Former developing country leaders win world food award

Posted: 10 October 2011

This year's World Food Award is to be made this week to two former heads of state, John Agyekum Kufuor, the former president of Ghana, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former president of Brazil, for their outstanding achievements in reducing hunger in their countries.

Welcoming the awards, researchers at the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet Project said it was critical that policymakers around the world step up their efforts to combat hunger, malnutrition, and poverty by providing greater support for agriculture.

Lula da Silva
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva meets with people in in Lauro de Freitas, Bahia, Brazil. Photo credit: Ricardo Stuckert

"As the global population is expected to hit 7 billion by the end of this month, it is increasingly important that food security become a higher priority on country agendas," said Robert Engelman, Worldwatch's President. "Leaders like Kufuor and da Silva show us that political will and government action can reduce hunger. The opportunities to do so around the world are immense."

"Agriculture is not often a top priority for policymakers" said Danielle Nierenberg, director of the Institute's Nourishing the Planet project. "In Africa, only seven nations invest 10 percent or more of their national budgets in the sector. Now, more than ever, it is essential for policymakers to support sustainable agricultural innovations to improve food security."

He says that continued neglect from governments is putting greater strain on farmers, especially as they confront the risks of climate change and increasing water scarcity.

Hunger halved

Both of this year's World Food Prize recipients have made a 'considerable contribution'  to their countries' agricultural sectors, says Worldwatch.  Under former Ghanaian President Kufuor's tenure, both the share of people suffering from hunger and the share of people living on less than $1 dollar a day were halved.

Economic reforms strengthened public investment in food and agriculture, a major factor behind the quadrupling of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) between 2003 and 2008. Because 60 percent of Ghana's population depends directly on agriculture, the sector is critical for the country's economic development.

President Kufuor serving school children in Kibera, Nairobi in Kenya in 2010. Photo credit: Office of John A Kufuor

In addition to the economic reforms, Ghana's Agricultural Extension Service helped alleviate hunger and poverty by educating farmers and ultimately doubling cocoa production between 2002 and 2005. And the country's School Feeding Program, which began in 2005, ensures that school children receive one nutritiously and locally produced meal every day.

The programme has transformed domestic agriculture by supporting irrigation, improving seeds and crop diversification, making tractors more affordable for farmers, and building feed roads, silos, and cold stores for horticultural crops.

In Brazil, among the major goals of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's presidency were alleviating poverty, improving educational opportunities for children, providing greater inclusion of the poor in society, and ensuring that "every Brazilian has food to eat three times a day."

The government implemented policies and actions known as the "Zero Hunger Programmes" to provide cash aid to poor families (guaranteeing a minimum income and enabling access to basic goods and services); to distribute food to poor families through community restaurants, assisted-living facilities, day-care centres, and related organizations; and to provide nutritious meals to children in public schools.

As a result, the number of hungry people in Brazil was halved, and the share of Brazilians living in extreme poverty decreased from 12 percent in 2003 to 4.8 percent in 2009.

African innovations

Not just in Ghana and Brazil, but around the world, policymakers, farmers, activists, and other leaders are investing in agricultural innovations to reduce hunger and alleviate poverty, Worldwatch researchers say. Travelling to 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, they uncovered a 'treasure trove' of innovations from farmers' groups, private voluntary organizations, universities, and even agribusiness companies. [See the Institute's latest State of the World 2011 report].

In Uganda, for example, Project DISC (Developing Innovations in School Cultivation) is teaching students how to grow, cook, and eat native vegetables, including spiderwiki and amaranth: classes are also giving them a reason to stay in rural areas and become farmers, instead of migrating to the cities.

In other countries, including Niger, Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, farmers are learning how to increase their harvests and get more "crop per drop." In Benin, the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) has introduced solar-powered drip irrigation that is improving nutrition and raising incomes for farmers. After one year villagers were eating three to five servings of vegetables a day, and children were going to school instead of spending time carrying water to the fields.

Nourishing the Planet praises the leaders who have helped to reduce hunger and poverty in their countries. But with some 1 billion hungry people remaining in the world, much greater investment and policy support is needed to boost agriculture and improve global food security.

The World Food Prize, awarded each year since 1994, and sponsored by U.S. philanthropist John Ruan, recognizes the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world, thereby helping to boost global food security.