Prize for man who led a generation out of poverty in Bangladesh

by Kenneth M. Quinn
Thursday, 2 July 2015 12:36 GMT

2015 World Food Prize Laureate Sir Fazle Hasan Abed

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World Food Prize awarded to founder of BRAC, which has helped up to 150 million ultra-poor people improve their lives

We live in a world in which extraordinary individuals are making extraordinary achievements. And while breakthroughs in science, literature, and world peace have been rewarded for over a century, it was only in 1986 that an award for achievements in feeding the world was created. Inspired by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, the World Food Prize has been awarded annually to outstanding people that have helped us get closer to a world in which no one shall go to bed hungry.

Inspired by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, the World Food Prize has been awarded annually to outstanding people that have helped us get closer to a world in which no one shall go to bed hungry.

Known informally as the "Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture," this $250,000 award recognizes individuals who have made exceptional breakthrough achievements enhancing human development and confronting hunger by increasing the quality, quantity and availability of food in the world.

At a time when the world confronts the great challenge of feeding over 9 billion people by 2050, with climate change casting an ever increasing shadow on food security, it was my privilege to announce that our World Food Prize recipient for 2015 is Sir Fazle Hasan Abed of Bangladesh, the founder of the global non-profit organization known as BRAC.

Over the last 43 years, under his direction, BRAC (formerly the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) has grown from a temporary typhoon relief organization in remote Bangladesh, to become the largest NGO in the world with over 100,000 employees operating a broad array of programs in 10 countries, including educating more than 1 million elementary school students each year.

In agriculture, in Bangladesh and five African countries, the BRAC poultry, dairy, hybrid seed technology and micro-finance programs reach more than a half million smallholder farmers (the majority of whom are women), who each year are being equipped with the tools they need to transition from subsistence agriculture to becoming commercial business operators.

A MODEL FOR SUCCESS 

Sir Fazle’s approach is anchored in the belief that people must make their own pathways out of poverty. What BRAC seeks to do is create an enabling environment for the ultra-poor to “graduate” to a sustainable livelihood. This is done by targeting those most in need, who live below the extreme poverty line of 50 cents per day.

These individuals are then given productive assets, such as livestock, or climate-resilient seeds to “jump-start” their livelihood. While they build on this starting block, participants are trained on the productive assets they have been given, a weekly stipend, and are encouraged to start saving.

BRAC also provides healthcare visits and encourages the members to take part in community activities – such as joining local committees – to improve their social standing in the community. Once participants can report on meeting certain criteria, such as having no food deficit within the family, or having multiple sources of income, they can officially be considered graduates.

This methodology has been scaled up, reaching 1.4 million ultra-poor in Bangladesh alone, and the model has been adapted and replicated in 10 pilot projects in 8 countries with the support of the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) and the Ford Foundation.

The bottom line impact of our laureate's leadership is that over four decades of BRAC's programs, as many as 150 million persons have had the opportunity to embark on a pathway out of poverty with their lives improved and their food security enhanced.

WOMEN AS AGENTS OF CHANGE

At the heart of Sir Fazle's approach is the belief that educating girls and empowering women is key to rural development. BRAC has helped women like Annet, from the Kasakoso village in Uganda become their own boss.

After leaving school in 5th grade because her parents could not afford the school fees, Annet joined one of BRAC's clubs for adolescent girls. She had a keen interest in energy-saving charcoal stoves, which use less charcoal than ordinary stoves, which could save both trees and money for the community.

Trained BRAC mentors provided Annet with life skills and financial literacy training that helped her build her business as well as an $80 loan to expand her business. Today, Annet employs four people who help her make more than 200 stoves a week. 

Sir Fazle will be presented with the World Food Prize at our three-day annual symposium, known as the Borlaug Dialogue, in Des Moines, Iowa in October. Dr. Norman E. Borlaug whose miracle wheat saved millions from starvation in South Asia in the 1960s, would certainly be pleased to see the strides being made, particularly in Bangladesh, thanks to Sir Fazle’s vision and the work of BRAC.

The challenges facing our food supply are immense, and the visionaries like Sir Fazle that are bringing great change must be recognised, to ensure we can inspire the next generation of leaders who will feed 9 billion by 2050.

Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn is president of the World Food Prize Foundation.