Thursday morning here in Iowa Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, urged 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 stressed the effort must be guided by the farmers themselves. He explained that the efforts must be adapted to local circumstances and sustainable for the economy and the environment.
Gates paid 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 stated. “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.”
The Microsoft founder Gates spoke at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, in his first major address on agricultural development, laid out his foundation’s vision, which includes investments in better seeds, training, market access, and policies that support small farmers. Gates, who has a net worth of anywhere between 40-50 billion dollars on any given day, also announced nine unique 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 said.
After his speech, Gates was 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 went on to explain that 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.
Gates warned 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 reiterated twice. “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.
The press release included that 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 said. “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 conveyed that major breakthroughs in the fight against hunger and poverty are now within reach, he cautioned 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 added. “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.”
The manner in which the 120 million dollars will be distributed is potentially fascinating to The Iowa Republican readers so below is the breakdown of where the money will go…
Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)
The AGRA Policy Program: $15 million
To develop a strong policy support system in Africa that will raise incomes, and assure household and national food security. The program focuses on policies to speed adoption of approaches to improve farmer productivity, market and trade policies to stimulate expanded markets for staple crops, and land and property rights policies to stimulate equitable agricultural growth for the poor.
American Institutes for Research (AIR)
Farmer Voice Radio: $10 million
To create a network of radio broadcasters, farmer groups, universities, research institutes, non-governmental organizations, ministries of agriculture, and African media organizations to generate quality content and facilitate impact-driven and sustainable broadcasting to small-holder farmers to enhance their livelihoods. The project aims to reach 1.6 million small-holder farmers in Kenya, Malawi, Zambia, Mali, Ghana, and Tanzania in its first four years.
Building a Network of Community Knowledge Workers: $4.7 million
To develop a network of 4,000 community knowledge workers in Uganda who use mobile devices to increase the reach and relevance of agricultural information, leading to improved productivity and livelihoods for small-holder farmers. The project aims to reach up to 280,000 small-holder farmers, reduce the cost of adoption of new and improved practices by 25 percent to 50 percent, and ultimately provide a model that can be scaled to reach millions of small-holder farmers throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)
Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE) of Sorghum and Millets: $18 million
To help small-holder farmers in moisture-deficient areas of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia increase their yields of sorghum, pearl millet, and finger millet to improve food security and increase the income of farmers. The project aims to benefit 200,000 households by increasing yields of sorghum and millet by 35 to 40 percent over four years.
International Potato Center (CIP)
Sweet Potato Action for Security and Health in Africa (SASHA):$21.25 million
To produce high-yielding, stress-tolerant varieties of sweet potato to help farming families in Sub-Saharan Africa improve their productivity, incomes, and nutrition. The project aims to benefit 150,000 families directly from the initial seed systems work, and up to 1 million families indirectly from the first set of improved varieties in five years.
New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and Michigan State University (MSU)
African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE):$10.4 million
To create a center in Africa that provides training, education, and technical support to African regulators to develop regulatory systems for biotechnology, ensuring countries can make informed decisions on how to use these advances while protecting farmers, consumers, and the environment.
Partnership for Child Development (PCD)
Home-grown School Feeding: $12 million
To support the delivery of cost-effective school feeding programs that promote local agriculture and benefit small-holder farmers. The project aims to increase the income and improve the nutritional status of approximately 200,000 small farmers; improve the education, health, and nutrition of school-age children; and provide opportunities to those involved in the transportation, processing, and preparation of food along the school-feeding value chain.
Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN)
Developing Farm-based Livelihoods in Endemically Poor Regions of India: $9.7 million
To create sustainable farm-based livelihoods for rural families in endemically poor regions of India by training women farmers in land and water management and modern farming practices, establishing village extension services, and building effective market linkages. The project aims to mobilize 120,000 women into self-help groups to assist them in improving their farm productivity and food security, enhancing their household income.
Wageningen University, The Netherlands
Putting Nitrogen Fixation to Work for Small-holder Farmers in Africa (NforAfrica): $19 million
To increase legume productivity, family nutrition, soil health, cropping systems, and farm income for small farmers in Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, and Malawi by expanding the use of selected legumes, proven tools of biological nitrogen fixation, and sound agronomic principles. The project aims to benefit 225,000 farmers.
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life.
Thank God Bill and Melinda’s interest has been along the lines of health vaccinations and now focused more on defeating worldwide hunger.
As a side note I did notice a republican news maker in attendance you may also recognize, in the former Iowa governor Terry Branstad. I was able to ask the now once again gubernatorial candidate what he thought of the event. He said, “It was great to have such an important event here in Iowa and having Bill Gates here was an honor.”
all photos by Dave Davidson
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