Africa / Agriculture / BecA / Human Health

‘Africa rising’–Bill Gates on what’s working in health and agriculture

Bill Gates visits the BecA Hub at ILRI in December 2009

Bill Gates made a private visit to the Biosciences eastern and central Africa Hub (BecA Hub), hosted and managed by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya, in early December 2009, and toured the new and refurbished labs (photo credit: ILRI/Ouma).

Bill Gates writes in his third annual letter that he sees ‘Africa on the rise’. About agriculture, he says that: ‘When farmers increase their productivity, nutrition is improved and hunger and poverty are reduced.’

‘Agriculture’s Great Promise

‘Outside of health the area where we invest the most to help poor people is agriculture. There is so much potential in agricultural development because most poor people in the world feed their families and earn their income from farming. When farmers increase their productivity, nutrition is improved and hunger and poverty are reduced. In countries like Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania, investments in seeds, training, access to markets, and innovative agricultural policy are making a real difference.

‘Ghana made agriculture a priority and cut hunger by 75 percent between 1990 and 2004. The increase in food production has led to economic development in other areas.

‘But the growth in other countries has been slower. These are complex issues, and it’s going to take strong leadership to make sure farmers have the opportunity to seize their potential. Kofi Annan, who chairs the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, is leading the way by helping to drive a new agriculture agenda for the continent. . . .

‘The near-term rise in food prices and the long-term increased demand for food will create opportunities for small farmers even in the poorest countries. In fact, increasing production in Africa will be critical for the world to have enough food. It’s encouraging that foreign aid for agriculture has now increased from its historic low of just $2.8 billion in 2003 to $5.9 billion in 2009, and it’s critical that nations don’t cut back again.

‘One of the most important new developments came in April when I joined the finance ministers of the United States, Spain, Canada, and South Korea to launch the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program with initial commitments of nearly $1 billion over three years. This program provides support to developing countries with strong domestic agricultural development plans that they are already investing in themselves but cannot fully fund. It has generated amazing demand, demonstrating how committed poor nations are to their own agricultural development.’

In another recent article by Gates, published in Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper, Gates addresses the promise of Africa.

‘In 1993, Melinda and I took our first trip to Africa. I was working with Microsoft at the time, and I was convinced that the power of technology could change the world.

‘But during our visit, I saw that many of the world’s life-saving, life-enhancing discoveries were not available in Africa. That was deeply upsetting to me. It didn’t fit my belief that innovation is for everyone.

‘I became convinced that if science and technology were better applied to the challenges of Africa, the tremendous potential of the continent would be unleashed, and people could be healthier and fulfil their promise.

‘Since our first visit, many African countries have made striking advances, driven by wise government investments in health and education and agriculture. Incomes have risen. Poverty has fallen. Trade and investment have doubled. Childhood deaths are down.

‘Africa is on the rise.

‘When a country has the skill and self-confidence to take action against its biggest problems, it makes outsiders eager to be a part of it. That is why Melinda and I are so optimistic about our work on the continent. We see the promise.

‘In my annual letter, I talk about the promise I see in so many areas of health and development, and I argue that the key to living up to this promise is great leadership. . . .

‘. . . I believe that agriculture—our foundation’s second-biggest commitment after health—offers one of the greatest opportunities in Africa.

‘If African farmers can use improved seeds and better practices to grow more crops and get them to market, then millions of families can earn themselves a better living and a better life. . . .

‘Africa’s future is in the hands of its people and its leaders. Melinda and I want to work with you to advance your progress. We want to help fund the innovations that can help every person live a life of health and opportunity.’

Read Gates’ whole letter: Annual Letter from Bill Gates, January 2011.

Read the whole article in the Daily Nation (Kenya): Africa is on right track but only good leadership will ensure that it stays there, 2 February 2011.

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