This year’s food prize winner, Dr. Charity Mutegi, made breakthroughs in combating the deadly aflatoxin mold contamination.
Dr. Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who is recognized as the "father of the Green Revolution," established in 1986 the World Food Prize, to recognize the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.
Since that time, a number of other awards have been introduced under the World Food Prize umbrella.
One of the newest awards is the Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application. The award, which is endowed by the Rockefeller Foundation, recognizes a research scientist, an extension worker (that is, an agricultural advisor), or other individual who best emulates the dedication, perseverance and innovation demonstrated by Dr. Borlaug. This year’s recipient is Dr. Charity Mutegi, a Kenyan scientist who made major breakthroughs in combating the deadly aflatoxin mold contamination.
Aflatoxin is a naturally occurring mold, and one of the most carcinogenic substances known. It has been a serious postharvest loss problem around the world for decades. It is toxic to people who consume it either directly through contaminated grain, or through the milk or meat of livestock that had fed on contaminated grain.
In 2004-05, 125 people died in eastern Kenya after eating aflatoxin-contaminated grain. Dr. Mutegi spearheaded efforts to identify the cause of the deaths, as well as research to avert future outbreaks and safeguard the region’s staple crop of maize. Since then, she’s been in the forefront of efforts to develop a bio-control product that could significantly reduce aflatoxin levels in maize--a non-toxic strain of the fungus that would out-compete and push out the toxic strain. This low-cost technology was developed by the United States Department of Agriculture and locally adapted for use in several African countries.
“Dr. Mutegi is an inspiration to other young scientists around the world. She tackled a critical problem, and has effectively transferred her own scientific knowledge to farmers and policymakers to help improve food safety for the entire region,” said Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, President of The World Food Prize. “Like Dr. Borlaug, she has put the needs of people first, and has shown persistence, innovation, effective communication, contribution to science, and application of that science to improve lives and livelihoods.”