World Food Prize names 2011 winners

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — John Agyekum Kufuor, former president of Ghana, and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, former president of Brazil, have been named the winners of the 2011 World Food Prize at a June 21 ceremony at the U.S. State Department. The former presidents were recognized for creating and implementing government policies that alleviated hunger and poverty in their countries.

“President Kufuor and President Lula da Silva have set a powerful example for other political leaders in the world,” said Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, president of the World Food Prize. “Thanks to their personal commitment and visionary leadership, both Ghana and Brazil are on track to exceed the UN Millennium Development Goal 1 — to cut in half extreme hunger before 2015.”

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack also commended Presidents Kufuor and Lula da Silva, saying they have “advanced food security for their people by pursuing innovative policies and programs, and their leadership and work stand as a model to all nations working to meet the moral imperative of feeding the world.”

President Kufuor led Ghana from 2001 to 2009, during which time he sought to improve food security and reduce poverty through public- and private-sector initiatives. To that end, he implemented major economic and educational policies that increased the quality and quantity of food to Ghanaians, enhanced farmers’ incomes, and improved school attendance and child nutrition through a nationwide feeding program.

Under his leadership, Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African country to cut in half the proportion of its people who suffer from hunger, and the proportion of people living on less than a dollar per day, on course to achieve UN Millennium Development Goal 1 before the 2015 deadline. He also implemented economic reforms, including the Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy, which provided incentives and strengthened public investments in the agricultural and food sector.

Under President Kufuor, the Agricultural Extension Service was reactivated and special attention paid to educating farmers on best practices. As a result, Ghana’s cocoa production doubled between 2002 and 2005, and food crops such as maize, cassava, yams and plantains increased significantly, as did livestock production.
President Kufuor also was responsible for launching the Ghana School Feeding Program, which provides one nutritious locally produced meal a day for school children in kindergarten to junior high school (ages 4 through 14). By ensuring nutritious food at school, this program reduced the level of chronic hunger and malnutrition while improving attendance. By the end of 2010, approximately 1.04 million primary school children were participating and benefitting from the program.

President Lula da Silva led Brazil from 2003 to 2010, during which time he made it a focus to fight hunger and poverty. He called upon all elements of Brazilian society to embrace his goal to ensure three meals a day for all citizens, to alleviate poverty, to enhance educational opportunities for children, and to provide greater inclusion of the poor in society.

President Lula da Silva’s national initiatives — embodied in his Zero Hunger strategy — were well aligned with the UN Millennium Development Goals. During his tenure, MDG 1 was exceeded before the 2015 deadline, as Brazil reduced by half its proportion of hungry people (with 93% of children and 82% of adults eating three meals a day) and also reduced the percentage of Brazilians living in extreme poverty, to 5% in 2009 from 12% in 2003.

The Zero Hunger programs, which provided greater access to food, strengthened family farms and rural incomes, increased enrollment of primary school children, and empowered the poor, became one of the most successful food and nutritional security policies in the world through its broad network of programs, including: the Bolsa Familia Program; the Food Purchase Program; and the School Feeding Program.

The Bolsa Familia Program, set up to provide cash aid to poor families, has been a major factor in contributing to the reduction of poverty throughout the country. By 2009, more than 12 million beneficiary families — nearly a quarter of Brazil’s population — were guaranteed a minimum income and allowed access to basic goods and services.

Another important pillar of Zero Hunger was the Food Purchase Program, which linked local production directly with expanding food consumption and contributed to rural development by acquiring food directly from smallholder farmers. Distribution of food to poor families was through the public schools, community restaurants, assisted living facilities, day care centers, and related organizations.

The national School Feeding Program has had a far-reaching impact on reducing child malnutrition by providing nutritious meals to children in all grades of Brazil’s public schools across the country. Forty-seven million were being served in 2010, with a minimum of 30% of the food supplied from local farms. Child malnutrition fell 61.9% between 2003 and 2009, and all age groups experienced improved access to quality food.

The 2011 World Food Prize will be awarded formally at the Iowa State Capital on Oct. 13, in conjunction with the Borlaugh Dialogue international symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, themed “The Next Generation: Confronting the Hunger Challenges of Tomorrow.”

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