards of the soil — from resource-rich Iowa to resource-poor India — sow the seeds of global food security thanks in part to revolutionary advances in biotechnology pioneered by Iowan’s own Dr Norman Borlaug.  The late Dr. Borlaug spent a lifetime toiling in the fields of Mexico and India to unlock high-yield crop varieties by researching plant genetics.  Known as the Father of the Green Revolution, Dr. Borlaug is credited with saving a billion people from starvation.  Blending his Midwestern work ethic with an unyielding humanitarian mission to feed the hungry, Dr. Borlaug spread food security to some of the most impoverished places on Earth by advancing agricultural innovation from field to fork.  His legacy is carried on today through the World Food Prize.

Established in 1986, the World Food Prize is a prestigious international award that recognizes outstanding, measurable achievement by individuals who have improved the quality, quantity and availability of food in the world.

Thanks to the visionary leadership of Dr. Borlaug and philanthropic commitment by the John Ruan family, the World Food Prize since 1990 has been headquartered in Des Moines.  Located in the heart of America’s breadbasket, Iowa serves as a global agricultural anchor all along the food chain.  The World Food Prize puts Iowa on the map as a global leader to promote scientific innovation and its application to agriculture.  This annual award helps create awareness, understanding, and appreciation for the safety and sustainability of biotechnology.  It inspires policy leaders and the next generation to join the crusade:  nourish the hungry, replace food scarcity with food security and empower resource-poor farmers with high-yield seeds.  With an eye on wiping famine off the face of the Earth, the World Food Prize serves as a catalyst to promote dialogue and acceptance for sustainable stewardship of biotechnology and natural resources.  From food and agriculture science and technology, to manufacturing, marketing, nutrition, economics, poverty alleviation, political leadership and the social sciences, the World Food Prize focuses all eyes on feeding the hungry.

All eyes will be on Iowa this month during a three-day symposium that coincides with the centennial observance of Dr. Borlaug’s birth in 1913.  From Oct. 13-16, more than 1,000 scientists, policy experts, political leaders, humanitarians and business leaders from more than 65 countries will gather in Des Moines to discuss:  The Next Borlaug Century:  Biotechnology, Sustainability and Climate Volatility.

Speakers include Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, current President of Iceland; and Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, at the Vatican.

The 2013 World Food Prize Laureate Awards will honor three pioneers of agricultural biotechnology whose research conducted two continents apart has helped advance world food security, especially to those in developing countries.  Their discoveries have enabled farmers to feed more people by growing more crops with improved yields that use less water and bear resistance to disease, insects, heat and drought.

Their work should inspire policy makers in Washington to keep the pressure on the U.S. Trade Representative to give agriculture a proper seat at the negotiating table for world trade agreements, derail non-tariff trade barriers with the World Trade Organization, and expand market access for American farm exports, including GMO grain.  Biotechnology offers hope to farmers who are trying to feed their families and make a living off the land in some of the most impoverished areas on the world.

As Iowa’s harvest gets underway, let’s all keep our eye on the prize. Reaping the benefits of human nature’s capacity to innovate and create can solve the volatile swings of Mother Nature and feed a swelling global population expected to reach 9 billion in 2050.  Let’s ask ourselves, if we have solutions to nurture natural resources while harvesting more from the land to feed the hungry and raise standards of living around the world, wouldn’t it be morally wrong to turn our backs on science, sustainability and food security?

• • •

Iowa will celebrate Dr. Norman E Borlaug World Food Prize Day on Oct. 16.  Next spring, a statue of Dr. Borlaug will join the National Statuary Collection in the U.S. Capitol.

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