UN bodies responsible for fighting hunger need to unite around global target for sustainable productivity growth, as international agricultural community has fallen short of helping small farmers in developing countries, Bill Gates says

Andrew Rogers

Andrew Rogers

Feb 23, 2012 – PRNewswire

ROME , February 23, 2012 (press release) – Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told the international agricultural community it had fallen short of delivering the help small farmers in developing countries need, when they need it. In a speech delivered at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Gates asked the UN bodies responsible for fighting hunger and poverty to unite around a common global target for sustainable productivity growth to guide and measure their efforts.

"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. If we can do that, we can dramatically reduce suffering and build self-sufficiency."

Gates told IFAD, the World Food Programme (WFP), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that the approach being used today to fight against poverty and hunger is outdated and inefficient. He urged these food agencies to commit to a concrete, measurable target for increasing agricultural productivity and to support a system of public score cards to maximize transparency for themselves, donors, and the countries they support.

"The goal is to move from examples of success to sustainable productivity increases to hundreds of millions of people moving out of poverty," said Gates. "If we hope to meet that goal, it must be a goal we share. We must be coordinated in our pursuit of it. We must embrace more innovative ways of working toward it. And we must be willing to be measured on our results."

The number of hungry people in the world has reached the 1 billion mark, and global food prices that were beginning to fall last July—signaling some relief—are starting to creep up again. 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.

"History has shown us what's possible when people can grow enough food. If we want to transform the lives of people in Africa, we need to focus our efforts on raising agricultural productivity, creating markets and making agriculture a business not a development activity," said Akin Adesina, Nigerian Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Gates also announced nearly $200 million in grants, bringing to more than $2 billion the foundation's commitment to smallholder farmers since the agriculture program began in 2006. The foundation takes a comprehensive approach to supporting small farmers so progress against hunger and poverty is sustainable for the economy and the environment.

The money will fund agricultural development projects that are already producing great results for farmers, with a goal to help millions of small farmers lift themselves out of poverty. This re-investment will be in projects that have already:

Supported the release of 34 new varieties of drought-tolerant maize
Delivered vaccines to tens of millions of livestock
Trained more than 10,000 agro-dealers to equip and train farmers

New foundation grants will go to support:

Breaking down gender barriers so women farmers can increase productivity
Controlling contamination that affects 25 percent of world food crops
Creating an innovative system to monitor the effects of agricultural productivity on the population and environment

"When Melinda and I started our foundation more than a decade ago, we initially focused on inequities in global health. But as we spent more time learning about the diseases of poverty, we realized that many of the poorest people in the world were small farmers. The conclusion was obvious. They could lift their families up by growing more food," explained Gates.

The Thirty-Fifth Session of IFAD's Governing Council, entitled "Sustainable smallholder agriculture: Feeding the World, protecting the planet," provided a forum for governments and the agricultural development community to discuss ways to grow 70 percent more food by 2050 to feed a growing, more urbanized population.

"IFAD works in remote areas where few development partners have ventured, helping poor farmers raise not only their yields but their incomes," said IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze. "Development fails when imposed from above. IFAD's ground-up approach helps farmers build strong organizations that give them more power in the marketplace and a greater voice in the decisions that affect their lives so that they can earn more, eat better, and educate their children."

Grants announced today include:

Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa ― Program for Africa's Seed System (PASS): Phase 2
This $56 million grant will increase the availability and accessibility of more resilient and higher-yielding seed varieties of important food crops in sub-Saharan Africa to increase productivity and improve smallholder farmer livelihoods. PASS's ultimate goal is to develop a sustainable and thriving national product development and delivery system to serve smallholder farmers.

CARE ― Pathway to Secure Livelihoods
The foundation is investing $15 million to increase the productivity and empowerment of women farmers in more equitable agricultural systems at scale in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. This five-year, six-country program implements and tests a powerful "graduated livelihoods" model that leverages the power of community-based savings and producer groups toward increasing poor women farmers' agricultural productivity, and ensuring long-term access and control over key agricultural resources.

Conservation International ― Integrated Monitoring System for Ecosystem Services in African Agricultural Landscapes
The foundation will be funding a three-year $10 million project to provide new, integrated, scientific information that helps African policymakers, organizations, scientists, and farmers improve their decision making regarding agricultural practices and policies to foster sustainable agricultural growth while protecting natural resources and reducing poverty.

Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed) ― Protecting Livestock, Saving Human Life: Phase 2
In a project co-funded by the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) to improve livestock health, the foundation is providing $41 million over five years to support the development and delivery of key veterinary vaccines, medicines, and diagnostics for poor farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. This grant focuses on diseases that affect primarily cattle, sheep, goats, and chickens.

International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics ― Tropical Legumes II (TL2): Phase 2
The foundation will provide $21 million over three years to develop improved varieties of legumes that can withstand drought, disease, and insects to reduce crop failure for small farmers in India, Bangladesh, and 13 African countries. The Tropical Legumes II (TL2) project will build upon progress to date and identify new varieties of groundnut, cowpea, common bean, chickpea, pigeonpea, and soybean.

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) ― Drought-Tolerant Maize for Africa: Phase 3
Totaling $33 million, this four-year grant will aid the development of drought-tolerant maize varieties that reduce the risk of crop failure and improve the lives of up to seven million farm families in sub-Saharan Africa. In this phase, the project will build upon progress and expand, accelerate, and enhance breeding programs and seed systems.

Meridian Institute ― Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA)
With a $20 million grant over five years, the foundation hopes to control aflatoxin, a deadly fungus, among crops in eight African countries by developing an Africa-based and Africa-led multicountry partnership to implement aflatoxin control projects, and by raising awareness of the health and financial impacts associated with this cancer-causing toxin.

About the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
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 with vaccines and other lifesaving tools and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to significantly improve education so that all young people have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Jeff Raikes and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett

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