2016 World Food Prize Laureate
HarvestPlus is proud to congratulate 2016 World Food Prize Laureate Dr. Howarth "Howdy" Bouis, who won for his pioneering work in addressing the global problem of micronutrient deficiencies, known as hidden hunger, through biofortification. The World Food Prize, known as the “Nobel Prize for Agriculture and Nutrition,” recognizes individuals who have improved the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. Three scientists from the International Potato Center, Drs. Maria Andrade, Robert Mwanga, and Jan Low, have been announced as fellow winners, and we congratulate these friends and key partners for this honor.
Founded by legendary agricultural researcher and Nobel laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug, the World Food Prize distinguishes those individuals who have made significant contributions to ensuring a nutritious and sustainable food supply for people around the globe. Dr. Bouis and his co-laureates join a roster of renowned international laureates including Dr. Monkombu Sambasivan (M.S.) Swaminathan, Dr. Per Pinstrup-Andersen, Dr. Mohammed Yunus, Ms. Catherine Bertini, and Dr. Gebisa Ejeta.
"Howdy joins the ranks of the very few and rare persons who have created opportunities for the world’s nutritionally vulnerable populations to have better diets."— Anna Lartey, President, International Union of Nutrition Sciences
Dr. Howarth Bouis pioneered the concept of biofortification in the early 1990s and devoted his career to turning this idea into a global movement that currently reaches more than 15 million people in smallholder farming families in low-income countries. The founding director of HarvestPlus, an organization that leads a global effort to breed and deliver micronutrient-rich staple food crops to reduce hidden hunger among malnourished populations. Dr. Bouis is confident that as many as 1 billion people will benefit from biofortified foods by 2030.
Dr. Bouis’ decades-long work and unwavering faith in the viability of biofortification is largely responsible for the actualization of this novel approach to breeding staple food crops for improved nutrition. Thanks to the generosity of HarvestPlus' donors, the ingenuity of our research collaborators, and the commitment of our implementing partners around the world, biofortification now reaches more than 15 million people in initial focus countries in Africa and Asia. With new crop varieties now available or pending release in 55 countries, it is poised to reach hundreds of millions more. Biofortified foods have been proven to reduce diarrhea and reverse iron deficiency in children, and have the potential to make other dramatic improvements in health and productivity.
Since 2003, Bouis has channeled his energies through HarvestPlus, the global partnership program that he created/directs, and that is responsible for leading the global development and promotion of biofortified crops. Today, biofortification has gained traction as an important strategy for delivering critical vitamins and minerals to the largely poor, rural-based households that depend on staple food crops for sustenance.
Dr. Bouis was an economist at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, D.C, when he made an important discovery. His research had focused on the diets of poor households and nutritional outcomes in Asia, particularly how nutrient intakes were influenced by food prices and household income. Economists believed that the number of calories was the primary dietary factor constraining better nutritional outcomes in developing countries. This was the underlying premise of the “Green Revolution”. Through research and technology, the “Green Revolution” in the late 1960s allowed farmers to increase their agricultural output, mainly cereal grains such as rice, maize, and wheat.
Yet, Dr. Bouis’ research showed that differences in diets between the rich and the poor were explained overwhelmingly by the level of non-staple food consumption. Moreover, the extra vitamins and minerals in these non-staple foods and animal products were more highly correlated than calorie intake with health outcomes such as better height and less frequent illnesses. Dr. Bouis concluded that mineral and vitamin deficiencies (and not calories) were the main constraints to better nutrition and, therefore, to healthy and economically productive lives.
As Dr. Bouis grappled with the implications of his research results, a gnawing question would not go away. What if we could make plants to do some of the work for us? In other words, what if we could produce a new variety of seed that was higher in vitamin A, iron and zinc—three nutrients essential for health—yet still as, or more, high yielding, pest and disease resistant, and climate-adapted as comparable varieties? Farmers and consumers would not see or taste the extra iron or zinc, and nutrition education would encourage adoption of ‘orange’ and ‘yellow’ vitamin A crops. As a result, women and children would get 30 to 100 percent of their daily requirement for these nutrients, and smallholder farming families, who often suffer the most from micronutrient deficiencies, would have a tool that they control to improve their health and productivity.
The intersection between nutrition and agriculture suggested that if we could find a way to increase the vitamin and mineral content of staple foods grown and consumed by smallholder farmers, we could contribute to solving the global problem of hidden hunger.That intersection between nutrition and agriculture led to biofortification.
Join the global agriculture and nutrition community and the entire HarvestPlus team in congratulating Dr. Bouis and our colleagues at the International Potato Center on this deserved award, and paying tribute to his dedication and tenacity to bring better nutrition to millions of people around the world.
HarvestPlus’ principal donors are the UK government, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the US Government’s Feed the Future initiative, the European Commission, and donors to the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health.