Tue. Jul 16th, 2024
Secretary Antony J. Blinken At the World Food Prize Laureate Ceremony

MS HUSAIN:  Hello, good morning, everyone, and welcome to the 2024 World Food Prize laureate announcement.  My name is Mashal Husain and I serve as the chief operating officer for our foundation.

Today marks a milestone occasion at the World Food Prize Foundation as we proudly commemorate two decades of unwavering partnership with the U.S. Department of State.  Secretary Blinken, your presence further elevates the significance of this event, and we extend our profound gratitude for this collaboration that continues to drive impactful change in the realm of global food security.

We extend a very warm welcome to ambassadors and the esteemed members of the diplomatic corps present with us today.  Your attendance here amplifies our collective efforts in addressing the critical issue of world hunger.  Over the past 20 years, we’ve been honored to have the presence and support of notable U.S. secretaries of state, from Colin Powell to Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Mike Pompeo, and you, Mr. Secretary, each contributing a unique vision and commitment to advancing the cause of global food security.

Our journey to this moment would not have been possible without the relentless dedication of three generations of the Ruan family and the vision of John Ruan Sr., Janis and John Ruan III, and now their children, John Ruan IV and Rachel Ruan McLean, who are watching the livestream long with many, many others across the globe.  The Ruan family’s commitment to the World Food Prize Foundation has shaped its legacy and its impact.  Our tremendous gratitude to all of them.

This dream started as an idea from an Iowa farm boy born in a mail-ordered house courtesy of a Sears and Roebuck catalog, raised amid the rhythms of rural life on a family farm, and educated in the humble setting of a one-room schoolhouse.  This boy would grow up to become the man who has saved more lives than any other person who has ever lived, and he would emerge as a figure whose influence on humanity knows no equal, Dr. Norman Borlaug.  His legacy is carried forward by his daughter, Jeanie Borlaug Laube, and his granddaughter, Julie Borlaug, who is here with us this evening.

In this setting, American ambassadors and diplomats are sworn into service, and both presidents and secretaries of state conduct meetings with world leaders and host receptions for international guests.  As agriculture and global food security offers one of the most promising routes to promoting understanding and building linkages across international, political, religious, and ethnic differences, it is most fitting that this event, the World Food Prize laureate announcement, is also held right here in this very room.

Reflecting on this pivotal moment, 20 years ago in this setting, we came together to honor the groundbreaking work of two remarkable 2004 laureates.  We fondly remember Professor Yuan Longping of China, hailed as the father of hybrid rice, and the late Dr. Monty Jones of Sierra Leone, whose recent passing leaves a void.  His pioneering work in developing new rice for Africa continues to inspire generations in the ongoing battle against world hunger.  As we gather here, surrounded by passionate hunger fighters and over 70 members of the world’s diplomatic corps, it is clear that Dr. Borlaug’s tireless efforts to make food security a global priority have evolved into a reality.

Now, to reveal our 54th and 55th World Food Prize laureates, it is my pleasure to welcome World Food Prize Foundation President Ambassador Terry Branstad.  (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR BRANSTAD:  Thank you, Mashal, for that very kind introduction.  Our partnership over the last year and a half has been an invaluable benefit to the foundation and to me personally.  Thank you for all that you do to execute our program and build our relationship with our global audience.  And Mr. Secretary, today is especially meaningful as we celebrate this 20th partnership – 20th year of the partnership.

And to honor that moment two decades ago, here today with us is a fellow Iowan, Ambassador Alan Larson, who opened the very first ceremony here in this room.  Alan – (applause) – and he’s from Mitchell County, Iowa, not too far from where Borlaug grew up in Howard County, Iowa.  The idea of this event is credited to Ambassador Kenneth Quinn.  When he assumed the role of foundation president in 2000, he knew what it could become, and hosting this event in this room is part of that global vision.

Over the past two decades, we have announced 32 World Food Prize laureates, three of whom are with us today.  A special welcome to the 2010 laureate, David Beckmann – (applause) – David – and last year’s laureate, Heidi Kühn – (applause) – as well as the 2009 laureate, Gebisa Ejeta, who is the chair of the Laureate Selection Committee.  Gebisa.  (Applause).

We want to welcome the many members of our World Food Prize Council of Advisors who guide our organization and are here with us today.  This year, the World Food Prize Selection Committee has chosen two incredible individuals who have advanced human development through improving the quality, quantity, and availability of food for all.

They focused their careers on preserving and protecting the world’s heritage of crop diversity and mobilizing this critical resource to defend against threats of global food security.  As research – as researchers, policy advisors, thought leaders, and advocates, they succeeded in engaging governments, scientists, farmers, and communities towards the conservation of over 6,000 species of crops.  They recognized early on that crop diversity and genetic resources are absolutely essential to the long-term global food security in face of climate change and other existential threats.

Their collaboration led to the formation of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which funds crop green banks – gene banks, not green banks – gene banks in places all over the world, sustaining storehouses of seeds that we need to breed tomorrow’s crops for a more nutritious and climate-smart crops.  They then went on to work to establish the famous Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, which – of course, Norway is where Borlaug’s family originally came from – which safely stores backups for more than 1 million seed samples from gene banks all over the world.

More than anyone else, these laureates have together shaped the global system we now have for protecting, sharing, and utilizing crop diversity for the benefit of humanity.  It is my great pleasure to introduce the 2024 World Food Prize laureates.  They are Dr. Geoffrey Hawtin of United Kingdom and Canada and Dr. Cary Fowler of the United States.  (Applause.)  Dr. Haughton and Dr. Fowler will receive the World Food Prize at the Laureate Award Ceremony in the state capital in Des Moines, Iowa in conjunction with the Norman E. Borlaug International Global Dialogue which will be held October 29th through the 31st.

And now it is my great honor to welcome to the podium the fifth U.S. Secretary of State who has presided over this historic announcement, the Honorable Antony Blinken.  (Applause.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much.  Good morning.

AUDIENCE:  Good morning.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Welcome to the State Department.  Terry, thank you for that introduction; thank you for your important and powerful words.  Every time I’m with the governor, I’m reminded that Iowa is apparently at the center of the Earth.  (Laughter and applause.)

AMBASSADOR BRANSTAD:  The center of America, anyway.  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, with good reason today.  On one level this is pretty simple.  As President Biden has put it, if parents can’t put food on the table for their kids, nothing else really matters.  And in so many ways, that’s what brings us together today.

To you, Mashal, thank you so much; to all of our colleagues and partners here, I’m grateful – grateful for everything you do to combat hunger around the world.

And as you’ve heard, we’re also joined by previous laureates, including our 2023 laureate, Heidi Kühn.  Heidi, thank you again for your visionary work to transform war-torn areas into gardens of peace.

For 20 years, as you’ve heard, the State Department has hosted the World Food Prize laureate ceremony, to honor the exceptional scientists and advocates who have transformed global food systems.

Today, as Terry just announced, the World Food Prize Foundation is recognizing two more giants, outstanding leaders – Dr. Geoff Hawtin, Dr. Cary Fowler – who played a critical role in preserving crop diversity, in part by supporting seed banks around the world.

That includes the work that they did to create the very first global seed vault.  Nearly two decades since it opened, this repository has grown to hold seeds of more than 1 million crop varieties and more than 6,000 major species.

Every one of them – every one of them – is a crucial building block for improving global food security.

And as this group knows very well, a single plant – like sorghum – can have hundreds of thousands of varieties.  And when one strain is in danger – from a pest infestation, a warming climate – farmers can use another type with genetic adaptations to help it survive.  And scientists can breed those varieties to create more resilient crops, produce bigger yields – feed more people.

But that is only possible with crop diversity, if a variety with a vital gene hasn’t gone extinct by the time that we need it most.

Through their extraordinary work, Geoff and Cary have not only helped protect these plants;  they’ve also brought the global community together to strengthen the foundation of our agriculture.

Today, that is more important than ever.

Largely because of climate change and conflict, our global food systems are under unprecedented stress.

More than 700 million people around the world are experiencing chronic hunger; they don’t know where their next meal will come from.

Food insecurity has devastating consequences:  Malnutrition can affect someone’s health for a lifetime; widespread hunger can fuel instability, violence, irregular migration – and, in turn, greater food insecurity.

The United States is helping to get food to those in need now, but also to build a future that’s healthier and more stable for people everywhere.

Under President Biden, we’ve contributed over $20 billion to address global hunger.  We provide more than one third of the World Food Programme’s budget, to help bring lifesaving assistance to some of the most food-insecure places on the planet.

But we’re also working, critically, to transform our food systems, in part by leveraging crop diversity.  And what I hear around the world, talking to my counterparts – particularly in Africa but well beyond – is that as much as they value, appreciate, need the emergency support that the United States and other countries bring to this challenge, what they really want, what they really need is sustainable, productive capacity for themselves and for others.  And I am utterly convinced that we as a country, but also as a community and as a planet, can help them provide that.

We’ve invested a billion dollars a year in our flagship food security initiative – Feed the Future.  Part of this funding goes to scientists and experts around the world who are breeding crops that are tailored to the needs of local farmers, like drought-resistant sweet potatoes in Costa Rica or millet that can survive a plant parasite in Burkina Faso.

Over the last year, we’ve built on this work through our newest Feed the Future initiative, the Vision for Adapted Crops and Soil, or VACS.

And I have to say that is thanks in large part to the extraordinary leadership of Cary Fowler.  We benefit here at the State Department from having Cary as one of our team.  And I’ve had the benefit of learning from him over the last couple of years that he’s been here.  He’s our Special Envoy for Global Food Security and helped pioneer VACS.  And through VACS, we’re partnering with the African Union and with the Food and Agriculture Organization to do two things: to invest above ground – identifying indigenous crops that are nutritious but also climate-resilient, improving these varieties to make them even more resilient, and delivering the seeds and harvests to the world – but we’re also working below ground, developing healthier soils so that plants can thrive.  You put the seeds and the soil together in that way, and you have the most powerful, strongest, resilient foundation for food for the future.

So we’ve committed $150 million toward VACS, and now we’re expanding this initiative from Africa to right here in the Western Hemisphere.  In the last few months, we’ve also added new members to our VACS coalition, including organizations like Heidi Kühn’s very own Roots of Peace.

We’ll continue to collaborate with other countries and partners to bolster the global food system: advocating for shared safety standards so that more products can enter new markets and people around the world can access more food, reforming international financial institutions so that they can better address the challenges like food insecurity, building vital supply chain infrastructure, like roads, that can help bring products to market, from farms to kitchen tables.

But all of these efforts – every single one – depends on our crops and their genes.

In January, I visited the AfricaRice headquarters in Cote d’Ivoire.  I met with researchers breeding rice that survive our warming climate.

I also heard from farmers who were using these new varieties.  I got to see the rice that they grow.

Every tiny grain reflected decades of scientific breakthroughs.  And every grain was a reminder that – with ingenuity, with vision, and with commitment – it’s possible to adapt to the challenges before us, to improve our food systems, to feed our people for generations to come.

So to each and every one of you who is part of this extraordinary endeavor, maybe one of the most basic human endeavors that we have, thank you for your commitment, thank you for your partnership, thank you for your dedication to this mission.

And with that, Dr. Ejeta, over to you.  (Applause.)

MR EJETA:  Thank you, Secretary, for that honor of introduction, and also for hosting this meaningful gathering of the State Department in the 20th year of this special partnership.  If I may, Mr. Secretary, we’re also very grateful for your distinguished leadership; the great energy and zeal in which you conduct your quiet diplomacy towards a restoration of peace and stability around the world.  For us, peace and the stability is the best ammunition that we have to fight, to evaluate hunger and poverty from the face of the Earth.

The year I received the prize in 2009, I remember how I felt at hearing my name announced in this beautiful room by Secretary Hillary Clinton.  For me, it is for all the laureates, and as it is for all the laureates who have been announced here, it was a catalyst of an incredible journey that has taken me to places and allowed me to make an impact I never thought possible.

Now, as chair of the selection committee, it is my honor to lead an independent panel of dedicated, distinguished individuals who are experts in the many dimensions of agriculture and food security, to choose the World Food Prize laureates every year.  Each year the decision becomes even more difficult as we reveal the array of nominations collected by the World Food Prize Foundation secretariat.  Our process gives equal weight and consideration to each nomination that is submitted, and the robust discussion of the selection committee narrows in on those nominees that have made the most impactful contribution to increasing human development by improving the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world.

This year, the selection committee unanimously agreed to select Geoffrey Hawtin of the UK and Cary Fowler of the United States for this honor.  In its history, the World Food Prize has been awarded many times to plant breeders who develop crop varieties that feed millions of people and sustain the livelihoods of farmers the world over.  However, until today, crop biodiversity – the fundamental and indispensable ingredient that is determinant for plant breeders’ success –  had not been recognized through this prize.

In choosing Dr. Hawtin and Dr. Fowler, who are global leaders in preserving, protecting, and mobilizing plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, the laureate selection committee recognizes the great importance of this work to long-term global food security in the face of climate change, pandemics, conflicts, and other existential threats.

By awarding the prize to these two distinguished laureates in the area of genetic resources, conservation, and preservation of the sustainability of human civilization, we hope to inspire the world’s leaders and scientific community to continue to work toward the goal of equitably and fairly sharing of not only the genetic resources, but also the benefits derived from modern plant breeding (inaudible) our world heritage of crop diversity.

My warmest congratulation to my colleagues, Geoff Hawtin and Cary Fowler, on this much deserved award.

Now it’s my honor to welcome Paul Schickler, chair of the board of directors for the World Food Prize Foundation to the podium.  (Applause.)

MR SCHICKLER:  Thank you, Dr. Ejeta.  And thank you and the selection committee for the work that you did to bring forward the nominations and the laureate award winners for this year.  A truly great accomplishment, and not only this year, Dr. Ejeta, but over the years you’ve done a remarkable job in leading that selection committee.

For me, this year’s award winners have a special meaning.  After 42 years of my career at Pioneer Hi-Bred International, DuPont Pioneer, and now Corteva Agriscience, I know the true value and the importance of crop genetics, and the diversity, and protecting those genetic resources over time so that they’re valuable now and on into the future.

Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for your eloquent description of the value and the importance of that resource for the future.

The World Food Prize has three pillars.  And most notably, number one is eliminating hunger from the world, and I think that’s what we all recognize.  But there are two others, and the second is convening – convening individuals from government, academia, institutions, business leaders, and politicians from around the world to deal with issues like food and agricultural policy, the environment, nutrition, small-holder farmers, and genetic – excuse me – gender equity, all important dialogues.

But the third pillar is one of more recent news and one that’s especially important to me, and that is engaging the next generation of hunger fighters.  In fact, in their last phase of their lives, Dr. Norman Borlaug and John Ruan, Sr. devoted much of their focus to the next generation.  In 1994, when they first started the Youth Institute, there were 13 high school students who participated – in 1994, 13.

Today, in the year 2024, there are 30 Youth Institutes around the United States, four throughout the rest of the world, and initiating two more in Kenya and Uganda this year, so that today, through internships, scholarships, and participation in the Youth Institutes annually 7,000 students are touched by the World Food Prize.  And over the period of years, more than 100,000 students have learned about the opportunities and issues in food and agricultural policy.  I think we are truly carrying on the legacy of Dr. Norman Borlaug and John Ruan, Sr. to engage the next generation of youth fighters.

In fact, as I have been in retirement now for five years, I’m doing much the same.  I continue to work with Youth Institutes.  I work with universities and schools throughout the United States.  I work with the start-up community to get more individuals at a young age into the technology that is so needed and necessary now and into the future.  And I also mentor students who need that help and guidance as their careers progress.

Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for joining us today.  Thank you for the use of this marvelous facility.  But most important, thank you for the strong partnership with the Department of State over the years to bring this effort and this award ceremony to its highest level of visibility.

And thanks to Dr. Geoffrey Hawtin and Dr. Cary Fowler for their accomplishments and contributing to crop diversity and genetic preservation.  We’ll be celebrating now and over the next months, as we continue to recognize those contributions.  We’ll first do that in Mexico in July and then, as mentioned, in October, during the Borlaug Dialogue in Des Moines, Iowa.

But let’s start right now with a celebration today in the Jefferson Room.  Please join me for that celebration.  Again, congratulations to the laureate winners.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-at-the-world-food-prize-laureate-ceremony/

originally published at Politics - JISIP NEWS