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.
As food price rises threaten global food security once more, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced it will donate $70 million to a new collaboration that will focus on agricultural research projects helping smallholder farmers in Africa and Asia.
The new project will help farmers overcome threats to food production such as crop diseases, pests, poor soils and unreliable weather, to increase crop yields and consequently farm incomes. Also taking part in the project is the UK Department for International Development (DfID) that will contribute $32 million over the next five years to the partnership.
The new partnership is a reaction to the escalating food prices around the world. World Bank data released this month showed higher food prices — mainly for wheat, corn, sugars and edible oils — have pushed 44 million more people in developing countries into extreme poverty since June 2011.
In this new project, technologies such as wheat disease research will be prioritized. Cornell University will be receiving $40 million to continue its work to develop wheat varieties that are resistant to emerging strains of stem rust disease, such as Ug99, which is destroying crops in East Africa.
With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, TechnoServe is undertaking a major initiative to help small-scale coffee farmers in East Africa double their incomes. TechnoServe business advisors focus their efforts in four areas: agronomy and training to provide farmers with practical knowledge that will increase yields; installation of wet mills to produce washed coffee; training in business management and finances; and the establishment of market linkages between growers, exporters and roasters.
In 2010, the IFC announced the opening of a loan guarantee facility in Ethiopia to support TechnoServe’s Coffee Initiative. The guarantee will allow Ethiopia’s Nib International Bank S.C. to provide up to $30 million in loans to coffee farmer cooperatives by the year 2013, ultimately benefitting thousands of farmers. The loans will provide much-needed capital for investment in new equipment and are expected to increase farmer income by as much as 30 percent.
Sub-Saharan Africa contributes less than one percent of the world’s soy, but the crop has the potential to become a key source of income for the region’s farmers. In the next 10 years, TechnoServe hopes to significantly increase the incomes of 200,000 households in southern Africa through the development of a competitive local soy industry.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has provided a grant that will support TechnoServe’s efforts in Zambia and Mozambique. The soy program will build on TechnoServe’s proven model for increasing farmer incomes by promoting improvements across an industry’s entire supply chain. TechnoServe, in partnership with a range of businesses, nonprofits and public-sector organizations, will help farmers purchase premium seeds and other supplies, learn vital techniques for growing soy, and form farmer business organizations. At the same time, TechnoServe will promote investments in soy storage and processing as it works to develop the local feed and livestock industries, ensuring that the smallholder farmers will have a stable market for their crops.
Farming First is pleased to welcome two new supporters, TechnoServe and PanAAC, bring the coalition up to a total of 131 supporter organisations.
TechnoServe is a non-governmental organisation, formed in 1968, that works in poor areas of the developing world, helping to develop entrepreneurs, build businesses and industries and improve the business environment. They focus on helping entrepreneurial men and women in developing countries to capitalize on business opportunities which can transform their lives, generating jobs and markets for their products and services. TechnoServe offers a ‘hand up’ rather than a hand-out, giving poor people the power to transform their own lives.
The organisation works with various public- and private-sector partners, including USAID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. In 2007 TechnoServe was rated as one of the world’s top five NGOs for corporate partnerships, and the organisation has also received the Presidential End Hunger Award from USAID.
PanAAC (Pan African Agribusiness & Agro-Industry Consortium) is a not-for-profit organisation that was formed in 2007 to promote sustainable agribusiness in Africa through enhanced productivity and competitiveness at national, regional and global markets. It is a private sector driven platform bringing together agribusiness and agro-industry groups and services to enable them to access information, knowledge, and partnerships.
The Improved Maize for African Soils Project (IMAS) has been set up to improve African farmers’ access to maize varieties that are better adapted at capturing fertilizer. By developing new varieties that are more efficient in nitrogen uptake, the project hopes to develop maize crops that have a 30-50% yield improvement over existing varieties.
Launched recently in February 2010, IMAS is a project led by CIMMYT, a not-for-profit research centre working to improve maize and wheat crops, and is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID. Partners include the DuPont business Pioneer Hi-Bred, the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) of South Africa and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), who will all bring their expertise to help address the critical problem of increasing yields in poor soils.
The principal constraints on African maize yields are low soil fertility and low use of chemical fertilizers. Fertilizer use is constrained by high prices of fertilizers, which can be up to five times those in the USA. For the little fertilizer that is used, often no more than half of it is captured by the crop, the rest being leached into the soil and lost.
The new varieties will allow farmers to grow more crops, of better quality, but without having to purchase and use more fertilizer. Those developing the new varieties will be using a range of innovation methods to produce the new IMAS products, the first of which will be available to farmers within the next four years.