Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has told the international agricultural community it had fallen short of delivering the help small farmers in developing countries need, when they need it.

In a speech delivered at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Gates asked the UN bodies responsible for fighting hunger and poverty to unite around a common global target for sustainable productivity growth to guide and measure their efforts.

“If you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture,” said Gates. “Investments in agriculture are the best weapons against hunger and poverty, and they have made life better for billions of people. The international agriculture community needs to be more innovative, coordinated, and focused to help poor farmers grow more. If we can do that, we can dramatically reduce suffering and build self-sufficiency.”

Gates told IFAD, the World Food Programme (WFP), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that the approach being used today to fight against poverty and hunger is outdated and inefficient. He urged these food agencies to commit to a concrete, measurable target for increasing agricultural productivity and to support a system of public score cards to maximize transparency for themselves, donors, and the countries they support.

“The goal is to move from examples of success to sustainable productivity increases to hundreds of millions of people moving out of poverty,” said Gates. “If we hope to meet that goal, it must be a goal we share. We must be coordinated in our pursuit of it. We must embrace more innovative ways of working toward it. And we must be willing to be measured on our results.”

The number of hungry people in the world has reached the 1 billion mark, and global food prices that were beginning to fall last July—signaling some relief—are starting to creep up again. According to estimates, small farmers in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa can double or almost triple their yields, respectively, in the next 20 years. This sustainable productivity increase will translate into 400 million people lifting themselves out of poverty.

“History has shown us what’s possible when people can grow enough food. If we want to transform the lives of people in Africa, we need to focus our efforts on raising agricultural productivity, creating markets and making agriculture a business not a development activity,” said Akin Adesina, Nigerian Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Gates also announced nearly $200 million in grants, bringing to more than $2 billion the foundation’s commitment to smallholder farmers since the agriculture program began in 2006. The foundation takes a comprehensive approach to supporting small farmers so progress against hunger and poverty is sustainable for the economy and the environment.

The money will fund agricultural development projects that are already producing great results for farmers, with a goal to help millions of small farmers lift themselves out of poverty. This re-investment will be in projects that have already:

  • Supported the release of 34 new varieties of drought-tolerant maize
  • Delivered vaccines to tens of millions of livestock
  • Trained more than 10,000 agro-dealers to equip and train farmers

New foundation grants will go to support:

  • Breaking down gender barriers so women farmers can increase productivity
  • Controlling contamination that affects 25 percent of world food crops
  • Creating an innovative system to monitor the effects of agricultural productivity on the population and environment

“When Melinda and I started our foundation more than a decade ago, we initially focused on inequities in global health. But as we spent more time learning about the diseases of poverty, we realized that many of the poorest people in the world were small farmers. The conclusion was obvious. They could lift their families up by growing more food,” explained Gates.

The Thirty-Fifth Session of IFAD’s Governing Council, entitled “Sustainable smallholder agriculture: Feeding the World, protecting the planet,” provided a forum for governments and the agricultural development community to discuss ways to grow 70 percent more food by 2050 to feed a growing, more urbanized population.

IFAD works in remote areas where few development partners have ventured, helping poor farmers raise not only their yields but their incomes,” said IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze. “Development fails when imposed from above. IFAD’s ground-up approach helps farmers build strong organizations that give them more power in the marketplace and a greater voice in the decisions that affect their lives so that they can earn more, eat better, and educate their children.”

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