John Agyekum Kufuor and Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva have been chosen to jointly receive the 2011 World Food Prize. The winners of the Prize, founded by the late Dr. Norman Borlaug in 1986, were announced during ceremonies at the U.S. State Department today.

Kufuor and Lula were honored for their leadership of efforts that led to the drastic reduction of hunger and poverty while they served as presidents of Ghana and Brazil. They are the first former heads of state to be honored during the 25 years of the World Food Prize.

“President Kufuor and President Lula da Silva have set a powerful example for other political leaders in the world,” said Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, president of the World Food Prize. “Thanks to their personal commitment and visionary leadership, both Ghana and Brazil are on track to exceed the UN Millennium Development Goal – to cut in half extreme hunger before 2015.”

Quinn, a former ambassador and career foreign service officer, was joined by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, in making the announcement. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was also scheduled to speak at the ceremony but was unable to attend.

Green Revolution

Borlaug, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to reduce world hunger, is generally considered the founder of the Green Revolution, a development that is believed to have saved millions of people from starvation.

“The battle to end hunger was Dr. Borlaug’s lifelong pursuit, and remains one of the great challenges of our day, requiring both a worldwide commitment to innovation and investment in agriculture, as well as country and local strategies,” said Secretary Vilsack.

“Presidents Kufuor and Lula da Silva have advanced food security for their people by pursuing innovative policies and programs, and their leadership and work stand as a model to all nations working to meet the moral imperative of feeding the world.”

Vilsack is a former governor of Iowa, where Borlaug was born and spent the early years of his life. The World Food Prize is presented annually during the Norman Borlaug Symposium held in Des Moines, Iowa, in October.

“President Kufuor and President Lula da Silva have set the gold standard for presidential leadership in tackling the global challenges of poverty and hunger,” said Administrator Shah. “By helping train the next generation of forward-thinking leaders, we can build upon the legacy of Norman Borlaug and the inspirational work of this year’s World Food Prize laureates to deliver meaningful results in food security and nutrition for people in developing countries across the world.”

Under President Kufuor’s leadership, Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African country to cut in half the proportion of its people who suffer from hunger, and the proportion of people living on less than a dollar per day, on course to meet UN Millenium Development Goal 1.

Agriculture a priority

Continuing Ghana’s tradition of stability, President Kufuor prioritized national agricultural policies: Ghana saw a reduction in its poverty rate from 51.7 percent in 1991 to 26.5 percent in 2008, and hunger was reduced from 34 percent in 1990 down to 9 percent in 2004.

“l am overjoyed that in this time of increasing food crisis around the world, l should be adjudged as deserving of this great award for the role l played in boosting agriculture in my country, Ghana, during my tenure as president,” said President Kufuor.

A guiding principle for President John Kufuor during the entirety of his two terms as president of the Republic of Ghana (2001-2009) was to improve food security and reduce poverty through public- and private-sector initiatives. To that end, he implemented major economic and educational policies that increased the quality and quantity of food to Ghanaians, enhanced farmers’ incomes, and improved school attendance and child nutrition through a nationwide feeding program.

President Lula da Silva made it clear, even before he took office as president of Brazil in 2003, that fighting hunger and poverty would be a top priority of his government. More than 10 government ministries were focused on the expansive Zero Hunger programs, which provided greater access to food, strengthened family farms and rural incomes, increased enrollment of primary school children, and empowered the poor. 

Zero Hunger very quickly became one of the most successful food and nutritional security policies in the world through its broad network of programs, including: the Bolsa Familia Program; the Food Purchase Program; and the School Feeding Program.

Over the eight years of his administration, President Lula da Silva’s commitment and vision achieved dramatic reductions in hunger, extreme poverty and social exclusion, thereby greatly enhancing the lives of Brazil’s people.

“I am convinced that what was important during my administration was the result of the partnership with the Brazilian population," said former president Lula da Silva. “I am really moved to know Brazil was chosen as a country that achieved good policies regarding agriculture and hunger. Brazil has a lot to show in the area of food security.

“And we want to share our experience with other countries, especially with African country and poor countries in Latin America – both our technical knowledge, and from the point of view of food productivity and distribution.”

Hunger cut in half

During his tenure, UN Millennium Development Goal 1 was exceeded as Brazil reduced by half its proportion of hungry people, with 93 percent of children and 82 percent of adults eating three meals a day, and also reduced the percentage of Brazilians living in extreme poverty from 12 percent in 2003 down to 4.8 percent in 2009.

These two leaders will be formally awarded the World Food Prize at the 25th Anniversary Laureate Award Ceremony at the Iowa State Capital on October 13, in conjunction with the Borlaug Dialogue international symposium. The theme of this year’s dialogue will be “The Next Generation: Confronting the Hunger Challenges of Tomorrow.”

Full biographies and more information is available at www.worldfoodprize.org/laureates.