Friday, January 23, 2015

Gates’ big bet in farming increases the odds that poverty will lose

This week the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation released their annual letter.  In it, they make a ‘big bet’ that the lives of the poor could improve more in the next 15 years than at any other time in history

As we’d expect from those who bet on the transformative potential of personal computing 40 years ago -- and then made a bet that their wealth could make important differences the world when they established the Foundation fifteen years ago --  this big bet is based on a lot of data. 

It’s also based on hope that a few key accomplishments in development will trigger others. One of those areas is particularly close to my heart – Farming.

The Gates Letter headline in this section is “Africa will be able to feed itself”.  Increasing the yields of staple crops, such as maize, will feed people directly but also enable farmers to grow a greater variety of food.  Nutritious vegetables, eggs, milk and meat are crucial sources of micronutrients, which will also help achieve the Letter’s first goal of decreasing child deaths.  The Letter focuses on the importance of agricultural extension to help farmers, especially women farmers, get better information about how and when to plant.

In short video about his own bet for the future, Harvard’s Calestous Juma eloquently goes even further in connecting agricultural technology innovations with a growing potential for young African entrepreneurs. In turn, they will contribute not only to Africa’s food security and economy, but to the world at large. 

For my part, I’ve had the honor of working with many dedicated people in nutrition and agriculture research organizations that have received grants from the Gates Foundation in pursuit of healthier, hardier crop varieties.  The Foundation’s sustained vision, attention and investments, even when faced with inevitable research and policy challenges, makes it possible for the rest of us to make our own contributions to the ‘big bet’.   

So here’s my little voice, added to those of Bill & Melinda Gates, Calestous Juma and other global citizens:  Let’s all do our part to make sure that the lives of the poor improve faster in the next 15 years than ever before

Jill Kuehnert

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