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Two Hunger Fighters Win World Food Prize

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- Phil Brasher, Des Moines Register, June 16, 2010 http://www.desmoinesregister.com

Washington, D.C. — This year’s World Food Prize will go to an ex-economist who mobilizes church goers to lobby for anti-hunger programs and a former state government executive whose fundraising and business prowess turned Heifer International into a global leader in agricultural aid.

David Beckmann, an ordained Lutheran minister as well as a trained economist, left a job at the World Bank to take the helm of Bread for the World 19 years ago and led the group in a series of campaigns to change U.S. policy on issues from debt relief for developing countries, overseas agricultural aid and reforming farm subsidies.

Jo Luck, who served in Bill Clinton’s cabinet when he was governor of Arkansas, expanded Little Rock, Ark.-based Heifer’s donor base from 20,000 in 1992 to more than 500,000 by 2009.

She built the group, which teaches poor people self-reliance through livestock husbandry, into one of the “premier hunger-fighting non-profit organizations anywhere in the world,” according to the Des Moines-based World Food Prize Foundation, which selects the laureates.

The World Food Prize, which carries a $250,000 award, is given each year to recognize advancements in increasing or improving global food supplies and expanding access to food.

The laureate is often a scientist, like the award’s late founder, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug. Two years ago, the award was split by two former senators, George McGovern and Robert Dole, who got Congress to create a program for providing school meals to children in the poorest countries.

This year’s laureates were announced at a State Department ceremony attended by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Rajiv Shah, administrator of the Agency for International Development.

In honoring Beckmann and Luck, the World Food Prize is “recognizing the critical roles” that non-governmental organizations play in “mobilizing and empowering grassroots citizens to end hunger in communities around the world,” the foundation said.

Beckmann has ties to Borlaug and his family. Beckmann helped plan and then presided over Borlaug’s memorial service last fall at Texas A&M University. Borlaug, who quoted the book of Isaiah in his Nobel acceptance speech, had been a board member of Bread for the World.

Luck joined Heifer International in 1992 and as CEO boosted its annual budget from $7 million to more than $120 million before the organization was hit by the economic downturn. The organization has helped 12 million poor families, including 1.5 million in 2009 alone.

Heifer attempts to increase the reach of its aid through its “Passing on the Gift” concept: Beneficiaries are asked to give to another needy family a female offspring of the animal provided by Heifer.