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Breeding Resilient Crops, Feeding More Hungry People Are Themes For 2019 World Food Prize

Amy Mayer
2019 World Food Prize Laureate Simon N. Groot receives applause during a panel discussion Wednesday in Des Moines.

The founder of a global vegetable seed company will receive the 2019 World Food Prize in a ceremony Thursday at the Iowa State Capitol.

Simon N. Groot began East-West Seed in 1982 and the World Food Prize Foundation honored him with its $250,000 prize for “his transformative role in empowering millions of smallholder farmers in more than 60 countries to earn greater incomes through enhanced vegetable production, benefitting hundreds of millions of consumers with greater access to nutritious vegetables for healthy diets.”

Groot is participating this week in the Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium, where on Wednesday he joined a panel focused on crops that will help fight hunger.

The U.S. Agency for International Development used the gathering to announce new partnerships to support global agriculture and alleviate hunger.

Credit Amy Mayer / IPR
USAID administrator Mark Green announces new partnerships with universities and private businesses.

Mark Green, administrator of USAID, told researchers, policymakers, students and activists that his agency is working with MasterCard and John Deere to bring financial services and agriculture equipment to farmers around the world.

Green said the goal is to get tools that have transformed agriculture in industrialized countries into more farmers’ hands. He noted USAID doesn’t have the networks or experiences that some private enterprises have.

“The last time I checked, USAID doesn’t make farm equipment," Green said. "Instead, what we do is try to help equipment that my father-in-law, the farmer in the Midwest, has used for years to great end, [come] into contact with families [and] smallholder farmers, who will produce great outcomes.”

Green said the collaborations will leverage more knowledge and opportunity than USAID could deploy on its own.

Green also announced a new Innovation Lab for Crop Improvement at Cornell University, which will spearhead research on food crops that have not yet been subjected to the scientific scrutiny of some of the world’s grains and other crops. Targets include banana, cassava, black-eyed peas and chickpeas.

“This is a chance to not only help farmers have better crops, but help those crops reach consumers who depend on these for proteins and micronutrients in their diets,” said Rob Bertram, chief scientist for USAID’s bureau for food security. He said the lab will also include Clemson and Kansas State universities, but the goal is to ultimately train the next generation of scientists who will conduct research in the target countries where the population depends on these foods.

Iowa-based Corteva Agriscience—formerly Pioneer—announced a half-million dollar fund to promote the best climate-protecting farming practices. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced increases to its ongoing funding of the international research consortium known as CGIAR, which is also focused on improving crop breeding to feed a hungry world.

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames