The judges of the Geoffrey Roberts Award 2008 have just announced that this year they were so impressed by two of the applicants for this annual international travel award that they decided to choose two equal winners, Magdalena Eriksson and Nelle Gretzinger, both of New York City.
Not only do both winners live in the same city, they will both use their awards of £3,000/$6,000 apiece to carry out projects in developing countries within 20 degrees of the equator, and both will be developing businesses that will empower women in rural and impoverished locations.
Magdalena Eriksson, a biochemist and journalist native to Sweden, will develop products based on a conical, white-fleshed variety of pineapple grown in coastal Ghana, West Africa. In 2006, she visited the small, impoverished village of Ekumfi-Edumafa for the first time. The village council, assembled on the beach, invited her to become the queen mother of women and girls in the community. Eriksson’s parents, who for many years have been associated with Edumafa as developmental chief and queen mother, introduced her to the village. Accepting the position, Eriksson was subsequently installed (see above right) and granted the name Nana-Nyena II. Her goals for Edumafa include that all girls should complete nine years of school, to improve the health status of all villagers, and to create business opportunities for women. Pineapple is one of the few crops that thrive in the coastal biotope, but most of the traded fruit goes wholesale to juice making for a dismal profit. “I will help develop refined products of these delicious pineapples for people overseas to enjoy,” Eriksson says. “I want the women in my village to be the real winners of this award.”
Quarter-way around the world from Ghana, in southern Belize, Nelle Gretzinger (below) will be working to establish the commercial cultivation of vanilla. She currently owns a women’s clothing business in Brooklyn, Art to Wear, Inc., and will draw upon this experience to come up with vanilla-based products and the means to market them effectively. Vanilla grows wild in the rainforest in Belize but has never been grown there commercially. Of this Gretzinger says “The fact that it’s never been done before is both exhilarating and terrifying: exhilarating because my actions could help to shape a different kind of future for Belizeans and terrifying for exactly the same reason!” Gretzinger’s fascination with vanilla arose from a trip she took to Belize in November of 2006. The ancient Maya Indians of Belize utilized vanilla in the drink they called xocoatl, but Gretzinger could not locate any vanilla beans in the town market in Punta Gorda. Serendipitously, she was introduced to Dawn Dean, of Maya Mountain Research Farm, who happened to be cultivating 250 vanilla vines. It was not long after this fortuitous meeting that their collaboration took shape. All of their work so far has been conducted by email and the Geoffrey Roberts Award will allow them to meet face-to-face once again.
The Geoffrey Roberts Trust was established in 1996 to commemorate the life and work of the late Geoffrey Roberts, the UK’s pioneer importer of New World wine. The Trust has made awards every year since then to individuals who can convince judges such as Neville Abraham, Jill Dupleix, Sally Clarke, Nicholas Lander, Willie Lebus and Jancis Robinson that their journeys will improve the worlds of food and/or drink.
Applications for the 2009 Award will be sought in the first three months of next year.