Agriculture / Biotechnology / Food security / Livelihoods / Nutrition / PA / Policy / Presentation / Research / USA

‘Nothing improves an economy as efficiently as agriculture’–Bill Gates to US Senate

Bill Gates Visits EADD Project

Bill Gates visits a site of the East African Dairy Development project, which is funded by his foundation; researchers based in Nairobi at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), a CGIAR centre, provide technical and other backstopping to this project, which is led by Heifer International (USA) (photo on Flickr by EADD).

‘Investing in agriculture is essential if the fight against world poverty is to succeed, according to Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who spoke at an International Agriculture and Food Security Briefing sponsored by Farmers Feeding the World, a Farm Journal Foundation Initiative, and the Senate Hunger Caucus.

‘”It’s been proven that of all the interventions to reduce poverty, improving agricultural productivity is the best. All the other different economic activity—yes it trickles down. But nothing as efficiently as in agriculture,” Gates said to a packed conference room in the U.S. Senate office building. . . .

‘”I want to talk about why investments in agriculture make such a big difference in the lives of the poor,” Gates said. “Our agriculture program has become one of our biggest, and it’s one of our fastest growing. That’s because we’ve seen huge results, and without it we don’t see a way of achieving our goals, where kids can be healthy, their brains can fully develop, and they can have a chance to live a normal life.

Most of the poor people of the world are farmers—farmers with very small plots of land, who have to deal with a great deal of uncertainty because they don’t know what their yield is going to be, and in many years they are making just enough—or not even enough—to have the food that they expect.

Ezekial Rop_Moiben_4

Ezekial Rop, a small-scale farmer in Moiben, Kenya (photo on Flickr by Burness Global/Jeff Haskins).

‘”There is a history of success here. Certainly the green revolution is one of those unbelievable stories that’s quite exciting. . . . That revolution certainly saved hundreds of millions of lives. But it’s a revolution that’s not yet complete. And if we take the world as a whole, in the ‘80s and ‘90s, there was a shift away from agriculture, not focusing on what still had to be done. And particularly if we look at Africa, because of the breadth of eco-systems there, this green revolution, this increase in productivity, is not noticeable at all. . . .

So it’s time for a renaissance of the green revolution. Obviously we learned a lot in the first green revolution about sustainability, use of agriculture, making sure it reaches out to the very poorest farmers. This time around, as we redo what was done well, we can do it in an even smarter way.

The metrics here are pretty simple. About three-quarters of the poor who live on these farms need greater productivity, and if they get that productivity we’ll see the benefits in income, we’ll see it in health, we’ll see it in the percentage of their kids who are going off to school. These are incredibly measurable things.

The great thing about agriculture is that once you get a bootstrap—once you get the right seeds and information—a lot of it can be left to the marketplace. This is a place where philanthropy and government work, and market-based activity, meet each other.”

‘”It’s been proven that of all the interventions to reduce poverty, improving agricultural productivity is the best. All the other different economic activity—yes it trickles down. But nothing as efficiently as in agriculture.”

‘”Our agricultural program has a number of aspects. A fair bit of it is in the upstream area. We’ve become one of the larger funders of the CGIAR system. . . . [W]e’ve all got to be disappointed that funding is not even at peak levels. It’s come off from the peaks of a long time ago, and it needs to be renewed. In particular, given the opportunities of taking the genetic revolution and various digital approaches that track productivity and look at genotype and phenotype information, we have to dedicate ourselves to upgrade the tools and the skills that are in those centers, so that they are benefitting from the latest science.

I think we’ve lost track of the public goods here, whether it’s coming from the research centers or from the universities. We are under-investing.

That’s always a challenge in capitalism—innovation is under-invested in, and particularly innovation on behalf of the poorest. So all of us with our voices, and this is certainly one of the goals of the foundation, must not only fund agricultural research, but encourage others to do that as well.

‘”Of course just developing new seeds is not enough. You’ve got to get into the countries and look at the policies, the land policies, the Extension policies, the research policies, the acceptance of GMO techniques. And make sure every one of those things is managed in a very strong way. There’s a lot of research, a lot of benefits, that’s not getting out to the farmers who need it.

‘”The U.S. traditionally has played a key role in agriculture research. It has played a key role in food aid. What we see in the numbers, though, is that agricultural research has been flat-lined. . . .

‘”The leverage of that investment will be particularly strong because of new advances, new digital approaches. In fact, just recently the foundation announced an initiative with the Department of Agriculture about open data for agriculture. [We are taking] what’s called cloud techniques, or big data techniques, and gathering together all the information—whether it’s understanding which policies work, how to direct crop breeding activity, or the genotype, phenotype information data basis.

[We want] everybody leveraging everybody else’s work to move forward here. . . .’

Read the whole article at AgWeb: Bill Gates: Agricultural Productivity Is Key to Reducing World Poverty, 9 May 2013.

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