DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa taxpayers accounted for nearly one-third of the World Food Prize Foundation’s funding last year with the state’s $850,000 contribution.
The foundation, which recognizes achievements in agriculture and holds an annual symposium every October, is relying more on public support.
Iowa officials generally agree that the investment in the World Food Prize foundation has paid off because it has improved the state’s reputation.
Contributions from private businesses, individuals and other foundations still account for the majority of the World Food Prize Foundation’s annual budget. Last year the foundation spent $2.97 million and had assets of about $50 million. Since 2000, the foundation has received annual contributions from the state and grants totaling $9.4 million.
Foundation President Kenneth Quinn said he doesn’t see a problem with the current arrangement because the state and foundation are working together to promote Iowa’s key role in helping feed a hungry world.
“That should be our identity and our state legacy,” he said. “I want to make it so no one wants the World Food Prize to go away.”
Gov. Terry Branstad said the foundation has helped the state attract more business, including a $4.3 billion commitment from China to purchase U.S. soybeans. Branstad said the annual conference the foundation holds also helps raise Iowa’s profile internationally.
Past World Food Prize conferences have attracted newsmakers like Bill Gates and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton along with hundreds of scientists and policymakers concerned about hunger.
“It’s been a relatively small public investment compared to the recognition we get as a state,” Branstad said.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the taxpayer investment in the foundation has been worth every penny.
The chairman of the Iowa Senate’s appropriations committee, Sen. Bob Dvorsky, said he believes the foundation is a valuable asset for the state, and he expects public funding for it to continue growing.
Quinn said even though some of the spending on the World Food Prize event, including limousines for award winners, may seem lavish, but the foundation is trying make the awards akin to Nobel Prize ceremonies. And Quinn said no public money is spent on entertaining dignitaries, international travel or his $222,000 salary.
The foundation pays for hotel rooms for speakers, but Quinn said most attendees pay for their own lodging. Registration fees pay for the catering.
The public money pays for programming and administrative costs, Quinn said. And an endowment pays for the $250,000 prize the foundation hands out each year.