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Former presidents of Ghana and Brazil awarded food prize

/ Source: The Associated Press

Former presidents of Ghana and Brazil will receive the World Food Prize for their successful efforts to reduce by half the number of people in their countries who suffer from hunger and poverty, the prize's foundation announced Tuesday.

John Agyekum Kufuor, who served as Ghana's president from 2001- 2009, and Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, who was Brazil's president from 2003-2010, were named this year's World Food Prize laureates during a ceremony in Washington.

The Des Moines, Iowa-based foundation each year awards the prize to honor efforts to lessen global hunger. Kufuor and Silva will share in the $250,000 prize, which was established by Iowa native Norman Borlaug, the winner of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to increase food production in developing nations with the use of hybrid crops. He died in 2009.

The foundation will officially award the prize to Kufuor and Silva during the World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines in October.

Under Kufuor's leadership, Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African nation to reach the United Nation's Millennium project goal of reducing by more than half the number of people in his country going hungry by 2015. According to the World Food Prize Foundation, hunger in Ghana dropped from 34 percent to 9 percent and the number of people living in poverty was reduced from 51.7 percent in 1991 to 26.5 percent in 2006.

Two terms
During his two terms as president, the foundation said Kufuor initiated economic reforms that strengthened public investment in agriculture and food production. The nation's cocoa production doubled between 2002 and 2005 and production of food crops, such as maize, cassava, yams and plantains, as well as livestock production, increased significantly.

A school feeding program was initiated that guaranteed one locally produced meal a day for students ages 4 to 14. The program reduced chronic hunger and malnutrition and improved school attendance. By the end of 2010 more than 1 million students were participating in the program, the foundation said.

Kufuor told The Associated Press after the announcement was made that the prize is an acknowledgment of what can happen when governments make reducing hunger a priority.

"Ghana is very proud of this," he said in a telephone interview from London.

He called his country's achievements "remarkable," saying "both I and my country are very honored and pleased about this honor."

Silva also initiated a school feeding program that now serves 47 million students in all grades of Brazil's public school system. Malnutrition in Brazil fell nearly 62 percent between 2003 and 2009, the World Food Prize Foundation said. The school program was part of Silva's Zero Hunger program, which provided greater access to food, strengthened family farms and increased school enrollment.

Cash for poor
The program also provided cash aid to poor families, guaranteeing more than 12 million people a minimum income and access to basic goods and services. Distribution of food was through public schools, restaurants, assisted living facilities, day care centers and other organizations.

Under Silva's leadership, Brazilians living in poverty dropped from 12 percent in 2003 to 4.8 percent in 2009, with 93 percent of children and 82 percent of adults eating three meals a day, according to the foundation.

"I am convinced that what was important during my administration was the result of the partnership with the Brazilian population," Silva said in a statement. "I am really moved to know Brazil was chosen as a country that achieved good policies regarding agriculture and hunger."

Silva was traveling in Mexico and not available for an interview following the announcement.

Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize, said in a statement to The Associated Press that Kufuor and Silva "have set a powerful example for other political leaders in the world."