The African Food Prize has been awarded to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), based in Ibadan, Nigeria, in recognition of the steady stream of innovations for which it has been responsible since its foundation in 1967.
In the intervening years, IITA scientists have developed hundreds of improved, high-yielding varieties of crops including close to 400 new varieties of cassava that have transformed it into one of Africa’s most diverse and lucrative farm commodities. IITA has also led efforts to breed new varieties of banana, cowpea, maize, soybean and yam that are suited to the region’s wide diversity of growing conditions and dietary preferences.
In recent years, IITA’s work has increasingly included a critical focus on connecting crop science to creating employment for Africa’s youth, enabling African farmers to adapt to the stresses of climate change and addressing the growing threats from an array of crop pests and plant diseases.
Altogether, IITA has helped to revolutionise the nutrition and income of millions of people across the African continent. In fact, the overall value for Africans of the crops developed by IITA and its partners now stands at US$17 billion and counting. This underscores its contribution Africa’s economy as well as its agriculture.
IITA was selected for the prize by the independent Africa Food Prize Committee under the chairmanship of H.E. Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria. As he said, “IITA stood out to us for its steadfast and inspiring commitment to a research agenda that aligns with both our African traditions as well as the evolving needs of African farmers and consumers for the latest advances food production.
“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.”
Speaking as he received the Prize on behalf of his institution, Dr. Nteranya Sanginga, IITA’s Director General, stated his belief that much 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,” he said. “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.”
Congratulating IITA, 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 organisations who are strong voices in the African agriculture sector.
“Now, African agriculture is at a defining moment. To achieve real transformation we need to mobilise across sectors, and research organisations 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.”