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Gates Foundation To Announce Grants To Promote Agriculture At World Food Prize Symposium

During a “keynote speech” Thursday at the World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, Bill Gates, cofounder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is expected to announce $120 million in grants “to promote dynamic, home-grown, sustainable agriculture in Africa and India,” Agence France-Presse reports. In a statement, Gates said that “helping the poorest smallholder farmers grow more and get it to market is the world’s single most powerful lever for reducing hunger and poverty” (Zeitvogel, 10/15).

“About half of the grants … will go toward agriculture research in Africa, including experiments with sorghum, millet, legumes and sweet potatoes. But several unusual projects were included, including proposals to use cell phones and radio programs to educate small farmers,” according to the Associated Press/Chicago Tribune (Blankinship, 10/15).

The International Potato Center will receive $21.25 million, the largest grant, for a “project to produce high-yielding varieties of sweet potato for sub-Saharan Africa, some of which will go toward biotechnology to create varieties resistant to pests,” the Seattle Times reports. “Some activists have expressed concern over the foundation’s funding for development of new genetically engineered seeds. Gates is responding that the foundation isn’t an advocate of any particular scientific method” (Heim, 10/14). A Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation press release includes detailed information about the nine grant recipients (10/14).

The foundation has previously committed $1.4 billion to agricultural development efforts, Reuters writes. Excerpts, released ahead of the talk, show that in his “first major speech on agricultural development,” Gates will call for more coordinated aid efforts to increase poor farmers’ abilities to sustain themselves. “The next Green Revolution has to be greener than the first,” according to the prepared remarks. “It must be guided by small-holder farmers, adapted to local circumstances, and sustainable for the economy and the environment” (Stebbins, 10/15).

“In another significant move for the development world, experts say, the … Gates Foundation is requiring independent analyses of the projects being funded to see which ones work and which ones don’t,” the Des Moines Register reports. Roy Steiner, who coordinates the foundation’s agricultural projects, said, “The overall approach we are taking is that investments in agriculture need to be across the entire agricultural value chain … We need a real system transformation” (Brasher, 10/15). allAfrica.com published an interview with Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa President Namanga Ngongi. The organization was awarded a $15 million Gates Foundation grant (10/15).

Ethiopian Scientist To Win World Food Prize Award

On Thursday, “Gates will share the stage with the 2009 World Food Prize laureate, Gebisa Ejeta, an Ethiopian sorghum researcher honored for his work to develop hybrids resistant to drought,” according to the Seattle Times (Heim, 10/14). “Sorghum feeds 500 million to 700 million people worldwide, Ejeta says. ‘It’s a huge crop in Africa; it’s a very important crop in India. In China it’s used for making their national alcoholic beverage,’ baijiu, or white liquor,” USA Today reports in a profile of Ejeta, who is currently an agronomy professor at Purdue University (Weise, 10/15).

Leaders Call For Efforts To Meet Growing Worldwide Food Demand

Business and government leaders, on the first day of the symposium, called for “[g]reater investment, innovation and improved public-private partnerships … to meet the world’s growing demand for food,” the AP reports.

The “chief executives of DuPont and Archer Daniels Midland Co., two major players in international agriculture, and the agriculture secretary for the Netherlands … said demand for food worldwide will double by 2050 and agriculture must meet that demand by increasing production on land already in use,” the AP writes. Patricia Woertz – the head of ADM, which produces food-related products – “called for investment in developing countries to improve transportation, processing and storage facilities to handle tomorrow’s larger harvests.”

Gerda Verburg, the Netherlands’ agriculture secretary, noted that agriculture is a basic source of income in many countries and helps reduce poverty. “Referring to the so-called ‘green revolution,’ in which high-yield, disease-resistant crop varieties helped more than double world food production between 1960 and 1990, she said another is needed ‘in the most literal meaning of the word'” (Crumb, 10/15).

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