Thu Oct 15, 2009 12:00am EDT
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Announce $120 Million in New Agriculture
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,
"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
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
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."