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More Women in Agriculture Reaching the Global Stage

All eyes were on Des Moines, Iowa last week, where the 25th World Food Prize was presented before representatives from more than 65 countries. This annual award is given in honor of the late 1970 Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Norman Borlaug, for his efforts to improve the world’s food supply.

This year’s joint winners—the former President of Ghana, John Agyekum Kufuor, and the former President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva—led their countries to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of cutting poverty in half by 2015. Not only did they accomplish this feat four years ahead of schedule, their countries are the only member nations to achieve this goal to date.

In its 25-year history, only three women have won the World Food Prize:

  • Dr. Evangelina Villegas of Mexico and co-recipient Dr. Surinder Vasal) were recognized in 2000 for their combined efforts and achievements in breeding and advancing Quality Protein Maize to improve productivity and nutrition in malnourished and poverty-stricken areas worldwide.
  • Catherine Bertini was chosen in 2003 for transforming the United Nations World Food Programme into the largest and most responsive humanitarian relief organization in the world, capable of ensuring that food of good quality would be available in sufficient quantities to the world’s neediest, even in the direst of circumstances.
  • Jo Luck, CEO of Heifer International, shared the honor with David Beckmann of Bread for the World in 2010. They were honored for their landmark achievements in building their NGOs into two of the world's foremost grassroots organizations leading the charge to end hunger and poverty for millions of people.

These women are inspirational pioneers, albeit underrepresented in international agriculture. However, I am optimistic that we will see more women in agriculture stepping onto the global stage in the near future. Two of the World Food Prize conference sessions this year highlighted the importance of women in agriculture, and an AWARD Fellow had the privilege of participating in the Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium, which is held in conjunction with the awarding of the World Food Prize.

Anabela da Piedade Manhiça, a livestock veterinarian from Mozambique, participated on a panel entitled, “The Next Generation: Confronting the Hunger Challenges of Tomorrow”, at the invitation of USAID.

Anabela’s research on technology transfer is coupled with her ongoing commitment to working with women farmers. As she says, “They are the most involved in agriculture, food security, and nutrition at the household level in Mozambique, and I love working with them.”

Dr. Charity Mutegi, an AWARD pilot program fellow and now a Borlaug LEAP Fellow, also spoke on the panel. Charity is now the Kenya Country Coordinator for the Aflasafety project within the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, one of CGIAR’s global research centers.

As the world wakes up to the crucial and compelling need to empower its women, AWARD is preparing African women in agriculture to take center stage.

Recommended Read: “Women seen key to solving hunger issues in Africa.”

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Vicki Wilde, Director
CGIAR Gender & Diversity Program and
African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD)