Each year, the World Food Prize Foundation honors individuals who contributed to “improving the quality, quantity, or availability of food throughout the world.” This year’s laureates include a team of three from the International Potato Center and the founder of HarvestPlus. The four researchers are credited with making sweet potatoes more nutritious, which could impact over 10 million people in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
The foundation described the four laureates – Maria Andrade, Robert Mwanga, Jan Low, and Howarth Bouis – as “biofortification pioneers.” According to World Food Prize Foundation President Kenneth Quinn, biofortification is “the process of breeding critical vitamins and micronutrients into staple crops, thereby dramatically reducing hidden hunger and improving health for millions and millions of people.”
The International Potato Center has researched sweet potatoes since 1988. The three laureates from the center bred and introduced a sweet potato fortified with Vitamin A. Andrade, of Cape Verde, and Mwanga of Uganda bred the sweet potato. Low, an American, designed programs to introduce the sweet potato. Nearly “two million households” across 10 African countries have planted or purchased their fortified sweet potato.
HarvestPlus founder Bouis, an American, has worked on biofortification for 25 years. His organization focused on fortifying beans, pearl millet, wheat, and rice with zinc and iron; and cassava, maize, and sweet potatoes with Vitamin A. A deficiency in this critical vitamin can result in premature death and blindness, something the newly-enriched sweet potatoes can combat.
Quinn said, “The impact of the work of all four winners will be felt around the globe, but particularly in sub Saharan Africa. It is particularly poignant that among our 2016 recipients are two African scientists who are working on solutions to tackle malnutrition in Africa, for Africa.”
Past prize honorees include Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus, former President of Ghana John Kufuor, and controversially in 2013, a Monsanto executive.