Bill Gates urges digital revolution in farming

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates says ‘outdated and inefficient’ ways of helping poor farmers need to be updated; and has announced USD200m in agriculture grants.

Gates, who is also co-chair and trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, this week addressed the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

He says in his blog that his message is that aid bodies need to do better for small farmers. He says: “One of the most important priorities is connecting the poorest farmers in the world to breakthroughs in agricultural science and technology. Right now, a digital revolution is changing the way farming is done, but poor small farmers aren’t benefiting from it.”

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the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that the approach being used today to fight against poverty and hunger is outdated and inefficient.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.

He said: “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.”

Gates also announced nearly USD200 million in grants, bringing to more than $2 billion the foundation's commitment to smallholder farmers since the agriculture programme began in 2006.

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
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