Quinn Recognized for Service to American Agriculture

This year’s NACAA Service to American Agriculture Award was presented to Kenneth M. Quinn, special consultant to the World Food Prize Foundation and a lifetime supporter of agriculture and public service.

He is recognized internationally for his success in confronting hunger, enhancing rural development and thwarting terrorism by promoting “Peace through Agriculture.”

Kenneth Quinn, World Food Prize photo.The award recognize a U.S. Citizen who has made a major contribution to American/World Agriculture and is recognized by peers and the general public.

Quinn was born in the Bronx, New York, and grew up in Dubuque, Iowa. Following college graduation, he was inspired to begin a 32-year career (1967-1999) with the American Foreign Service dominated by anti-terrorism and humanitarian assignments. His first assignment was village pacification in Vietnam (1967-74). With the war raging, he worked to improve rural roads and infrastructure while ag extension agents were introducing IR-8, the miracle rice varieties developed in the Philippines using breeding techniques credited to Dr. Norman Borlaug. The improved roads and extension assistance resulted in increased ag production and access to ag inputs, markets, medical services and educational opportunities.

As the rural economy improved, the appeal of the Viet Cong was reduced. Quinn addressed similar situations throughout his career and successfully applied the important strategies that he learned early in his career to improve lives and livelihoods elsewhere.

Life and death decisions

Serving along the Cambodian border, Quinn was also involved in life and death decisions earning the Army Air Medal for accompanying helicopter operations in combat situations. He also was first to report the flood of refugees into Vietnam fleeing the Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields of Cambodia.

Because of his Vietnamese language skills and his knowledge of the war torn area, Quinn served as interpreter for President Gerald Ford in meetings with Senior South Vietnamese officials. He was instrumental in rescuing thousands of Vietnamese refugees in the days immediately before South Vietnam collapsed.

Quinn assisted Iowa Gov. Robert Ray from 1975 till the early 1980s, welcoming the Tai Dam from Laos, rescuing the Vietnamese “boat people,” and serving as the executive director of the Iowa SHARES program which sent lifesaving food and medicine along with volunteer doctors and nurses to sustain those escaping the Cambodian civil war in refugee camps in Thailand.

In the fall of 1980, Quinn hosted a delegation of Chinese Governors that came to Iowa to learn about productive agriculture. The Chinese group was led by Gov. Xi Zhongxun, the father of Xi Jinping, the current president of China. Gov. Xi became the chief architect of agriculture transformation and the Chinese economic development which followed. In 2012 Quinn hosted a U.S.-China High Level Ag Symposium with then Chinese VP Xi Jinping as keynote speaker.

In the early 1990s, Quinn served as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the East Asia Bureau for the State Department where he oversaw development projects emphasizing infrastructure improvement and increased ag productivity in the Philippines, the Middle East and Cambodia.  Quinn served as the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia (1996-1999). As a result of these programs, the Khmer Rouge surrendered in March, 1999, ending the genocidal war which had claimed over 2 million victims out of an original population of 7 million.

Borlaug and businessman John Ruan, Sr. founded the World Food Prize in 1986 hoping it would become the “Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture” and that Central Iowa would be seen as the Hunger Fighting Capital of America and the World. Ambassador Quinn served as World Food Prize President (2000-2020). Using his international contacts and exceptional communication and organizational skills, the visions of Borlaug and Ruan have been realized.

In retirement, Quinn continues his work in service to US and world agriculture as a Foot Soldier in the Green Revolution promoting food for peace.