116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES - The combined devastation caused by a deadly cyclone and an equally deadly political liberation movement in his native Bangladesh moved 2015 World Food Prize winner Fazle Hasan Abed from a life of comfort to one dedicated to eradicating poverty.
Abed, 79, a former Shell Oil finance executive, said the devastation caused by a cyclone that struck his country in the 1970s and his involvement in Bangladesh's struggle for independence from Pakistan got him involved in relief and refugee work that caused him to sell his London home, leave his prestigious job and co-found BRAC - formerly the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee. The organization is dedicated to giving women the social and economic tools to advance.
'I started questioning my comfortable life,” Abed told a news conference Thursday before he was honored as the 2015 recipient of the World Food Prize. He was working to resettle refugees and said helping them face the challenges of poverty 'changed me completely.”
'Some people felt that I was crazy trying to change my life like that to an uncertain life of trying to help the poor,” he said. But, he said, his work to relegate poverty has been 'very satisfying and has given my life a meaning that I would not have had.”
Abed's relief operation has grown to become the world's largest non-profit, non-governmental organization with staff spread among 11 countries working to address poverty and empower women.
He said his organization's self-funded approach has been to empower people by helping them learn to grow their own crops using better farming and livestock techniques, new technologies and financial support. Resources also have been put into funding education, health care and other methods to aid women as the 'change agents in society.”
Abed, who was knighted in 2010, called receipt of this year's World Food Prize 'a humbling experience” and one that he accepted on behalf of the thousands of people who work for BRAC, saying 'I don't take full credit for everything that has happened with BRAC.”
Thursday night's ceremonies at the Iowa Capitol to honor Abed as the 2015 World Food Prize laureate capped several days of food-focused activities. The prize, which comes with a $250,000 award, was created by Norman Borlaug in 1986 to recognize an individual whose work has helped improve world food production.
Members of the Occupy the World Food Price organization planned to stage a rally and attempt to enter the Statehouse before the ceremony 'to expose the global corporate ag's ownership of the prize.”
During Thursday's symposiums, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack led an afternoon discussion on open data for agriculture and nutrition. He called it a 'big deal” to be able to share real-time information and research for 'creative problem solving” on food security, climate change, infestations, disease outbreaks or other global concerns.
Brady Deaton, executive director of the University of Missouri's Deaton Institute, expressed concern that a lot of experiments, experiences and research are going on worldwide that is not being compiled in ways that are widely available. 'There's too much data that is sitting somewhere on a shelf not being utilized effectively,” he said.
To meet the food-security challenges of the future, Vilsack said productivity has to be increased and food waste reduced, so better data to spur innovation is increasingly 'imperative.”