World Food Prize

By George Grow

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

Two scientists who worked for years to develop high-protein corn have won the World Food Prize for this year. Evangelina Villegas of Mexico and Surinder Vasal of India will be honored next month at ceremonies in the United States.

The World Food Prize Foundation presents the award each year to honor people who have improved the quality of world food supplies. Mizz Villegas is the first woman to be honored in the fourteen years since the World Food Prize was established.

The two scientists did their work at CIMMYT (SIM-it), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico. The World Food Prize committee says they have worked together for the past thirty years to develop Quality Protein Maize.

The new maize, or corn, contains a gene that increases the amount of protein in the plant. American scientists at Purdue University in Indiana first identified the gene in Nineteen-Sixty-Three. However, early efforts to produce this kind of maize failed. The plants were difficult to grow. Also, insects and disease often attacked them.

Mizz Villegas and Mr. Vasal successfully used a method known as cross-breeding. They used different kinds of maize to produce a stronger, more successful plant. The scientists found the high-protein maize could be produced at the same rate as traditional maize. And the new plants had two times the amount of two important proteins normally found in other maize. Quality protein maize is currently being tested in China, Ghana, Mexico, Vietnam and fourteen other developing countries.

Maize is an important feed grain for farm animals. It also is a major food for hundreds of millions of people. In Africa and Latin America, mothers commonly give a substance made from maize to their babies. The World Food Organization says people with diets based on normal maize do not get enough protein. W-H-O officials blame a severe lack of protein for the deaths of as many as five-million young children each year.

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center has done studies of the new maize in Peru and Colombia. The studies have shown that a controlled diet with the high-protein maize can help restore the health of many children. The group reports similar results in a village in Ghana and in studies in the United States.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.

Source: www.voa.gov/special/