World Food Prize ceremony honors women not just in agriculture

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By Alexa Ahern

DES MOINES, Iowa — Women around the world were the stars of this past week’s World Food Prize. Speakers such as Chelsea Clinton, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, and honoree Joyce Banda, former president of Malawi — the second ever female president on the African continent — and founder of Joyce Banda Foundation, were highlights of the conference at the Marriott Downtown Hotel.

The theme was the same at nearly every session: ending hunger starts with women’s empowerment. And it carried through to the laureate ceremony Thursday night at the Iowa State Capitol.

The World Food Prize was awarded to Sir Fazle Hasan Abed under the crystal chandeliers and gold-trimmed ceilings of the House Chamber.

Abed’s organization, BRAC, was founded on the notion that women and girls are the key to lifting communities out of poverty and hunger.

The ceremony continued with performances by women. A poem, “In Any Language,” written by Lucille Morgan Wilson, a 90-year-old female Iowan, was recited by World Food Prize Founder Norman Borlaug’s daughter, Jeanie Borlaug Laube.

Abed was brought to tears by a surprise performance by his favorite musician, Bangladeshi singer Shama Rahman. And the ceremony ended with an uplifting performance of “I am Woman; Hear Me Roar” by the all-female Empowered Voices Chorus.

Abed’s acceptance speech reiterated the role of women in his organization.

“The honor does not belong to me alone,” he said. “The real heroes in our story are the poor themselves, women especially.”

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Open data a necessary resource for farmers

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Secretary of the USDA, Thomas Vilsack, joined Brady Deaton, executive director of Deaton Institute and former chancellor of the University of Missouri, and Gavin Starks, CEO of the Open Data Institute, to talk about the importance of open data in agriculture. (Photo by Alexa Ahern

By Jieyang Zheng and Alexa Ahern

DES MOINES, Iowa — Data gives farmers control and knowledge and open data can broaden access to new technologies and precise market information. But challenges arise when private sector groups conceal data, make it difficult to use, keep it closed off from the public or have it copyrighted.

Secretary of the USDA, Thomas Vilsack, joined Brady Deaton, executive director of Deaton Institute and former chancellor of the University of Missouri, and Gavin Starks, CEO of the Open Data Institute, for a discussion of the value of open data Thursday at the World Food Prize at the Downtown Marriott Hotel.

As farmers adopt new technology in the 21st century, access to and analysis of open data will be a useful tool.

Social media proves there is a demand for open data, Vilsack said, but it can be a scary albeit liberating process for those holding the data. One challenge to open data is copyright policy.

Copyright does protect the financial contribution of developers but at the same time should make the data more open to the public so that innovation can be driven forward, Vilsack said. Farmers are reluctant to take the data without knowing who owns it and whether it is personalized, meaning its not usable for a broad network of farmers, or biased, he said.

In addition to caution on personalized and biased data, Deaton said data should be contextualized so that it is meaningful.

“It’s important to make data not just accessible but usable,” he said.

Sparks added the importance of maintaining ethical practices in data collection and organization.

Open, usable data can better inform farmers about crop prices and technologies to improve their productivity. And it provides consumers with more precise information about safety and nutrition.

“Open data is a powerful tool, but it’s not the solution to feeding 9 billion people by 2050,” Deaton said.

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Help people to help themselves, a better model to improve small holder’s life

By Jiayi Wang

DES MOINES, Iowa — Charles F. Nicholson holds a small box of dried mangoes and invites people at the 2015 World Food Prize to taste the product made by farmers at Tiron, a small Indonesian village.

SunRei Marketing Company, a United States NGO that trains mango farmers in an Indonesia village and provides them with processing machines. Their products sells to the United States. (Photo by Jiayi Wang)

SunRei Marketing Company, a non governmental organization trains mango farmers in an Indonesia village and provides them with processing machines. Their products sells to the United States. (Photo by Jiayi Wang)

Nicholson is a principal director of SunRei Marketing Company, a non governmental organization (NGO) that trains mango farmers at Tiron and provides them with processing machines. Their dried mango products ship and sell to supermarkets in the U.S.

“Most importantly, the farmers’ daily incomes double,” Nicholson said.

More international NGOs like SunRei are trying the model of combining education, assistance and business to improve the livelihoods of small-scale farmers in developing countries. One, Self Help International, an NGO with 56-year history, started by donating tractors from the U.S. to Ghana and then developed a long-term development strategy in 1989. They built training center to provide education on agriculture, women, health and hygiene. Self Help also encourages women to take control of their financial future by giving micro-loans and business management courses.

“Our goal is to help these people no longer need us,” Beth Grabau, Central Iowa Development Officer of Self Help, said.

Smallholder farmers manage eighty percent of the farmlands in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, according to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Viable livelihoods of these smallholders directly influence sustainability in developing countries.

Although international food-aid can pull people through in an emergency, said Kofi Boa, director of Center for No-Till Agriculture in Ghana, depending on food-aid, over time, will be harmful to sustainability in Africa. However, smallholder farmers urgently need agriculture education and technology, Boa said, especially since many agricultural companies in Africa are not only taking farmland from small farmers but use machinery which will replace the workforce and increase unemployment.

Boa described an ideal model for helping smallholder farmers: large-scale agricultural companies provide technology supports and training to smallholders with little capital and then buy the crops produced by the smallholders to sell and export.

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People at the 2015 World Food Prize

Video by Sahar Majid

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The orange revolution: feeding the world one sweet potato at a time

By Jieyang Zheng and Alexa Ahern

DES MOINES, Iowa — Sweet potatoes have a secret. They aren’t all sugary holiday dishes.

The orange-fleshed sweet potatoes that are ubiquitous on Thanksgiving tables are rich in Vitamin A. However, their paler cousin, the white-fleshed sweet potato, is not.

Only the less nutritional white varieties are available in some parts of the world. In eastern and southern African countries, where malnutrition is a serious health threat, Vitamin A deficiency can cause blindness, stunting and sometimes death.

The orange variety could change that, said three scientists from the International Potato Center at the World Food Prize Friday at the Marriott Downtown Hotel.

According to the scientists — Jan Low, principal scientist; Robert O. M. Mwanga, sweet potato breeder; and Maria Andrade, senior sweet potato breeder — other characteristics make orange-fleshed sweet potatoes perfect for lifting some African communities out of malnutrition:

  • The harvest cycle of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes is relatively short at three months.
  • It is drought tolerant.
  • It can be a source of crucial income during dry season.
  • Children like the texture better.
  • Orange-fleshed varieties can grow in difficult terrain.

However, the sweet potato vines can only be stored for up to seven days, unlike other staples and breeding new varieties can take up to eight years.

The International Potato Center is working to make more varieties that can adapt to various soil and climate conditions.

In Ethiopia, the International Potato Center introduced the first variety of sweet potato that can be grown on the rocky, sandy terrain of the east-African country.

By 2020, the center hopes that 10 million households will be using orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. Currently, 1.9 million have access to the hunger-curing, vitamin-rich root vegetable.

Beyond nutrition, sweet potatoes provide financial security.

“Potatoes are income for families to pay for school books and to send their children to school,” Andrade said.

They really are a super food.

 

 

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A story in tweets: issues at World Food Prize 2015

By Jieyang Zheng

Click here to see some of the important ideas surrounding agricultural development to #Endhunger.

https://storify.com/Sophia0126/a-recap-of-world-food-prize-2015

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Food Sovereignty Prize provides alternative to World Food Prize

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Farmer Barb Kalbach of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement addressed the crowd at Wednesday night’s Food Sovereignty Prize ceremony at the Trinity United Methodist Church, in Des Moines. (Photo by Bill Allen)

By Alexa Ahern

DES MOINES, Iowa — A different kind of food prize was awarded Wednesday evening at a small Methodist church two miles north of the bustle of the World Food Prize at the Marriott Downtown Hotel.

The sounds of a flute and the smell of incense greeted local parishioners of the Trinity United Methodist Church for the ceremony. Among the roughly 70 attendees were guests from far-away places.

They all had one thing in common. They, too, are fighting to end hunger and improve the global food system.

This year, the Food Sovereignty Prize, which has been around since 2009, was awarded to the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras.

“We give the Food Sovereignty Prize to honor those doing work in the field here in the U.S. and worldwide,” said Adam Mason, state policy organizing director at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. “We have to build this movement globally by educating and engaging people in their community.”

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Cornelius Blanding, executive director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, USA, accepted the Food Sovereignty Prize on behalf of the federation. (Photo by Bill Allen)

The federation advocates for black farmers in the South, where they have trouble holding on to farmland because they don’t have heirs’ property, meaning they legally don’t inherit the land relatives hand down. Cornelius Blanding, executive director of the federation, accepted the prize.

“A prize like this is relevant at any time but extremely important right now because it adds to the conversation and gives people a platform,” Blanding said of the relevance to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Food Sovereignty Alliance, which awards the prizes, acknowledged the significance of the movement in improving the state of food sovereignty.

“We wanted to take a page from the Black Lives Matter movement to recognize these two groups,” Mason said.

Support for minority empowerment was signaled in choosing the other prize winner as well.

The Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras is a grassroots group that protects the economic, social and cultural rights of the afro-descended, indigenous Garifuna communities in Honduras. The organization focuses on youth and women empowerment to help the Garifuna, a matriarchal society, fight for land security against agro-fuel companies, resort development and narco-trafficking.

Miriam Miranda, general coordinator of the organization, accepted the prize.

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Miriam Miranda, general coordinator of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras, accepted the Food Sovereignty Prize on behalf of her group . (Photo by Bill Allen)

“I am here to honor the campesinos and campesinas — peasants — to have a right to produce their own food,” she said through a translator. “They are feeding the world, but they are facing criminalization and assassination to defend their land.”

The ceremony was informal. The goal was to highlight the role of the local community, which for the church includes a Latino population. Attendees cheered and cried out in both languages to the passionate speeches of the keynote speakers.

A poem, called a mistica, was read during the ceremony in Spanish and English. The closing performance was an anti-GMO rendition of “Home on the Range” by an all-women choir called the Raging Grannies.

The following night on the other side of town in the opulent Iowa State Capitol, the World Food Prize Laureate ceremony took place with pomp, circumstance and a famous Bangladeshi musician. More than 500 people attended.

The ceremony had similarities to the Food Sovereignty Prize the previous night — a wind quintet to start the program, a recited poem called “In any other language” and an all-women’s choir to end the ceremony — but set to a backdrop of chandeliers, frescoes and marble columns.

Members of the Food Sovereignty Alliance protest on the steps of the Iowa State Capitol before the World Food Prize laureate ceremony. (Photo by Alexa Ahern)

Members of the Food Sovereignty Alliance protest on the steps of the Iowa State Capitol before the World Food Prize laureate ceremony Thursday night. (Photo by Alexa Ahern)

On the steps below the Capitol, Brad Wilson and a small group from the Food Sovereignty Alliance protested the corporate food and agriculture businesses associated with the World Food Prize.

Food sovereignty is about giving more control to local farmers and food workers to create a new system or reorganize the dominant system when it doesn’t work for them, Wilson said.

Brad Wilson, a farmer in Eastern Iowa and member of the Food Sovereignty Alliance, protested with other members. (Photo by Alexa Ahern)

Brad Wilson, a farmer in eastern Iowa and member of the Food Sovereignty Alliance, protested with other members Thursday night. (Photo by Alexa Ahern)

Wilson is a farmer in Eastern Iowa. He grows oats and grains, clover and alfalfa, and corn and soybeans on a crop rotation — every year or two he plants a new set of crops and doesn’t use any pesticides.

Because Wilson can label his products as organic, he gets more money for them. He wants to give more farmers the chance to grow food organically.

The heartland of America is marked by the amber waves of Iowa. For some, the wheat and corn fields of this state are also considered the breadbasket of the world. This week it was home to people from all over the globe — Honduras, South Africa, Bangladesh, Kenya, Pakistan.

“Our struggles are similar,” said Barb Kalbach, keynote speaker for the Food Sovereignty Prize and member of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.

“Your fight is our fight,” she said. “Our fight is your fight.”

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