Who’s who at the World Food Prize

DES MOINES, Iowa – A multitude of agriculture enthusiasts from around the world gathered at the World Food Prize (WFP) to share their contributions to global food security.

Nora Tobin, executive director of Self Help International was quick to show her passion for the action-oriented projects that the organization prides itself on.


Nora Tobin, executive director of Self Help International at the 2014 World Food Prize

“Self Help International alleviates hunger by helping people help themselves.” she said.

Founded in 1959, the Iowa-based organization worked with Dr. Norman Borlaug, a key advisor and board member, from the beginning. Borlaug’s legacy of hands-on agricultural study helped establish the organization’s role of disseminating academic research through farmers in the field.

Currently Self Help works with women’s micro-credit programs based on the work of Muhammad Yunus, 1994 WFP Laureate and founder of the Grameen Bank.

Another project focuses on using the innovation of Daniel Hilell’s micro-irrigation systems to improve water access for regions with arid land. Hilell was named 2012 WFP Laureate for his irrigation work in the Middle East.

Tobin’s belief in the importance of connecting research to action is reflected in the organizations core mission.

“Self Help International takes World Food Prize laureate research to the farmer,” said Tobin.

However, there would be no transfer of knowledge in the first place without researchers. Which is why Stephanie Zumbach, undergraduate student coordinator for the Department of Agronomy at Iowa State University attended this year’s WFP.

“The World Food Prize is working to end hunger,” said Zumbach “We are definitely going to need agronomists to help.”

Through the university’s “I’m an agronomist” campaign, Zumbach educates university students on how agronomy, as a field of study, has an imperative role in solving issues of food security.

Agronomy combines the study of plants, soils, meteorology and environmental conservation aspects of farming. All of these elements, when studied in unison, “make sure we are caring for the land while we are farming it,” said Zumbach.

Current research at Iowa State University focuses on crop breeding, soils, foraging and bio-energy, especially the use of grasses like miscanthus to generate energy.

For Zumbach, the multi-disciplinary approach is important in finding viable solutions to food insecurity and she is enthusiastic about her ability to encourage more students to become agronomists.

Respect for diversity of perspective, much like respect for multi-disciplinary research plays a part in addressing global food issues. ActionAid is an international organization that places diversity at the heart of its work. The organization held a compelling session at the WFP discussing issues of maintaining diversity within our food system.

“ActionAid takes a human rights approach to addressing poverty and hunger, said Doug Hertzler, a senior policy analyst on land rights issues for the organization.

ActionAid operates in 45 countries around the world with headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Hertzler emphasized the importance of advocating for the right to food and land.

“The right to food is the most basic right in many ways,” said Hertzler. “Part of the right to food, especially for rural people is to have the ability to produce their own food and the right to land.”

Small-scale farmers, he said, face difficulties in accessing suitable land to grow food. Some of the difficulty results from the price of land, but a significant portion of arable land is currently being used to grow bio-fuels. The amount of land being used for this, Hertzler said, threatens the ability of rural farmers to feed their families. “Biofuels are not the answer.”

Through his work with ActionAid, Hertzler encourages more awareness of these tough social choices when addressing global food security.

Land access continues to threaten the livelihood of small-scale farmers around the world and Outreach, International recognizes this problem as well.

Two years ago Outreach, a non-profit corporation located in Union, Iowa, purchased 2,000 acres in the Tanga region of Tanzania. Currently they are in the process of building a research-based demonstration farm to benefit local small-scale farmers in the area.

“Our work is development-focused around agriculture and lifestyle,” said Rick McNary, vice president of strategic partnerships.

In 2014, Gene Stevens, professor of plant sciences at the University of Missouri helped Outreach run a preliminary soil quality survey to help establish crop production on the farm.

In the future, the farm will host a training center for agribusiness that both indigenous and international students will benefit from.

“Attending the World Food Prize exposes us to the international community who care deeply about agricultural development. Especially in sub-Saharan Africa,” said McNary.

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