Bill Gates launches US$306 million in aid to boost African farmers

25th January 2008, Comments 0 comments

Bill Gates, making what he called his last appearance as a Microsoft employee at the World Economic Forum, announced Friday that he was giving US$306 million to use green technology and farming techniques to boost millions of Africans and South Asians out of hunger and poverty.

25 January 2008 

DAVOS - Gates, who is stepping down as Microsoft chairman later this year, said the funds would go to organizations studying ways to use affordable techniques to improve yields that will enable small farmers - mainly women - in Africa to feed themselves and earn cash.

"Why do we think agriculture is so important?" Gates said. "Of the billion people who live on less than US$1 a day, three-quarters are small farmers. And often it is actually the woman who is doing her best to both create crops for eating and earn some cash to buy other things."

He made his announcement after telling the annual meeting in the Swiss Alps of 2,500 political and corporate leaders to pursue a new kind of "creative capitalism," working with governments and nonprofit groups to stem global poverty and spur more technological innovation for those left behind.

He came up with his own example on Friday. He told reporters that he and his wife had decided that agriculture should join health care for the poor as one of their foundation's main projects.

The new project of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is to work with specialized organizations to provide small-scale farmers with appropriate seeds, fertilizers and water-management knowledge to boost yields. Governments in the areas can help by supporting the training, he said.

The money comes on top of the US$350 million spent by the foundation over the past year and a half to study why hunger has been increasing in Africa even though Asian countries and others have made great progress in food production.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick, who joined Gates at the announcement, said, "This initiative is especially timely. We're now in a period of very high food as well as energy prices."

Enabling people to feed themselves who otherwise would be unable to afford food will help break a vicious cycle in which hunger creates more poverty, Zoellick said. The grants are valuable but unusual because improving agriculture is relatively neglected in global aid, he said.

"Gains in agriculture have three times the effect of poverty reduction than gains in other sectors do," Zoellick said.

Gates said it would take several years to see significant results from the project.

Some gains will be seen in two years, he said. "But in terms of a large number of smallholders, it takes us about five years to ... get to significant numbers."

He told The Associated Press that he did not expect the current economic slowdown to have a major impact on the project.

"Efforts like this are important independent of what's happening short-term in the economy," Gates said.

The grants will be spread over a number of projects with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa receiving US$164.5 million for a soil health program in much of sub-Saharan Africa.

Other projects include programs to improve storage, processing and delivery of milk in Bangladesh and East Africa, teach Indian farmers how to use "microirrigation" conserving limited water supplies and help farmers in Africa and South Asia use stress-tolerant rice.

Another project will help farmers in East Africa produce and sell high-quality coffee in world markets.

[Copyright ap 2008]

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