DES MOINES, Iowa – Often hailed as the Nobel Prize of food, the World Food Prize awards the achievements of individuals improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.
This international award was founded in 1986 by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug, who has also been recognized with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. An expert in plant pathology and genetics, Borlaug introduced high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties and innovative agricultural production techniques to Mexico, Pakistan and India.
Borlaug’s work led to the Green Revolution, which many attribute to the aversion to global famine during the second half of the 20th century, saving an estimated one billion lives. Fittingly labeled “the father of the Green Revolution,” Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work combating world hunger and increasing global food security.
In 1986, Borlaug developed the World Food Prize to award innovators working in the field he dedicated his life to. Besides recognizing their individual achievements, this prize would be a way to establish role models who would inspire others, according to Borlaug’s vision. So far, the prize has been awarded to leaders in biotechnology and global food supply in Bangaldesh, Brazil, China, Cuba, Denmark, Ethiopia, India, Mexico, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United Nations and the United States.
The 2013 World Food Prize Laureates were awarded the honor and a $250,000 cash prize to be split among the three winners in June 2013. The winners include Robert Fraley, executive vice president and chief technology officer at Monsanto, Mary-Dell Chilton, founder and researcher at Syngenta Biotechnology and Marc Van Montagu, founder and chairman of the Institute of Plant Biotechnology Outreach.
This year’s World Food Prize has been a lightning rod for controversy, as many have criticized the Prize for solely awarding winners who played prominent roles in developing genetically engineered crops. Environmental activists have argued that by awarding this year’s winners, the World Food Prize has falsely portrayed GMOs as the solution to hunger. Some critics also believe that in doing this, the Prize wrongly promotes large-scale industrialized farming as the ideal solution to global food insecurity.
Since the World Food Prize Foundation relies on corporate, private and government contributions, activists have pointed to the large donations Monsanto and Syngenta have given to the Foundation as evidence of corporate monopoly over the world’s food systems. In support of these controversies, a Des Moines-based organization called Occupy the World Food Prize has assembled to redirect public discourse around food and to shift the focus of the Prize from agribusiness to locally based, sustainable agriculture.
This year’s World Food Prize has been marked by a raging debate over GMO usage that will not foreseeably end soon.
– Tara Young