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Still occupying: Occupy Des Moines targets World Food Prize Foundation

Occupy Des Moines plans to protest at the headquarters of the World Food Prize this week. They say the organization, which recognizes efforts at reducing world hunger, is focused on corporate agriculture and profits.  

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The prize created in 1986 has grown in stature in recent years, with hundreds of scholars and agribusiness leaders gathering for several days in Des Moines for speeches and seminars. Last year, the private, nonprofit foundation moved to the former Des Moines Public Library after a $30 million renovation paid in part with donations from companies including DuPont and Cargill.

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Speakers from Monsanto Co., Bayer CropScience, and Syngenta have been invited to participate in events this week.

DuPont Pioneer spokeswoman Jane Slusark said the company respects protesters' right to voice their opinions, but to fight hunger, "it's going to take all of us working together, even if we do not always agree."

Spokesmen for Monsanto and Syngenta also defended their companies' efforts to develop technologies that boost crop production. Syngenta spokesman Paul Minehart said scientists have turned to genetic modification and other biotechnologies to boost food production as the world's population increases.

"We don't have more land and we don't have more water that can be used efficiently and effectively for agriculture, so how are you going to be able to feed this growing population with limited resources?" Minehart asked. "We're trying to make sure we are providing farmers what they need to be able to get the most yield and have the most productive crops that they can."

Noting that "Dr. Borlaug believed in science," Quinn said a panel discussion on biotechnology was planned this week because food production may depend on it as climate change brings more cycles of drought and flooding.

Ironically, while the protesters and some panels will focus on biotechnology and other facets of agribusiness, the winner of this year's prize is being celebrated for low-tech work.

Israeli scientist Daniel Hillel, 81, helped develop drip irrigation methods that conserve water while allowing food to be grown in some of the world's driest climates. The system Hillel developed, called micro-irrigation, carries water through narrow plastic pipes to plants, where it trickles continuously onto the roots. Over decades, it has dramatically improved farm production and helped thousands of Jewish and Muslim farmers.

Like some of those protesting the prize, Hillel has been concerned with preserving natural resources.

"We need to learn how to manage land so that it will not degrade and do it efficiently. At the same time, we must maintain natural ecosystems without encroaching upon them without excessive deforestation and destruction of biodiversity," he told The Associated Press in a June interview when he was announced as this year's winner.

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