The World Food Prize Foundation

The World Food Prize Foundation Offers Tribute to 1993 Laureate He Kang

07/08/2021

On behalf of all of the World Food Prize Laureates and our Council of Advisors, the World Food Prize Foundation extends its deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of He Kang, 1993 World Food Prize Laureate, who passed away on July 3, 2021.

Barbara L. Stinson, President of the World Food Prize Foundation, paid tribute to He Kang, stating, “Minister He Kang’s transformational leadership enhanced innovations in Chinese agriculture and improved the quality of life for so many people. His progressive policies enabled China to become an international powerhouse for agricultural technology and research. His exemplary organization of resources serves as a model for all current and future leaders in agricultural production and hunger eradication.”

He Kang was honored as the seventh World Food Prize Laureate, and first Chinese Laureate, for instituting reforms as China’s Minister of Agriculture which were the foundation of the nation’s agricultural growth in the 1980s. Under his leadership, agricultural productivity increased eight percent annually, farm incomes tripled, rural poverty dramatically decreased, and China became self-sufficient in food for the first time in modern history. 

“The sad news of the passing of He Kang has brought back special memories of my interactions and friendship with him, especially the exceptional leadership role he played in the historic transformation of Chinese agriculture,” said Amb. Kenneth Quinn, President Emeritus, World Food Prize Foundation. “When I first visited China in 1979, the poverty levels stood above 70 percent. However, just 14 years later, Minister He Kang would receive the World Food Prize. This reflected both the remarkable achievements in increased crop production fostered by the Ministry of Agriculture under his leadership, and the impact of the extensive array of policy reforms the government of China had implemented, including its opening to the world and subdividing communes into family farms.”

Minister He brought two essential components together for a successful revitalization of China’s agriculture. First, the China agricultural science and education system enjoyed a resurgence under his leadership. Through his warm personality and openness, he established exchanges of scientists and scientific information between China and over 93 countries and regions around the world. This exchange increased international cooperation and exposure, which was essential to recover the agricultural science and education foundation lost during the Cultural Revolution. Second, and equally important, he implemented the family unit of production, which provided an incentive for using new knowledge and technology to increase food and fiber production. This integration of agricultural science and policy simultaneously revived family farming, while still creating a centralized support system that provided the needed inputs for modern agricultural production.

Former President Carter, then a member of the World Food Prize Council of Advisors, praised He Kang for his astounding leadership in China’s agricultural revolution. “The right to food is the most fundamental of human rights,” Carter said. “The contributions of He Kang have improved the lot of scores of millions of people and secured for them a better future.”

He Kang was born in Hebei in 1923 and graduated with a degree in agronomy from Guangxi University in 1946. In that same year, he began his career in government as manager of an agricultural experimentation station in Nanking; his personal research became the foundation for China’s tropical rubber industry. From 1979 to 1990, he served in several government leadership positions, including deputy commissioner of the State Commission of Agriculture, deputy commissioner of the State Planning Commission, and Minister of Agriculture. As a member of the Agriculture and Planning Commissions, He Kang was key in mapping out strategies for agricultural reform, which he continued to oversee as Minister.

At the time of Minister He’s World Food Prize recognition, former World Bank president and Secretary of Defense, then member of the World Food Prize Council of Advisors, Robert McNamara stated, “China’s agricultural gains under the stewardship of Minister He Kang amount to something of a miracle, a human development miracle that has gone largely unnoticed in the West.” McNamara added, “One does not have to read statistical reports to see the results. They are apparent across the face of China in the obvious widespread availability of food and the healthy appearance of young and old.”

Minister He's programs strengthened and restored agricultural schools and research institutes, established new and specialized research and education centers, and developed modernized extension mechanisms. The results were easily seen: innovative modern farming technology was quickly developed and applied to improve the quantity and quality of production in agriculture, animal husbandry, and fisheries. His work also improved food quality outside China’s borders, as he directed Chinese expertise and food assistance to African countries through the United Nations. In 1987, he invited over 60 agricultural ministers to Beijing for a conference on agriculture in the developing world.

Iowa businessman John Ruan, past Chairman of the World Food Prize Foundation, praised Minister He’s work and said that he was a symbol of ideals the World Food Prize was created to promote. “With the global population increasing by 11,000 people hourly, all nations will continuously have to struggle with increased food needs,” Ruan said. “It is important that the world recognize such an outstanding innovator and role model and understand his contributions in order to prepare for our own futures.”

From 1993 to 1998, as a member of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, Minister He strove for amendments of the Agricultural Law and other laws related to agriculture. He was persistent in initiating and setting up the Law of Township and Village Enterprises to protect their benefits and ensure their steady developments. He also served as an advisor to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and to the expert committee of the Chinese Academy of Tropical Agricultural Sciences. In 2006, he published the book China’s Township and Village Enterprises in English as its editor-in-chief. 

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and World Food Prize founder Dr. Norman Borlaug supported and acknowledged Minister He’s visionary approach to agricultural science, stating, “As China's food supply has increased and the basic nutrition of Chinese people has been enriched, He Kang and his colleagues have been able to turn their attention to other vexing problems facing modern agriculture – matters such as environmental concerns and economic development in rural areas. These are issues that concern people in all nations and all of us should attempt to learn from and cooperate with China in its search for solutions to these complex problems."

Minister He’s vigorous organization of technological and human resources was essential to the success of China’s agricultural transformation in production and distribution. Through Minister He’s leadership, China’s agricultural innovations flourished. His involvement in modernizing China’s agricultural science and educational system laid the foundation for continuous improvements in agriculture research in China and internationally, up to the present day. 

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