Monday, October 8, 2012

Heisman Trophy or World Food Prize?

Entry #1 in a 3-part series on World Food Day.

In my opinion, the World Food Prize (WFP) is to food as the Heisman Trophy is to collegiate football. Where the Heisman Trophy is awarded to the most outstanding college football player whose “performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence”, the WFP is awarded to an individual whose contribution (also see: performance) has advanced human development in improving (also see: pursuit) the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world (also see: excellent).

I couldn't find a picture of a Quaterback
throwing an ear of corn, so just
imagine the football in this trophy is
actually a watermelon :-)

Before we delve too far into what the WFP is today, let’s take a time-out and learn about where it started: a scientist growing wheat.

In 1944, Dr. Norman E. Borlaug participated in the Rockefeller Foundation's pioneering technical assistance program in Mexico, where he was a research scientist in charge of wheat improvement. For over sixteen years, he worked to solve a series of wheat production problems that were limiting wheat cultivation in Mexico and to help train a whole generation of young Mexican scientists.

The work in Mexico not only had a profound impact on Dr. Borlaug's life and philosophy of agriculture research and development, but also on agricultural production, first in Mexico and later in many parts of the world. It was on the research stations and farmers' fields of Mexico that Dr. Borlaug scored touchdowns by growing wheat varieties with high disease resistance, broad adaptation to growing conditions, and exceedingly high yields.

These new wheat varieties and improved crop management practices transformed agricultural production in Mexico during the 1940's and 1950's and later in Asia and Latin America, sparking what today is known as the "Green Revolution." Because of his achievements to prevent hunger globally, it is said that Dr. Borlaug has "saved more lives than any other person who has ever lived."

Dr. Borlaug, after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for his work, envisioned a prize that would honor those who have made significant and measurable contributions to improving the world's food supply. Beyond recognizing these people for their accomplishments, Borlaug saw “The Prize” as a means of inspiring others. And thus, the World Food Prize was born.

There’s no telling if Dr. Borlaug would have won a Heisman Trophy had he made different career choices, but it can be safely said that this most-valuable player continues to lend his spirit for food justice in the years after his death (a “passing” football/death reference would have been in rather poor taste, sorry!).

Stay tuned for more!

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