President Tong, 63, was awarded the inaugural Sunhak Peace Prize along with Indian fisheries scientist Modagadu V Gupta. Gupta is noted for his research, which resulted in significant increase in fish production and laid the foundation for the Blue Revolution, a possible solution said to address a potential food crisis.
The event was attended by over 1000 delegates from the around the world, as well as Pacific dignitaries including a delegation from Fiji led by the first lady, Adi Koila Nailatikau.
The event was the highlight of the Third World Summit on Peace, Security and Human Development taking place at the Intercontinental Hotel in Seoul.
In his acceptance speech, laureate President Tong paid a special tribute to the late founder of the Sunhak Peace Organisation, Dr Sun Myung Moon, for his lifelong commitment working to achieve universal peace for all under the slogan 'one family under God'.
“I am honoured to receive this award and looking back the last 12 years to the challenges there were since being elected into power in 2003, my people had placed their hopes in me to guide them to a safe and secure future and to ensure that their voices were heard on issues they raised in the international arena,” he said.
Tong emphasised the need to continue raising awareness on climate change.
“Over the years, climate change has threatened the future survival of our generations. The low-lying atoll islands are at the frontline of climate change and unless we address this, an entire identity and culture may cease to exist,” he said.
The Kiribati president elaborated that as leaders at the World Peace Summit here in Seoul, they had to ensure they worked to safeguard their moral obligation to all humanity to ensure a safe future for all.
Tong was emotional as he also acknowledged the support of his wife who has been the backbone of his fight in the international arena to get the world's attention about the threats of climate change to their island home.
“I would like to also take this time to acknowledge my wife who has been there and has gone through the difficult times I faced when no one was listening to my story. This is also for our grand children and for all others. Let’s do what is right!" he said.
For his part, fellow laureate Gupta urged global leaders to invest more heavily in aquaculture to address the rapidly growing challenge of hunger in developing countries.
“It has been estimated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations that to meet the demand of increasing population by 2050, we need to increase food production by 60 percent globally, [and] by 90 percent to 100 percent in developing countries,” he told the audience, according to remarks prepared for delivery.
“The enormity of the situation can be further gauged from the fact that more food has to be produced in the next 35 years than what was produced in the last 8,000 years,” he said.
He said he was pleased the Sunhak Peace Prize Committee had recognised the need for global food security.
“This is important due to the ever-increasing population and with the threat of global warming, there is a threat to food security,” he said.
Dr Gupta acknowledged the contributions made by his family towards his ambition and also to the farming community, planners and fellow scientists who came together to get the project done.
“We have IT experts, rocket technicians, space scientists but we all fail to provide enough food to address malnutrition in the world today. Lack of food leads to rampant hunger which leads to civil unrests and even riots in some places,” he said.
Tong and Gupta each received US$500,000, a medal and a certificate.
The Sunhak Peace Prize will be awarded annually to an individual or organisation that has made significant contributions to the peace and well-being of future generations.