Bill Gates pledges millions to African, Indian farming

Microsoft co-founder turned philanthropist Bill Gates on Thursday will unveil grants totalling $120-million to promote dynamic, home-grown, sustainable agriculture in Africa and India.

The grants, which will be made by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation working together with specialized agencies, will be announced by Gates in his keynote speech to the World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, later on Thursday, his foundation said.

The funding will cover a bevy of projects including educating Africans about the benefits of growing certain crops such as legumes, which can be used to fertilize soil, and sweet potatoes, which when included in local diets can slash the incidence of Vitamin A deficiencies in children.

Others will create networks of expertise that give Africans greater autonomy when making agricultural policy decisions, or harness technology to help farmers.

“Helping the poorest smallholder farmers grow more and get it to market is the world’s single most powerful lever for reducing hunger and poverty,” Gates said in a statement released ahead of his speech.

Funding will be used to support development of local markets and connect them to schools.

“Instead of importing food from outside for school meal programmes, you would buy food from local and national markets and thereby build demand,” said Roy Steiner, deputy director of the Gates Foundation’s global development programme.

In Uganda, where cellphone penetration is between 80% and 90%, funding from the Gates Foundation will be used to create “community knowledge worker networks”, which connect villagers with sources of information via cellphones.

Grants also have been earmarked to create Farmer Voice Radio, which would broadcast programmes promoting sustainable agriculture to African farmers, 70% to 80% of whom use radio as a source of information.

And in India, funding from the foundation would be used to help women’s self-help groups to improve their water management skills, which would in turn enhance their standard of living.

“It’s a holistic approach to creating agricultural transformation,” said Steiner.

“Our strategy is to invest in the entire agriculture value chain: improved research science and technology, improved knowledge delivery systems along with more effective markets that can buy the surplus — because it’s no good creating productivity if there are no markets to support a sustainable system.

In addition to Uganda and India, countries where specific projects will be launched with funds from the foundation are Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia. – AFP

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