Speaking at the 35th session of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) Governing Council, Bill Gates said that the international agricultural community response to helping poor farmers in developing countries was outdated and inefficient.
He wants the UN bodies responsible for tackling hunger and poverty to unite around a common global target for sustainable productivity.
“If you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture,” said Gates. “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, coordinated, and focused to help poor farmers grow more.”
According to estimates, small farmers in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa can double or almost triple their yields, respectively, in the next 20 years. This sustainable productivity increase will translate into 400 million people lifting themselves out of poverty.
When Bill Gates talks, people listen. It’s not just because he’s “the” Bill Gates. These days, it’s mostly because he puts his money where his mouth is. True to form, Gates announced an additional $200 million in grants for 7 different projects. This brings the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s total commitment to small farmers to over $2 billion since the Foundation’s agricultural development program began in 2006.
Some of the grants are for new phases of projects that have already been funded before, such as the $33 million grant to CIMMYT for development of drought-tolerant maize varieties that will improve the lives of up to seven million farm families in sub-Saharan Africa. Others are completely new grants, such as the $15 million given to the CARE Pathway project for combating gender barriers so that women can run farms and increase productivity.
The IFAD conference this year was titled “Sustainable smallholder agriculture: Feeding the World, protecting the planet” and provided a forum for governments and the development community to figure out how to grow 70 percent more food by 2050.
It’s ironic and sad that so many of world’s poorest and hungry people are those who grow crops to feed others. But there’s also cause for optimism, given the involvement of people like Bill Gates. Considering the huge difference his massive financial clout is making in sustainable agriculture development, a lot of people will likely now have no regrets about spending so much over the years buying personal computers and Microsoft software.