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The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been tracking the progress – and setbacks – of their 2008 grants, and the accomplishments laid out in the 2010 progress report has even Bill Gates surprised.

Supporting select nonprofit agricultural development programs with $306 million in grants for sub-Saharan African and South Asian farmers, the plan was not only to help small-plot farmers feed their families, but to invest in agriculture across the board – from seeds, soil and farm management to markets and government policies – in order to improve productivity, income and, in the end, the lives of individuals.

Where rainwater was the only water source, irrigation systems were made available. Training and equipment were provided. Groups were created for buying power advantages to provide better cow feed, resulting in better quality milk. Veterinaries were deployed. Education on sustainable farming practices and soil fertility management were made available.

The philosophy behind it all: when there is a surplus in income, there is money to send children to school, there is healthcare and there is reinvestment in the farms.

“We know that better farming is the most important solution for overcoming hunger and poverty,” Gates says in his blog, “and that the investments the foundation and others are making can have an incredible impact in a relatively short period of time.”

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