On Friday 7th September, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), was awarded the Africa Food Prize 2018 for leadership and innovation in finding solutions to major concerns affecting the continent’s agriculture sector.
The award was given during the just concluded African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Kigali. It consists of $100,000 cash and a trophy of recognition.
The now 50-year-old non-profit institution based in Ibadan, Nigeria, generates agricultural innovations to meet Africa’s most pressing challenges of hunger, malnutrition, poverty, and natural resource degradation.
Speaking as he received the Prize on behalf of his institution, Dr Nteranya Sanginga, IITA’s Director General, stated his belief that a great deal of IITA’s success rests on its ability to develop relationships and collaborations that allow the fruits of its research to be scaled up and made available to millions of farmers.
“I’m extremely honoured to be receiving this prize on behalf of IITA and proud to be part of a group of researchers dedicated to building lasting and relevant solutions for the continent,” said Sanginga.
“But it would be remiss of me if I didn’t acknowledge the important role of our various partners, from other research centres to governments to the private sector, without whom our research might never have seen the light of day.”
Citing interventions that the organisations’ research has brought to Rwanda, he said: “For instance in Rwanda, cassava crops were about to decline four years ago because of a viral disease. Then, the Minister of Agriculture came to consult us for a solution. And, now, cassava crops are improving thanks to our disease-resistant cassava varieties”.
An independent Africa Food Prize Committee, chaired by Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria, selected IITA for its deep commitment over many decades to producing a steady stream of innovations that have boosted the nutrition and incomes of millions of people across Africa.
“From the cassava we’re still eating today, to the valuable and nutritious soybeans we now grow in our fields, to maize varieties that can withstand drought and deadly toxins – our diets and our agriculture businesses would be much poorer today without IITA’s leadership, and its willingness to forge powerful bonds with African farmers and African communities, ” Obasanjo observed.
Svein Tore Holsether, President and Chief Executive Officer of Yara International, noted that since its inception in 2005, the Yara Prize – now the Africa Food Prize – has honoured people and organizations who are strong voices in the African agriculture sector.
“To achieve real transformation we need to mobilize across sectors, and research organizations like IITA will play a crucial role, providing valuable science, vital in making sure we can produce enough food, which is also nutritious and environmentally friendly,” Holsether said.
IITA scientists have developed hundreds of new, improved and high-yielding varieties of major African staple food crops.
It helped usher in a new day for cassava production with the release of a cassava enriched to naturally produce vitamin A, a nutrient whose deficiency is a leading cause of preventable blindness in children and also can be fatal to pregnant women.
The new cassava varieties, which are high-yielding and pest-resistant, can provide 25% of the daily vitamin A requirement for both children and women. The health benefits of this cassava, in Nigeria alone, could be worth US$1.5 billion per year, according to Sanginga.
On February 16, FAO warned that, if left unchecked, Fall Armyworm pest could push more than 300 million people into hunger, and lead to annual economic losses of up to $4.8billion from maize production alone, as the pest had infected millions of hectares of maize in Africa.
The institution is the first institution to receive the distinguished Africa Food Prize.
Previous awards were given to individuals for their efforts to ensure to develop agriculture sector or ensure food security.