Bill Gates to Call for United Action to Support World's Poorest Farmers

Thu Oct 15, 2009 12:00am EDT

 

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Announce $120 Million in New Agriculture

Grants

 

 

DES MOINES, Iowa, Oct. 15 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Bill Gates, co-chair of

the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on Thursday will urge governments,

donors, researchers, farmer groups, environmentalists, and others to set aside

old divisions and join forces to help millions of the world's poorest farming

families boost their yields and incomes so they can lift themselves out of

hunger and poverty. Gates will say the effort must be guided by the farmers

themselves, adapted to local circumstances, and sustainable for the economy

and the environment.

 

 

Speaking at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, in his first major

address on agricultural development, Gates will lay out the foundation's

vision, which includes investments in better seeds, training, market access,

and policies that support small farmers. Gates also will announce nine

foundation grants totaling $120 million that illustrate the range of efforts

necessary to empower millions of small farmers to grow enough to build better,

healthier lives.

 

 

"Melinda and I believe that helping the poorest small-holder farmers grow more

crops and get them to market is the world's single most powerful lever for

reducing hunger and poverty," Gates will say, according to a draft of his

speech.

 

 

After his speech, Gates will be joined on the stage by the 2009 World Food

Prize laureate, Dr. Gebisa Ejeta, a renowned Ethiopian sorghum researcher who

was honored for his work to develop hybrids resistant to drought and the

Striga weed -- advances credited with increasing food security for hundreds of

millions of Africans.

 

 

The foundation's new grants include funding for legumes that fix nitrogen in

the soil, higher yielding varieties of sorghum and millet, and new varieties

of sweet potatoes that resist pests and have a higher vitamin content. Other

projects will help the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa support

African governments in developing policies that serve small farmers; help get

information to farmers by radio and cell phone; support school feeding

programs; provide training and resources that African governments can draw on

as they regulate biotechnologies; and help women farmers in India manage their

land and water resources sustainably. To date, the foundation has committed

$1.4 billion to agricultural development efforts.

 

 

Gates will say the world should draw inspiration from the agricultural

transformation in Latin America and Asia during the 1960s to 1980s, known as

the Green Revolution, which averted famine, saved hundreds of millions of

lives, and fueled widespread economic development.

 

 

But Gates will warn that as scientists, governments, and others strive to

repeat the successes of the original Green Revolution, they should be careful

not to repeat its mistakes, such as the overuse of fertilizer and irrigation.

 

 

"The next Green Revolution has to be greener than the first," Gates will say.

"It must be guided by small-holder farmers, adapted to local circumstances,

and sustainable for the economy and the environment."

 

 

According to the World Bank, three-quarters of the 1 billion people who live

in extreme poverty depend on agriculture for a living. More than 1 billion

people suffer from chronic hunger in the developing world. In the world's

poorest areas, small farmers frequently face harsh conditions, including

depleted soils, pests, drought, diseases, and lack of water. Even if they

manage to grow a surplus, they often lack a reliable market where they can

sell it.

 

 

Despite these challenges, there are reasons for optimism in the fight against

hunger. After two decades of neglect, the world's attention is once again

focused on agricultural development. The G20 group of leading donor and

developing nations recently made a three-year, $22 billion pledge to help

solve global hunger by supporting small farmers in the developing world.

 

 

"It's a great thing that donor nations are focusing on this issue," Gates will

say. "But we need them to spell out clearly what the $22 billion means -- how

much is old money, how much is new, how soon can they spend it, and when will

they do more?"

 

 

While Gates will say that major breakthroughs in the fight against hunger and

poverty are now within reach, he will caution that progress toward alleviating

global hunger is "endangered by an ideological wedge that threatens to split

the movement in two." On one side, he will say, there are groups that support

technological solutions to increase agricultural productivity without proper

regard to environmental and sustainability concerns. On the other, there are

those who react negatively to any emphasis on productivity.

 

 

"It's a false choice, and it's dangerous for the field," Gates will say. "It

blocks important advances. It breeds hostility among people who need to work

together. And it makes it hard to launch a comprehensive program to help poor

farmers. The fact is, we need both productivity and sustainability -- and

there is no reason we can't have both."

 

 

Gates will say the foundation is supporting research on crops that can

withstand drought and flooding so poor farmers can adapt to climate change. It

is also supporting a ground-breaking effort with the World Food Programme

(WFP) to buy food from small farmers in the developing world for food aid. WFP

has already purchased 17,000 metric tons of food from small farmers through

the program, linking many to markets for the first time.

 

 

Gates will say the foundation isn't an advocate of any particular scientific

method. "Of course, these technologies must be subject to rigorous scientific

review to ensure they are safe and effective. It's the responsibility of

governments, farmers, and citizens -- informed by excellent science -- to

choose the best and safest way to help feed their countries," Gates will say.

 

 

Gates will also pay tribute to Dr. Norman Borlaug, winner of the Nobel Peace

Prize in 1970 for his pioneering work in expanding agricultural production in

the developing world, who died on September 12 of this year.

 

 

"His passing is cause for sadness, but his life should make us optimistic,"

Gates will say. "He not only showed humanity how to get more food from the

earth -- he proved that farming has the power to lift up the lives of the

poor. It's a lesson the world is thankfully relearning today."