’Best Chance’ to End Polio – Bill Gates Promotes Vaccines and Food Programs to Attack Poverty

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Washington, DC – The likelihood that few African countries will meet any of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, aimed at reducing severe poverty by 2015, has prompted a spate of studies, books and debates that examine development assistance. Many argue that aid, in general, has done more harm than good.

Since leaving an operational role at Microsoft in 2008, Bill Gates has devoted full time to the premise that international assistance, spent effectively, can make a critical difference in livelihoods. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, founded by Gates and his wife, Melinda French Gates, possesses the largest assets of any U.S. grantmaking organization, according to the Foundation Center – some three times that of the next wealthiest, the Ford Foundation. The Gates Foundation’s lead in annual donations is even larger. Warren Buffett’s 2006 pledge of most of his shares in his Berkshire Hathaway investment firm effectively doubled the foundation’s grantmaking capacity. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation describes its circle-closing approach to giving as a four-step process: develop strategy; make grants; measure progress; adjust strategy. Gauging effectiveness is built into the evaluation process, leading to areas of focus. In more than a decade of operations, a major constant has been the push to save children’s lives through basic heath interventions in poor countries. Reducing hunger through agricultural innovations has become a theme of the global development program.

In his 2011 “annual letter” about the foundation’s work, Bill Gates says the world’s poorest won’t be taking their case to world leaders, so he wants to help make their case for them “by describing the progress and potential I see in key areas of health and development.” AllAfrica’s Tami Hultman talked to him last week in Washington D.C. about his message.

The foundation is a major investor in food security projects in Africa. The British government has just released quite an alarming report, “ The Future of Food and Farming “, calling for urgent action on the production and distribution of food, calling this a unique development in history. Do you see this as a moment of unique peril or unique opportunity, or both?

We need to take a long-term view of increasing productivity, particularly African productivity, because the world’s going to need more food. It’s kind of a wonderful thing that the needs of the smallholder farmer in Africa and the needs of the world line up. If we can get these farmers productive-enough seeds, get them the access to inputs and extension services, there’s always a chance to create something that’s self-sustaining. The demand is there.

There’s no other place in the world where there’s as much acreage that is low productivity as in Africa. My wife was in Ghana last week, seeing some of the projects we’re involved with – some of which involve cocoa farming. They are getting trees that are four times more productive. Now they need credit to get the fertilizer, and they need information on how to do that. The world wants to buy those goods.

It’s very clear that this is an alignment between what the world wants and what farmers need. Urban food prices have gone up a lot – and the 70% of the poor that are smallholder farmers, it’s great for them.

A lot of things you can’t do in a year. You need to start now. Over a five-year period for some of these interventions – and in some, if it’s new seeds, maybe even a ten-year period – the opportunity to even triple productivity levels is definitely there.

Source: allAfrica.com (link opens in a new window)