The World Food Prize Foundation

Remarks by: Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn As Prepared for Delivery At The World Food Prize 2017 Laureate Announcement Ceremony


Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Senator and Mrs. Barbara Grassley, Rep. Steve King, Rep. Darren Soto, and Rep. David Young, Ambassadors and members of the diplomatic corps, friends and supporters of the World Food Prize, ladies and gentlemen. We are greatly honored by your presence.

Secretary Perdue, on behalf of our Chairman, John Ruan III, Paul Schickler, the former President of DuPont Pioneer, and a member of our Council of Advisors, my wife Le Son, and all of us at the World Food Prize Foundation, we extend to you our warmest congratulations on your appointment as Secretary of Agriculture, and our deepest appreciation to you for hosting our Laureate Announcement Ceremony here at the Department of Agriculture.

It seems most fitting that we are here in this building. In 2009, at his 95th and last birthday celebration our founder, Dr. Norman Borlaug, made a special reference to the fact that he began his career as part of the USDA. Julie Borlaug, Norm’s granddaughter who is here will recall how proud Norm was that he had served two summer assignments as part of the U. S. Forest Service. And, in fact, he accepted a fulltime position when he graduated. However, as Norm explained it to me, a problem with the Department's Congressional Appropriation that year caused his appointment to be delayed. As a result, he went to graduate school at the University of Minnesota, became a plant pathologist, travelled to Mexico with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation where he developed miracle wheat, and brought it to India and Pakistan just in time to prevent a widespread famine and save millions and millions of lives. For igniting the Green Revolution, Norm Borlaug, that farm boy from Howard County in northeast Iowa, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. The lesson is that not every problem with Congressional funding is necessarily a bad thing.

Based on his own formative experience at USDA, Dr. Borlaug had a passion for youth education. He created the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute for high school students. Today our youth education programs reach over 20,000 students in 22 states annually and include a unique partnership with your department by which we place college-age alumni of our youth programs in summer positions as USDA Wallace-Carver Fellows. In just the last few years, we have placed over 180 of the top students in the country at USDA laboratories and agencies around the country. We have 31 Fellows currently working at USDA and four of them are here today, along with a number of former Fellows. Mr. Secretary, we know of your strong commitment to and support for youth education programs, and you have our great appreciation that Dr. Borlaug's legacy continues here at USDA. 

Believing issues of global hunger and malnutrition needed an annual recognition that would inspire the breakthrough achievements to feed the burgeoning world population, Dr. Borlaug established the World Food Prize in 1986. His vision was that it would one day come to be seen at the Nobel Prize for food and agriculture.

In the thirty years since Dr. Borlaug established our Prize, 45 individuals have been honored as Laureates for their achievements that have increased the quality, quantity and availability of food worldwide. These World Food Prize Laureates, who come from 18 different countries, have spearheaded the single-greatest period of food production and hunger reduction in human history.

From the development of the milk industry in India, to miracle rice perfected at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines; from revising China's agricultural policies to eliminating the cattle plague Rinderpest from Africa; from the United Nations World Food Programme delivering emergency food shipments around the globe, to eradicating the deadly screwworm infestation in the United States; and from expanding modern irrigation in Israel, Jordan, and the Middle East, to discovering and unlocking the incredible potential of biotechnology; the World Food Prize Laureates have been at the forefront of virtually every significant agricultural breakthrough achievement in the past three decades.

I am so pleased that four of our Laurates are here today: Dr. Per Pinstrup Andersen of Denmark; Dr. Gebisa Ejeta of Ethiopia and Purdue University; and two of our 2016 Laureates, Dr. Jan Low and Dr. Howarth Bouis, both of the United States.

And, Mr. Secretary, I know it is a special point of pride for everyone at USDA that four World Food Prize Laureates have an association with the Department of Agriculture – Dr. Ed Knipling, Dr. Raymond Bushland, Dr. Hank Beachell, and Catherine Bertini.

In that regard, I am so pleased that the World Food Prize has had a strong connection with secretaries of agriculture during my tenure as President beginning in 2000 when Secretary Dan Glickman spoke at our Millennium Laureate ceremony. I am so pleased that Secretary Glickman could be here today.

In 2004, I announced the name of the new World Food Prize Laureates at a ceremony hosted by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman. Later that day, Dr. Borlaug and I came here to this patio as USDA and USAID created the Borlaug Fellows programs as a special 90th birthday present for Norm.

In 2007, I sat with Secretary Mike Johanns as Dr. Borlaug received the Congressional Gold Medal, and in 2014 Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke as we unveiled the statue of Dr. Borlaug in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capital.

Mr. Secretary, I am greatly honored to announce today the name of the 46th person and the sixth African to win the World Food Prize. Our Laureate, having grown up in poverty himself, learned the critical value of education. Having attained a college degree in his home county and then graduate degrees from Purdue University, our Laureate embarked on a journey to use his academic training to as he said, "lift up millions of people out of poverty, especially farmers in rural Africa.”

Drawn to action:

  • In his role with the Rockefeller Foundation, our Laureate played a central role in organizing the African Fertilizer Summit, which Dr. Borlaug attended, and at which the political will to bring a Green Revolution to Africa was galvanized;
  • Our Laureate next played a leadership role in the development of AGRA – the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, during which he led the effort to exponentially expand commerical credit for the agricultural sector and for farmers across the continent;
  • And then, as Minister of Agriculture of his home country Nigeria, our Laureate introduced the E-Wallet system which broke the back of the corrupt elements that had controlled the fertilizer distribution system for 40 years. The reforms he implemented increased food production by 21 million metric tons and attracted $5.6 billion in private sector investments, thus earning him the reputation as the “farmer’s minister.”

Now, as the first person from agriculture to ever lead a regional development bank, his receiving the World Food Prize will give impetus in the coming decade to his profound vision for enhancing nutrition, eliminating childhood stunting, uplifting smallholder farmers, empowering women, and inspiring the next generation of young Africans as they confront the unprecedented challenges of the 21st century.

For all of these achievements, World Food Prize Laureate Dr. Pedro Sanchez has called our new Laureate “Africa’s Norman Borlaug.” It is therefore my great personal honor to announce that the 2017 World Food Prize Laureate is the former Vice President of AGRA, the former Minister of Agriculture for Nigeria, and the current President of the African Development Bank, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina.

I am so pleased that Chargé d’Affaires Hakeem Balogun could be here for this announcement. Dr. Adesina will be presented our $250,000 prize and Laureate sculpture at a ceremony in the magnificent Iowa State Capitol on the evening of October 19.

Mr. Secretary, I know you were just in Iowa last Wednesday, but we invite you to come back in October to speak at our Borlaug Dialogue symposium, and then attend the Laureate Award Ceremony, which some have dubbed as the “Oscars of Agriculture.”

It is now my special privilege to introduce to you the United States Secretary of Agriculture. Having grown up on a dairy and row crop farm, earned a doctor of veterinary medicine degree from the University of Georgia, attained the rank of captain in the U.S. Air Force, served as a state legislator and then elected for two terms as Governor of Georgia, Secretary Perdue has a remarkably broad preparation for his position. But what was especially brought home to me as a former diplomat was his understanding of the relationship between agriculture, food, and peace. In the announcement of his being sworn into office on April 25, Secretary Sonny Perdue stated, "Food security is a key component of national security, because hunger and peace do not long coexist." This is an insight which embodies the legacy of Norman Borlaug and his vision for the World Food Prize. It is the precept which binds us all together today, and why it is my privilege, to introduce to you the 31st United States Secretary of Agriculture, the Honorable Sonny Perdue.

Remarks by: Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn
President of the World Food Prize Foundation

As Prepared for Delivery At The World Food Prize 2017 Laureate Announcement Ceremony

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