Des Moines hosts World Food Prize Symposium

As Grinnellians were plugging their way through mid-semester, some may have been oblivious to the multitude of world leaders, ministers and former presidents who congregated in Des Moines, IA.

“What brought such distinguished leaders from all over the world here to Iowa?” one may ask. They were attending the World Food Prize (WFP) Symposium, which created a flurry of international activity in Des Moines, welcoming over 1,400 participants from around the world, with 75 different countries represented. The conference attendees convened in Iowa to discuss this year’s topic, “The Next Generation: Confronting the Hunger Challenges of Tomorrow,” and to take part in celebrating the 2011 laureates of the Prize: former president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and former president of Ghana, John Kufuor.

Iowa native Norman Borlaug created the World Food Prize in 1986, after receiving the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his lifetime of work to feed the hungry in our world. The Prize is the highest international honor that recognizes, according to the World Food Prize Foundation, “the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.”

The week centered on alleviating world hunger began with a local focus, with the Iowa Hunger Summit held on Tuesday, Oct. 11. The Hunger Summit was established by the World Food Prize Foundation “as a means to celebrate Iowa’s great successes in fighting hunger and poverty and to unite in further action against both.” The day started with an eye-opening presentation by 30 Project and the Global Food Banking Network that explicated the dualities of global hunger and obesity. The presenters spoke of the unprecedented levels of hunger in the developing world and the inconceivable waste of over one third of all food produced in the developed world. They presented issues dear to Iowa such as the effects of subsidies for corn, soy and wheat, while prices for fruits and vegetables have continued to rise over the past thirty years, along with the skyrocketing rates of obesity nationwide.

Former presidents Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva and John Kufuor won the World Food Prize for the revolutionary actions they took to fight poverty, inequality and most importantly, hunger in Brazil and Ghana, respectively, during their times of office. Lula da Silva put fighting hunger high on his political agenda.

“Hunger not only kills soldiers, but also innocent children, the elderly and the most vulnerable,,” Lula da Silva said.

President Kufuor echoed Lula da Silva’s sentiments, emphasizing the important role of nutrition in a nation’s prosperity.

“We knew that a healthy, well-educated population would make our country stronger,” he said. “The best way to develop a people is to allow them freedom.”

The three-day Borlaug Dialogue of the WFP conference reached out to Grinnell through Jo Luck, former CEO of Heifer International. Luck shared her experience with Heifer during her visit to Grinnell College on Thursday evening. Luck spoke about her life path that led her to Heifer, explaining that the inspiration came from a picture she drew of herself. Her best words of wisdom to others are, in summary, to dream it, draw it and do it. That is exactly what Luck did in rising to CEO of Heifer International.

“It is not simply enough to say it or to think it,” she said, “but once you draw it, [your dream] can become real.”

To finish off the week, the Global Youth Institute was held on Saturday, during which Anthony Wenndt ’15 presented to experts, students and teachers on his experience with the World Food Prize in Kenya last summer. Anthony was one of 20 students selected for the Borlaug-Ruan internship—which provides high school students with 8 weeks of all-expenses-paid, hands-on experience at research centers around the world. This year marked Wenndt’s third time attending the conference.

“I am honored to be a part of an organization as inspiring as the World Food Prize Foundation,” Wenndt said. “It is always a thrill to be a part of this really inspiring community from all over the world gathered with one common goal—to alleviate world hunger.”

The second week of October in Des Moines demonstrated the important role that Iowa, a place known for its ability to produce an overwhelming amount of food, has in addressing the great abomination of hunger in our world. In following with the conference’s focus on the next generation, an impressive group of college age students attended the conference from colleges such as Macalester College, Yale University and Creighton University, just to name a few.

“I always walk away from the World Food Prize feeling renewed and inspired, but at the same time with a great sense of responsibility,” said Claire Runquist, a student from Macalester College. “Knowing that there are people who are important and have the power to inspire others out there working to solve poverty and hunger is one of the most comforting feelings.”

The world’s leaders have one more year to work against the staggering statistics regarding hunger in the world today until this international body of impressive individuals will reconvene to award new laureates of the Prize and reassess the progress made with respect to world hunger.