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Updated: February 19, 2010 02:10 IST

Working towards feeding the world’s poor

Special Correspondent
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President of the World Food Prize Foundation Kenneth M. Quinn.
President of the World Food Prize Foundation Kenneth M. Quinn.

Inspiring people to focus on finding solutions to feed the world’s poor is no easy undertaking. But former U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Kenneth M. Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation, is the three time winner of the American Foreign Service Award for Constructive Dissent, and no stranger to standing up for what he believes in.

“Never before has there been such a need for concerted cooperative action across national lines,” he told The Hindu at the conclusion of a three-day international conference on biodiversity at the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation on Wednesday.

Comparing the impact of climate change on world food supply to the coming of a tornado, he stressed the lessons of the WFPF’s founder Norman Borlaug – that valuing and conserving the rich earth’s biological genetic diversity would provide agriculturalists with the answers to the conundrum of how to adapt to a warmer world.

It is a passion borne not just of having met and worked with the inspirational father of the Green Revolution, but from his experience in South-East Asia. Mekong, Vietnam, his first diplomatic posting, wasn’t the champagne and aperitif posting that he’d imagined made up the Foreign Service. Instead it led him to road building and rice-growing.

“Miracle rice”

“I learned the lesson of my life,” he said, recalling how he watched “miracle rice” or IR8 double crop yield mean more household income for villagers, better fed children, and a reduction in violence.

“Just imagine the situation here in India and Pakistan, without the miracle rice and the Green Revolution,” he said. “It took both countries from heading towards mass starvation and provided food that left people, in aggregate, well off for more than a generation.” Endorsing Dr. Borlaug’s position that the best way to make agricultural research thrive is by working with small farmers, the 2010 Borlaug Dialogue symposium in Des Moines, Iowa in October will be dedicated to farmers and their role in producing and preserving ecological resources. Representatives from over 60 countries are expected to attend. The World Food Prize, established in 1986, is the foremost international award recognising individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. There have been six Indian laureates.

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