This past week at the World Food Prize, I had the privilege of meeting Hunger Fighters of the past and future. This is a unique global forum that honors those who have contributed to humanity by following in the footsteps of Norman Borlaug to serve with passion, compassion and humility. There is a distinct feeling of innovation, partnerships and interdisciplinary teams – all coming together to improve the lives of farm families around the globe and to ensure safe, nutritious and accessible food for all.
This year that honor went to Sir Fazle Hasan Abed (standing next to me in the photo along with Dr. Kush the famous IRRI Rice Breeder), the founder of BRAC who nurtured the organization, staff and the people they serve, especially women and girls, to empower them to realize their full potential.
Starting off in Bangladesh in 1972, BRAC now operates in other parts of Asia and Africa, replicating its model of microfinance and empowerment, including helping the ultra-poor. I had the privilege of interacting with Sir Fazle recently at the Gates Foundation and was able to talk with him about collaboration with ICRISAT both in Africa and Asia. Sir Fazle is truly an inspiration to us all.
Other highlights included the high-level panel on The Orange Revolution moderated by Pamela Anderson (Director, Agriculture Development, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) that discussed the development, dissemination and integration of women into the design and scaling out of orange fleshed sweet potato in eastern Africa. It was interesting to hear how health clinics for women were used to help disseminate cuttings of sweet potato to improve child nutrition, and emphasized the need for cross-sector collaboration to achieve development goals. It emphasized the importance building nutri-crops into our solutions.
I enjoyed the breakfast seminar at which Mehmood Khan, VC and Chief Scientific Officer of PepsiCo talked about the Importance of diversity – race, gender and thinking – to unlock the full potential of organizations to grow and rise to the diverse challenges facing society. Gordon Conway did a fantastic job of moderating a session on Conservation Agriculture (CA) that included Howard G. Buffet (well-known spokesperson on CA and advocate for the poor), Kofi Boa of Ghana and Alejandro López Moriena who manages 500 m acres under CA in Brazil and Argentina. While the three FAO principles of CA are simple: minimize tillage, use residues, rotate crops – tailoring the intervention to different soils, ecologies and markets is a real science that requires experimentation to get it right.
Louise Fresco (President of Wageningen UR) did a fantastic job of ‘Borlaug 2.0’ – what would Norman Borlaug have done at this meeting given climate change, price volatility, SDGs calling us to action and the financial challenges that requires us to be more innovative than ever to achieve our mission of nutritional security, poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability. Professor MS Swaminathan called for an Evergreen Revolution to ensure natural resources to produce food for future generations are preserved. And most importantly, everyone realized the need to achieve nutritional security in the current generation, which received the most votes when put to the audience.
Issues highlighted by the National Geographic on 2015 Sustaining a Global Appetite – FOOD, included Professor Fresco’s thoughts on the water footprint of meat (especially beef) and the emerging role of aquaculture to improve nutrition.
It was wonderful to see past colleagues and old friends and to know that there is a growing coalition of passionate and compassionate scientists (young and young at heart) in the public and private sectors and civil society, policy makers and farmers who are banding together to create a nutritionally secure world while reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture. We can do this together!