Microsoft co-founder turned philanthropist Bill Gates on Thursday announced 120 million dollars in grants to help small-scale farmers in Africa and India improve their lives through sustainable agriculture.
The grants, announced on the eve of World Food Day, are from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropic organization co-chaired by Gates and his wife.
“Three-quarters of the world’s poorest people get their food and income by farming small plots of land,” Gates said as he announced grants to nine projects, mostly in Africa, during a speech to the World Food Prize Symposium in Iowa.
“So if we can make small-holder farming more productive and more profitable, we can have a massive impact on hunger and nutrition and poverty.”
Gates also paid tribute to the late Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who is often called the father of the Green Revolution and who has been credited with saving hundreds of millions of lives by developing disease-resistant wheat.
The Green Revolution “was one of the great achievements of the 20th century, but it didn’t go far enough,” said Gates.
“It didn’t go to Africa,” where the bulk of the grant money announced by Gates on Thursday will go.
In keeping with the Gates Foundation’s approach to promoting development, which Gates described as “investing across the value chain in ways that will benefit small farmers and their communities,” the grants will help “bring the technology that has transformed farming in other parts of the world” to Africa and India.
Funds will be used to promote the development of crops which can help the environment — such as legumes, which are a natural fertilizer — or improve health, such as a new variety of sweet potato enriched in Vitamin A, which is often missing from the diets of children in the developing world.
Crops will also be developed with the possible ravages of climate change in mind, said Gates.
He cited a study conducted by researchers at Stanford University in California which showed that if farmers in southern Africa are planting the same variety of maize, the staple food of many Africans, in 2030 as today, “the harsher conditions from climate change will reduce productivity by more than 25 percent.
“Declining yields at a time of rising population in a region with millions of poor people means starvation,” said Gates.
“We have to develop crops that can grow in a drought; that can survive in a flood; that can resist pests and disease.
“We need higher yields on the same land in harsher weather. And we will never get it without a continuous and urgent science-based search to increase productivity — especially on small farms in the developing world,” said Gates.
Grant money will fund a project to create “community knowledge worker networks” connecting villagers with sources of information via mobile phones in Uganda, where mobile phone penetration is around 80-90 percent.
Grants have been earmarked to create “Farmer Voice Radio,” which would broadcast programs promoting sustainable agriculture to African farmers, 70 to 80 percent of whom use radio as a source of information.
And yet more grant money will help to build networks of home-grown expertise that will give Africans greater autonomy when making agricultural policy decisions.
In India, funding from the Gates Foundation will be used to help women’s groups improve their land and water management skills, which would in turn enhance their standard of living.
The drive to create a new green revolution that includes Africa must be a global effort, said Gates.
He praised President Barack Obama, who said when he took office that the United States will work alongside developing nations “to make your farms flourish”, and hailed the G20’s three-year, 22 billion dollar pledge to help the poorest farmers increase productivity.
But he called, too, on the corporate world, research institutions, universities, the United Nations, the World Bank, scientists, farmers groups to step up to the plate and help Africa and other developing regions put more and better food in the bowls of their people, and do it without damaging the environment.
“There is no reason for so many farmers to be so hungry and so poor,” Gates said.
“If farmers can get what they need to feed their families and sell their surplus, hundreds of millions of the world?s poorest people can build themselves a better life. by Karin Zeitvogel