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Biofortification Wins 2016 World Food Prize

Four scientists working on the natural enrichment of crops with essential vitamins and minerals win the Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture

Source: The World Food Prize Foundation, USAID, UNICEF and HarvestPlus

Kenyan smallholder farmers holding orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, the biofortified crop developed by the World Food Prize winner, 21 March 2013
Kenyan smallholder farmers holding orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, the biofortified crop developed by the World Food Prize winner, 21 March 2013

Last night during a ceremony at the U.S. State Department, the World Food Prize Foundation announced the recipients of the 2016 World Food Prize, an award created by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug and often referred to as the "Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture."This year's distinction is shared by four scientists – Dr. Maria Andrade of Cape Verde, Dr. Howarth Bouis of the U.S, Dr. Robert Mwanga of Uganda and Dr. Jan Low of the U.S. – fighting hunger and malnutrition through biofortification, the process of enriching food crops with essential vitamins and minerals via selective breeding.

Dr. Maria Andrade in Mozambique at a booth showcasing the benefits of the consumption orange-fleshed sweet potato
Dr. Maria Andrade in Mozambique at a booth showcasing the benefits of the consumption orange-fleshed sweet potato
The World Food Prize Foundation

Dr. Andrade, Dr. Mwanga and Dr. Low from the International Potato Center work together to combat vitamin A deficiency in Sub-Saharan Africa, a disease affecting approximately 48 percent of children under five living in the region. It is the number one cause of preventable childhood blindness and can increase the mortality risk of other illnesses commonly found on the continent, such as diarrhea. The team's solution is the orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP), a crop the World Food Prize Foundation calls "the single most successful example of micronutrient and vitamin biofortification."

This vitamin A-fortified sweet potato was bred by Dr. Andrade and Dr. Mwanga to not only contain beta-carotene, a compound the body transforms into vitamin A, but also be disease-resistant, drought-tolerant and high yielding, characteristics that will insure the plant's successful cultivation in Sub-Saharan Africa. That would not have been possible without the hard work of Dr. Low, who proved OFSP's efficacy with extensive studies and convinced two million African households to start eating the crop. Her research showed that just 125 grams of the sweet potato per day can fulfill a preschool child's daily vitamin A requirements. 

Dr. Robert Mwanga screening orange-fleshed sweet potato seedlings for diseases
Dr. Robert Mwanga screening orange-fleshed sweet potato seedlings for diseases
The World Food Prize Foundation

The fourth World Food Prize laureate – Dr. Howarth Bouis – created HarvestPlus, a program of the International Food Policy Research Institute focusing on the promotion of biofortification as a mode of alleviating malnutrition around the globe. He pioneered a multi-institutional approach to biofortification, which has made it possible for such crops to be tested and put on the market. In fact, Dr. Bouis and HarvestPlus helped OFSP reach the people that need it the most by linking farmers to markets. 

The World Food Prize Foundation estimates that the work of the four winners has positively impacted the lives of 10 million people, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, the organization notes that two of this year's World Food Prize recipients are two African scientists working in and for Africa. The four World Food Prize laureates will receive their USD 250.000 award at an official ceremony in the American state of Iowa on 13 October. 

Dr. Jan Low talking to local bakers about orange-fleshed sweet potatoes
Dr. Jan Low talking to local bakers about orange-fleshed sweet potatoes
The World Food Prize Foundation
Dr. Howarth Bouis promoting orange-fleshed sweet potatoes in a Mozambique village
Dr. Howarth Bouis promoting orange-fleshed sweet potatoes in a Mozambique village
The World Food Prize Foundation

Adelina is an editor at Eatglobe's news bureau and our resident food-obsessed millennia.

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