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Feature

A woman selling her tomatoes.

Women are often the biggest beneficiaries of the research into improved vegetable production because they do most of the farming in the developing world.

U graduate honored for improving nutrition in developing world

Published on November 4, 2005

Eating vegetables has always been important the world over.

But nowhere has it been more vital than in developing countries, where having a vegetable to eat sometimes means the difference between life and death, or, at a minimum, the difference between a healthy life and being severely malnourished.

Wolrdwide, an estimated 2 billion people--nearly a third of the global population--suffer from malnutrition caused by not having enough essential micronutrients such as vitamins C, K, E, and A.

On October 7, the University of Minnesota honored Paul Sun, who received his master's in plant pathology in 1966, with a distinguished leadership award for internationals. Sun played a key role in bringing improved nutrition--through enhanced vegetable production--to Asia, Latin America, Africa, and other regions of the developing world. This, is in part, is a result of his efforts to turn the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (AVRDC) into a "world vegetable center."

Due to increased economic development and the center's efforts, between 1993 and 2002 per capita vegetable production in the developing countries of Asia has increased by 64 percent--far surpassing modest gains made by other developing countries.

In short, what the Green Revolution (inspired by U graduate and Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug) did to bring more food to the developing world, the AVRDC is doing to increase nutrition in the developing world through improved production and consumption of vegetables. Sun is chair of the board of directors of AVRDC, which now has outreach activities in Afghanistan, India, Mali, South Korea, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam, and expanded networks in many more countries.

Starting with its early successes in developing heat-tolerant tropical tomatoes and improved methods for controlling cabbage pests, the center has:

"Individuals like you have had an enormous impact," said C. Eugene Allen, associate vice president for international programs in presenting the University's award to Sun.

Today, a third of all tomato varieties and 16 percent of pepper varieties grown in Asia originated from seeds developed at the center, and its mungbean lines are now grown on about 7.4 million acres in Asia.

Due to increased economic development and the center's efforts, between 1993 and 2002 per capita vegetable production in the developing countries of Asia has increased by 64 percent--far surpassing modest gains made by other developing countries.

"Socio-economic studies show that our varieties lead to healthier diets, a more productive workforce, and higher wages in many countries of Asia," said a report on the center written by Sun. Women are often the biggest beneficiaries of the research because they do most of the farming in the developing world.

During the award ceremony, Sun fondly recalled his stay in Minnesota in 1965 and 1966--even though it was an intense time for him. "I worked day and night, including the night of Christmas," he said.

Although brief, Sun's education at the University has helped improve lives around the world. Li-Na Wei, a U professor of pharmacology who hails from Taiwan, home of the first ARCDC center, presented Sun with flowers on behalf of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office.

"They would like to show their appreciation for all that you have done for our country," she said.