Bill Gates announces during a keynote address at Iowa's World Food Prize event that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will donate $120 million to funding bioengineered crop development and small-farmer policies in Africa. Gates also suggests that higher crop yields from biotechnology could be threatened by overly ideological environmentalism.
Bill Gates announced during an Oct. 15 keynote address at the World Food
Prize event in Des Moines, Iowa,
that an "ideological wedge" of environmentalism was hurting the fight
against hunger in Africa. The World Food Prize,
according to its
Website, is an international award designed to recognize "individuals who
have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or
availability of food in the world."
Gates emphasized that small-holder farmers would need to lead what he
described as the "next Green Revolution," a follow-up to the original
attempt by Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug to create a movement that would
increase crop production and thus end hunger and poverty.
However, Gates said there was a threat to this global effort.
"Some people insist on an ideal vision of the environment-divorced from
people and their circumstances," Gates told the audience, according to a
transcript hosted on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Website.
"They have tried to restrict the spread of biotechnology into sub-Saharan Africa
without regard to how much hunger and poverty might be reduced by it, or what
the farmers themselves might want."
The former Microsoft CEO suggested that there
is a happy medium to be found between productivity and environmental
sustainability, one that allows farmers to use technologies including
genetically modified crops.
Click here to read about Microsoft's "Browser for the Better" campaign in partnership with Feeding America.
"In some of our grants, we include transgenic approaches because we
believe they can help address farmers' challenges faster and more efficiently
than conventional breeding alone," Gates said. "Of course, these
technologies must be subject to rigorous scientific review to ensure [that] they
are safe and effective."
Specifically, he pointed to modified crops such as drought-tolerant maize as
essential for increasing yields in Africa. His
foundation is also helping develop a rice variety, called Swarna Sub 1, which he
said can survive in flood-prone areas such as India and Bangladesh; the
foundation is also developing methods for fighting wheat rust, a fungal disease
that kills wheat and rye.
The Gates Foundation approach to agriculture, as explained, boils down to
two principles: focusing on small farmers and determining which investments
will directly translate into better crop yields and soil, and improving the
"value chain" of organizations, markets and training that constitute
effective agriculture policy.
To that end, Gates announced nine grants totaling $120 million. The money
will go to training and resources for African governments to regulate biotechnology
and institute other small-farmer-oriented policies, and funding for legumes
that fix nitrogen in the soil, as well as high-yield sorghum and millet.