The 1995 World Food Prize has been awarded to Hans R. Herren for his work at IITA on classical biological control of the cassava mealybug. Hans Herren, as an IITA entomologist, helped to conceive the project in 1979 and led it from its inception to its successful conclusion in the early 1990s when the mealybug problem was effectiuvely eliminated in 30 African countries without the use of pesticides.
In 1994, Herren left IITA to become Director of the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology .
The World Food Prize is considered the foremost international agricultural award recognizing outstanding individual achievement in improving the world food system. The Prize is administered by the World Food Prize Foundation, Des Moines, Iowa. Members of the selection committee remain anonymous except for the chairman, Norman E. Borlaug, a Nobel Prize laureate.
In the early 1970s the cassava mealybug was accidently introduced to Africa from South America, and in 10 years threatened to wipe out the continent's cassava crop -- the staple food of more than 200 million people in sub-Saharan Africa. Herren's biological control project involved finding and introducing from South America, the origin of cassava, predator wasps that attack and kill only the cassava mealybug. The wasps were then bred in huge numbers in Africa and released from a airplane over the entire cassava growing belt, an area larger than continental United States. In about seven years, the wasps spread rapidly to a point where a state of ecological balance between the cassava mealybug and its predators has been created throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The benefit of this project to African farmers has been estimated at about US$3 billion.
IITA's expertise in biological control is now being employed to address various other pest problems in Africa. It is helping to control the cassava green mite throughout the cassava belt. It is helping solve the mango mealybug, grasshopper and locust problems in West Africa, the water hyacinth spread that disrupts water transport and destroys peasant fishing industries in East and West Africa, and the larger grain borer that pulverizes stored maize.
Last year, IITA won the CGIAR's King Baudouin Award for International Agricultural Research. That award recognized IITA's achievement in breeding plantain varieties resistant to black sigatoka disease, and for contributions to the understanding of plantain genetics. IITA has won the King Baudouin Award three times in the past eight years.
(IITA news release)