January 23, 2014

From Mekong Delta to Iowa: The Power of Science To End Hunger and Poverty

(Ambassador Ken Quinn, former Prime Minister Tony Bair, Howard G. Buffett and Howard W. Buffett at the Borlaug Dialogue)

The World Food Prize recognizes individuals, who have advanced human development by increasing the quality, quantity, and availability of food in the world, thereby helping to eradicate hunger and poverty. We sat down with Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, President of the World Food Prize Foundation, to find out more about its efforts to educate the public about agricultural development and food security.
What is the greatest challenge facing us today?
The issue of having enough food to feed the 9 billion people who will be on our planet by 2050 is the single greatest challenge that we face today. To meet this challenge, we are going to have to produce more food, produce it sustainably, ensure it is nutritious, and distribute it equitably, particularly to those who need the food.
What is the role of science and technology in agricultural development?
Dr. Norman Borlaug—the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, father of the Green Revolution, and the founder of the World Food Prize—used to put it this way: if you take all the grain that was produced since the first farmer planted that first seed 11,000 years ago, from then until today, that is how much grain we have to produce in the next 40 or 50 years to feed the world population.
Science is the multiplier of the harvest. For the last several hundred years, agricultural science truly has produced miracles. In the last 60 years alone, it has produced the single greatest period of food production and hunger reduction in human history. So we look to science for breakthroughs to address the adverse impacts of climate change.

No single solution or sector can tackle all challenges farmers face. So science is not just research; it is understanding, working with farmers in the field and with extension workers. We have to understand that sometimes very simple agro-ecological techniques can be very valuable to boost agricultural production. We need to take a comprehensive approach that includes science, research, technologies and education to sustainably boost agricultural production.  
How do you educate the public about global hunger and poverty issues?
We use several different means to educate and inform the public. The primary means is the Borlaug Dialogue. Every October, we bring together about 1,200 people from more than 70 countries around the world. By bringing together people from very diverse backgrounds, you get the opportunity for interaction and for the stimulation of ideas.
Moreover, Dr. Borlaug himself, before he passed away in 2009, always looked to inspire the next generation. So we also bring in about 150 high school students and 150 high school teachers through our Global Youth Institute. We also recently launched 40 Chances Fellowship Program in partnership with The Howard G. Buffet Foundation and former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s African Governance. These $150,000 grants will be awarded in October 2014 to individuals with innovative ideas or programs in Malawi, Rwanda, Liberia, or Sierra Leone.
You spent 32 years in the Foreign Service and as an Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia. What motivated you to work on global hunger and agricultural development?
When I joined the State Department in 1967, I envisioned a career and an assignment in a European capital such as London, Paris, or Vienna, where I would attend fancy parties in chandeliered ballrooms. Ten months later I was getting off a single engine plane that had landed on a dirt road in the Mekong Delta for an assignment as a rural development officer during The Vietnam War. It was there that I came face-to-face with the pain and suffering experienced by refugees whose homes had been destroyed during the war and were struggling to put their lives back together. At the same time, I saw how the introduction of IR-8 miracle rice, combined with improved farm-to-market access, transformed every aspect of village life in a very short time.

In looking back, it was the up-close witnessing of human suffering as well as the power of the same forces that had transformed the heartland of America – roads and agricultural technology – that inspired me to focus my career in the State Department on issues of alleviating hunger and promoting global food security.


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

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Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

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