Speaking at the World Food Prize, Raikes says, "What's required of us is our unfailing commitment to the cause of agricultural development."
DES MOINES, Iowa, Oct. 14 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Jeff Raikes, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, today called on governments, donors, researchers, farmers' groups, and others to remain committed to the cause of agricultural development as climate change, water scarcity, and economic conditions create new challenges for the world's poorest farming families.
Speaking at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, in his first major address on agricultural development, Raikes said that agriculture is a proven pathway out of hunger and poverty. What smallholder farmers need to thrive, he said, is the continued support of the global agricultural development community. Raikes called on all members of the community to work together to help smallholder farmers gain access to better seeds and new agricultural innovations tailored to meet their needs.
"We can learn more about small farmers, we can innovate to get ahead of the next challenge, we can form broader, deeper partnerships that allow us to maximize our impact against poverty and hunger," he said. "What's required of us is our unfailing commitment to the cause of agricultural development."
Raikes thanked the 2010 World Food Prize laureates and foundation grantees, David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, and Jo Luck, CEO of Heifer International, for their leadership in the effort to end hunger and poverty worldwide. Raikes also highlighted many examples of progress being made in agricultural development around the world:
- The foundation's grant to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is making steady progress toward its goal of providing farmers with heartier varieties of rice that can withstand drought, flood, extreme cold, and harsh soil conditions. By 2017, a projected 20 million farmers will benefit from these new varieties. (This and other grantee successes are detailed in new Agricultural Development Progress Reports posted on the foundation's website.)
- A new $2 storage bag is on track to help 1.7 million households in West and Central Africa increase their annual incomes by an average of $150. Developed through a partnership between the foundation and Purdue University, the new triple layer bag protects cowpeas — one of the most important crops in Africa — from infestation during storage without the use of pesticides.
- Through substantial agricultural growth over the past 25 years, Ghana has cut hunger levels by 75 percent.
While commending global investments in agricultural development — including an increase in U.S. agricultural development assistance to Sub-Saharan Africa from $657 million in 2005 to more than $1.5 billion in 2009 — Raikes said budget pressures are threatening progress. The G20 countries pledged $22 billion last year to help the poorest farmers increase their productivity. This year, it's unlikely they will meet their pledges.
In April, the foundation joined the governments of the United States, Canada, Spain, and South Korea to create a global food security trust fund that is now facing a funding shortfall. Twenty-one countries have made almost $1 billion worth of requests from the fund, but there is only about $130 million available. "Countries are interested in this work, there are proven ways to do it well, but there's a real danger that it won't get done," said Raikes.
Raikes also called on members of the agricultural development community to help farmers adapt to climate change. "The places that will suffer the most severe weather — the volatile temperatures, the changing patterns of rainfall, the droughts and the floods — are the same places where the poorest farmers live," he said.
Solutions to these challenges are being developed, according to Raikes. A project launched by the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), with support from the foundation and other partners, is developing drought-tolerant maize varieties to help farmers adapt to increasingly frequent droughts. More than 2 million farmers in Africa are already benefitting from higher yields and incomes because of these new varieties. By 2016, the project is expected to help 40 million African farmers boost their maize yields by as much as 30 percent. "Progress against poverty and hunger is not only possible. It's happening," Raikes said.
To date, the foundation has committed more than $1.5 billion to agricultural development efforts. Focused on Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, the foundation's grants aim to strengthen the entire agricultural value chain — from seeds and soil to farm management and market access — so that progress against hunger and poverty is sustainable over the long term.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people's health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people — especially those with the fewest resources — have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Jeff Raikes and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. Learn more at www.gatesfoundation.org or join the conversation at Facebook and Twitter.
SOURCE Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation