Dr. Maria Andrade

The 2016 World Food Prize was awarded to Maria Andrade, Howarth Bouis, Jan Low and Robert Mwanga on Oct. 13, at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.

Maria Andrade, Jan Low and Robert Mwanga of the International Potato Center (CIP), which has had sweet potatoes in its research mandate since 1988, were honored for their work developing the single most successful example of biofortification — the orange-fleshed sweet potato. Andrade and Mwanga, plant scientists in Mozambique and Uganda, bred the Vitamin A-enriched orange-fleshed sweet potato using genetic material from CIP and other sources, while Low structured the nutrition studies and programs that convinced almost 2 million households in 10 separate African countries to plant, purchase and consume this nutritionally fortified food.

In 1971, The International Potato Center, CIP, was founded as a root and tuber research-for-development institution that delivers sustainable solutions to the world issues of hunger, poverty and the degradation of natural resources.  While working for CIP, Andrade, Low and Mwanga undertook a project to develop disease-resistant, drought-tolerant, high yielding varieties of orange-fleshed sweet potato that can flourish in the variable soils and climatic conditions found in sub-Saraha Africa in an effort counter the effects of Vitamin A deficiency, which contributes to high rates of blindness, immune system disorders, and premature death in children and pregnant women in Africa.

Bouis, the founder of HarvestPlus at the International Food Policy Research Institute, over a 25-year period pioneered the implementation of a multi-institutional approach to biofortification as a global plant breeding strategy. As a result of his leadership, crops such as iron and zinc fortified beans, rice, wheat and pearl millet, along with Vitamin A-enriched cassava, maize and orange-fleshed sweet potato are being tested or released in more than 40 countries.

Bouis created the organization HarvestPlus in 2003 as a global multi-sector, multidisciplinary effort to improve nutrition and public health through bioforitfication. Under his leadership, a large partnership of plant breeders, agronomists, nutritionists, and economists have worked together to form one of the most successful initiatives to improve nutrition through changes in the food systems.

“At a time when malnutrition, stunting and early childhood death remain a scourge for millions on our planet, the four 2016 World Food Prize Laureates have uplifted the health and well-being of more than 10 million persons through the biofortication of staple crops, particularly the vitamin fortified orange fleshed sweet potato,” says Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize. “They have truly fulfilled the dictum attributed to Hippocrates from almost 2,400 years ago: “Let Food Be Thy Medicine.”

The efforts of our 2016 World Food Prize Laureates have positively impacted more than 10 million people through biofortified crops, with the potential of impacting and enhancing the nutrition and health of several hundred million more in the coming decades.