Bill Gates to UN: Find new ways to help poor farmers; announces $200 million in grants

Thursday, February 23, 2012

ROME — Current approaches to global agriculture are outdated, inefficient and don’t give small farmers in poor countries the help they really need, Bill Gates told U.N. food agencies Thursday as he announced nearly $200 million in grants.

The Microsoft founder brought his campaign to fight poverty and hunger in Africa and Asia to a forum of the U.N. International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), one of three Rome-based U.N. food agencies.

Much of some $2 billion spent over the past five years to fight poverty and hunger in Africa and Asia by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has gone toward improving agricultural productivity.

Gates urged the U.N. agencies to commit to measurable targets for increasing agricultural productivity. He also advocated taking immediate advantage of high-tech methods — such as genomic science — to improve plant breeding.

“(The) use of such techniques can make the difference between suffering and self-sufficiency” for small farmers in developing countries, he said.

Among the projects receiving funding from Gates is one to monitor the effects of agricultural productivity on a region’s population and environment. Other grants will build on existing projects, including the release of 34 new varieties of drought-tolerant maize and delivering vaccines to tens of millions of livestock.

Gates has embraced high-tech — and to some critics controversial — solutions for boosting agriculture, including supporting genetic modification in plant breeding as a way to fight starvation and malnutrition.

Source: AP/Washington Post (link opens in a new window)