- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is to announce $120 million in new agriculture grants aimed at supporting the world's poorest farmers out of hunger and poverty.
Bill Gates, co-chair of the Foundation, will also today urge governments, donors, researchers, farmer groups, environmentalists, and others to set aside old divisions and join forces to help millions of the world's poorest farming families boost their yields and incomes so they can lift themselves out of hunger and poverty.
According to a statement by the Foundation, Mr Gates will also call for the effort to be guided by the farmers themselves, adapted to local circumstances, and sustainable for the economy and the environment.
In his first major address on agricultural development, at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, Mr Gates will lay out the foundation's vision, which includes investments in better seeds, training, market access, and policies that support small farmers, while will also announce nine grants totaling $120 million that illustrate the range of efforts necessary to empower millions of small farmers to grow enough to build better, healthier lives.
"Melinda and I believe that helping the poorest small-holder farmers grow more crops and get them to market is the world's single most powerful lever for reducing hunger and poverty," according to a draft of his speech.
Mr Gates will also be joined on the stage by the 2009 World Food Prize laureate, Dr Gebisa Ejeta, a renowned Ethiopian sorghum researcher who was honoured for his work to develop hybrids resistant to drought and the Striga weed - advances credited with increasing food security for hundreds of millions of Africans.
The foundation's new grants include funding for legumes that fix nitrogen in the soil, higher yielding varieties of sorghum and millet, and new varieties of sweet potatoes that resist pests and have a higher vitamin content. Other projects will help the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa to support African governments in developing policies that serve small farmers; help get information to farmers by radio and cell phone; support school feeding programmes; provide training and resources that African governments can draw on as they regulate biotechnologies; and help women farmers in India manage their land and water resources sustainably.
To date, the foundation has committed $1.4 billion to agricultural development efforts.
According to the draft copy of the speech, Mr Gates will also warn that as scientists, governments, and others strive to repeat the successes of the original Green Revolution, they should be careful not to repeat its mistakes, such as the overuse of fertilizer and irrigation.
"The next Green Revolution has to be greener than the first. It must be guided by small-holder farmers, adapted to local circumstances, and sustainable for the economy and the environment," the draft states.
According to the World Bank, three-quarters of the 1 billion people who live in extreme poverty depend on agriculture for a living. More than 1 billion people suffer from chronic hunger in the developing world. In the world's poorest areas, small farmers frequently face harsh conditions, including depleted soils, pests, drought, diseases, and lack of water. Even if they manage to grow a surplus, they often lack a reliable market where they can sell it.
Despite these challenges, there are reasons for optimism in the fight against hunger. After two decades of neglect, the world's attention is once again focused on agricultural development. The G20 group of leading donor and developing nations recently made a three-year, $22 billion pledge to help solve global hunger by supporting small farmers in the developing world.
"It's a great thing that donor nations are focusing on this issue," according to Mr Gates, adding, "But we need them to spell out clearly what the $22 billion means - how much is old money, how much is new, how soon can they spend it, and when will they do more?"
While Mr Gates states that major breakthroughs in the fight against hunger and poverty are now within reach, he however cautions that progress toward alleviating global hunger is "endangered by an ideological wedge that threatens to split the movement in two." On one side, he says, there are groups that support technological solutions to increase agricultural productivity without proper regard to environmental and sustainability concerns, while on the other, there are those who react negatively to any emphasis on productivity.
"It's a false choice, and it's dangerous for the field," Mr Gates states, adding, "It blocks important advances. It breeds hostility among people who need to work together. And it makes it hard to launch a comprehensive program to help poor farmers. The fact is, we need both productivity and sustainability - and there is no reason we can't have both."
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