Stories tagged: Bill Gates

Gates Bets on Agriculture to Reduce Poverty in Annual Letter

In this year’s letter, Bill and Melinda Gates are making one big bet for the next 15 years: The lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history thanks to breakthroughs in health, farming, banking, and education.

Putting the spotlight on agriculture, the letter highlights that although Africa has the largest amount of unused arable land, African farmers are currently only getting one fifth of the yield that farmers in developed countries are able to achieve.

 

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Sustainable Smallholder Agriculture: Feeding the World, Protecting the Planet

On 22-23 February 2012, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) held the Thirty-fifth Session of the Governing Council, entitled “Sustainable smallholder agriculture: Feeding the world, protecting the planet.”

It provided a forum for IFAD Member States, partners and the public to discuss and debate what needs to be done to enable smallholder farmers to increase agricultural productivity by 70 per cent by 2050, which is what will be required to feed an estimated global population of 9 billion people.

Bill Gates addressed the Governing Council, urging governments to put smallholder farmers first:

If you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture. Investments in agriculture are the best weapons against hunger and poverty, and they have made life better for billions of people. The international agriculture community needs to be more innovative, co-ordinated, and focused to help poor farmers grow more. If we can do that, we can dramatically reduce suffering and build self-sufficiency.

He called for the implementation for concrete, measurable targets for increasing agricultural productivity, much like the Millennium Development Goals, in order to track the progress of initiatives. He also announced $200m in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to reinvest in projects aimed at helping smallholder farmers.

With the United Nations Conference for Sustainable Development (Rio+20) only months away, Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, the CEO of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), participated in a discussion entitled “What promise will Rio herald for agriculture?” Dr. Sibanda told the forum she optimistic that the seven areas the Rio+20 conference will focus on (food, jobs, energy, cities, water, oceans and disasters) are the right combination for rural people and smallholder farmers. She did however lament the lack of leadership amidst the African countries who are yet to put farming first, despite the 2004 CAADAP pledge to dedicate 10% of national budgets in Africa towards agriculture. She also highlighted the ‘disjoint’ between technology and policy: despite the technologies being available to farmers for soil/animal management and water harvesting, but policies are restricting farmers’ ability to use them. These sustainable technologies require investment so they can be adapted and adopted by farmers.

Gates Urges Support for Innovation in Agriculture

The launch of Bill Gates’ 2012 Annual Letter, released yesterday, has seen the Microsoft founder and philanthropist address audiences across the world on the importance of tackling poverty. One of his primary concerns in his 2012 letter is agriculture, and the crucial role it plays in international development.

Currently, over 1 billion people – about 15 percent of the world – are hungry. Smallholder farmers are unable to produce enough food to feed their families and lack the support to work themselves out of poverty. In his letter, Gates highlights the responsibility developed countries have to not only invest in agricultural aid, but in agricultural research. Between 1987 and 2006, agricultural aid fell from rich countries from 17 percent to just 4 percent.

At the same time, demand for food is increasing because of population growth and economic development, with the world’s population set to hit 9 billion in 2050. Supply growth has not kept up, leading to higher food prices and climate change threatens farmers’ ability to produce enough food to meet the growing demand.

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Agricultural innovation, Gates argues, is a vital way forward. During the ‘Green Revolution’ of the 1960s and 1970s, new seed varieties for rice, wheat, and maize were developed that helped many farmers greatly improve their yields. In some places, such as East Asia, food intake went up by as much as 50 percent. Globally, the price of wheat dropped by two-thirds. The same process can happen again:

We can be more innovative about delivering solutions that already exist to the farmers who need them. Knowledge about managing soil and tools like drip irrigation can help poor farmers grow more food today. We can also discover new approaches and create new tools to fundamentally transform farmers’ lives. But we won’t advance if we don’t continue to fund agricultural innovation, and I am very worried about where those funds will come from in the current economic and political climate.

He also stated that agricultural research is ‘chronically underfunded’.  Climate change is becoming an increasing threat; studies show that the rise in global temperature alone could reduce the productivity of the main crops by over 25 percent. Climate change will also increase the number of droughts and floods that can wipe out an entire season of crops. Increased investment in agricultural research can unveil new seed varieties that can survive extreme weather conditions, as well as combat plant diseases that destroy crops.

Click here to read Bill Gate’s 2012 Annual Letter letter in full. Follow the debate on Twitter with the hashtag #BillsLetter.