Recipients of Des Moines-based World Food Prize urge Biden to lead efforts to end hunger, poverty

Donnelle Eller
Des Moines Register

Two dozen World Food Prize laureates Tuesday urged President Joe Biden to lead global efforts to alleviate hunger and malnutrition, saying food insecurity has only grown with the coronavirus pandemic.

The United Nations Development Programme estimates the COVID-19 pandemic could push the number of people living in extreme poverty to over 1 billion by 2030, the World Food Prize laureates wrote in a letter to Biden, released Tuesday.

The World Food Prize Foundation, a Des Moines nonprofit, awards a $250,000 prize each year for work to improve the quality, quantity and availability of food in the world. The foundation’s annual symposium brings thousands of people to Iowa in October to discuss how to improve global food security and nutrition.

“Our food systems are moving us in the wrong directions,” Lawrence Haddad, executive director of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition and the 2018 World Food Prize laureate, said in a statement.

“Hunger and child undernutrition levels are rising, undernutrition reduction is too slow, obesity is increasing, we are off track to meet climate targets, biodiversity is being squandered, not enough decent jobs are being created and community resilience is being undermined,” said Haddad.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported in 2020 that an estimated 3 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2017.

U.S. leadership is pivotal in alleviating hunger, malnutrition and poverty, the laureates wrote. “American leadership on getting food systems right will inspire and embolden others to join forces to end hunger, counter climate change, generate jobs, and promote responsible stewardship of the environment,” they wrote.

The group said a $3.5 billion U.S. investment in fighting hunger following the 2008 financial crisis prompted “collective global investments of $22 billion and triggered progress for hundreds of millions.”

“We could end global hunger by 2030 with an extra annual investment of $33 billion, a small fraction of the world’s COVID mitigation investment,” the group wrote, pointing to a report by international hunger think tank Ceres2030.

“For millions of poor people around the world, the risk of dying from hunger is greater than dying from COVID-19,” said Akinwumi Adesina, 2017 World Food Prize laureate and president of the African Development Bank.

“Without food, medicines don’t work. Food and nutrition are the vaccines against hunger,” Adesina said in a statement.

Increased the investment in food security is in the U.S. interest, the laureates said. “Supporting economic growth globally leads to increased trade for American entities, increases stability in conflict areas, builds bonds of solidarity and trust that are the bedrock of diplomacy, and alleviates the suffering of the most vulnerable,” they wrote.

“These outcomes reflect long-held, treasured American values and offer opportunities to realize global aspirations,” they wrote.

The World Food Prize, with its Hall of Laureates on the Des Moines riverfront downtown, was created in 1986 by the late Norman Borlaug, an Iowan who received the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his research to create drought-resistant, high-yielding wheat varieties. He is credited as the “father of the Green Revolution” that saved a billion people from hunger.

Simon Groot, founder of East-West Seed, discusses issues with local farmers. Groot is the winner of the 2019 World Food Prize.