Current methods to help poor farmers in developing countries are falling short of their goals and should be held accountable, Bill Gates said Thursday in a speech delivered to the United Nations' International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), World Food Program (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Gates called for new global goals for sustainable productivity growth and the measurement of these goals to hold people accountable for achieving them.
"If you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture," said Gates, who now serves as co-chair and trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "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."
According to Gates, current methods used to fight both poverty and hunger, while successful in the past, are now outdated and inefficient. "Countries, food agencies, and donors aren't working together in a focused and coordinated way to provide the help small farmers need, when they need it," Gates said. He encouraged the three food agencies to "work together to create a global productivity target for small farmers — and a system of public scorecards to measure how countries, food agencies, and donors are contributing toward the overall goal of reducing poverty."
Gates did not set specific targets in his speech, but did suggest taking advantage of the digital revolution to spread new information and innovations to developing nations.
Gates also advocated the U.N. agencies put "scorecards of progress" in place by the end of the year, allowing them to measure how they are doing toward their goals. As Justin Gillis wrote in the New York Times, the "scorecards" are a typical approach of the Gates Foundation, which "take[s] the view that setting explicit numerical targets and holding people to them is one key to progress." The foundation uses similar scorecards with its vaccination programs.
Gates also used the occasion of the speech to announce nearly $200 million in new grants from the foundation. The funds will fund agricultural development projects, such as the release of 34 new GMO varieties of drought-resistant maize (corn); delivering vaccines to millions of livestock; breaking down gender barriers for female farmers; and controlling contamination that currently affects a quarter of all world food crops. The Gates Foundation has now contributed more than $2 billion toward small-farmer agricultural programs.
According to the Gates Foundation, there are now more than 1 billion hungry people around the world and food prices are once again rising. But doubling or tripling farm productivity in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa could help 400 million people escape poverty.
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