Invest in agriculture, Gates advises world leaders

Bill Gates, the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, yesterday told a group of political, business, and development leaders that supporting farming families in developing countries is critical in overcoming poverty and hunger.Gates, one of the world’s richest people and a leading philanthropist, said that developing countries like Rwanda which largely depend on agriculture have shown progress and need the backing of developed countries to continue with the trend.

Bill Gates, the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, yesterday told a group of political, business, and development leaders that supporting farming families in developing countries is critical in overcoming poverty and hunger.

Gates, one of the world’s richest people and a leading philanthropist, said that developing countries like Rwanda which largely depend on agriculture have shown progress and need the backing of developed countries to continue with the trend.

“I came here today to join those calling on the U.S. and other countries to fund agricultural development for poor farming families. The U.S. has a pivotal role to play.”

Gates was speaking to high-level members of the Obama administration and U.S. Congress, on Global Agriculture and Food Security, where leaders discussed how U.S. public and private sector support for agricultural development can advance global security, stability, and economic prosperity.

He noted that three-quarters of the world’s poorest people rely on small plots of land for their food and income.

Helping these small farmers grow and sell more so they can become self-sufficient is the most effective way to reduce hunger and poverty, he said, giving examples of progress already taking places in Africa and South Asia.

Today, there are nearly a billion hungry people in the world. In 2008, food prices jumped to record levels, causing riots, hunger, instability, and a plunge back into poverty for millions. Early this year, food prices spiked again, even higher than the peak of three years ago.

Gates said that sweeping change was already underway and praised the U.S. leadership for helping to secure US$22 billion in commitments to food security that were announced at the G8 and G20 meetings in 2009.

While only about half of these pledges have been disbursed or are on track, Gates noted the commitment of President Barack Obama and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to spend US$3.5 billion over three years through the Feed the Future program.

He also commended Congress for including US$100 million in the budget for the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program. He noted that France has put food security and agriculture at the top of the G20 agenda this year.

Gates said farming is a business that helps poor farmers build self-sufficiency and improve their lives.

He explained how his foundation and its partners are focusing their efforts on helping farmers get better seeds, healthier soils, and access to markets, as well as supporting better data and policies.

“In country after country, these approaches have improved the livelihoods of small farmers while reducing poverty and increasing economic growth.

“It’s proving the point again and again: helping poor farming families grow more crops and get them to market is the world’s single most powerful lever for reducing poverty and hunger.” Gates noted

Gates cited examples of foundation-funded projects that are yielding promising results. The World Food Program’s Purchase for Progress (P4P) project is helping small farmers, particularly women, gain access to reliable markets and the opportunity to sell their surplus at competitive prices.

Since its start less than three years ago, P4P has paid out an estimated US$37 million to small farmers and traders.

Another project by the International Rice Research Institute is developing new high-yield varieties of rice that are more tolerant to floods, drought, and other environmental stresses. Rwanda benefits from the programme.

By the end of 2010, 400,000 farmers had planted the new variety of rice that can survive up to 20 days after being submerged. By the end of 2011, the project is expected to reach 20 million farmers.

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