Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has told a group of political, business, and development leaders that supporting farming families in developing countries is critical to overcoming poverty and hunger.
“I came here today to join those calling on the U.S. and other countries to fund agricultural development for poor farming families," Gates says. "The US has a pivotal role to play."
Gates spoke at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs' Symposium on Global Agriculture & Food Security, where leaders discussed how US public and private sector support for agricultural development can advance global security, stability, and economic prosperity. He was joined by US Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, World Food Program Executive Director Josette Sheeran, and others.
Today, there are almost 1-billion hungry people in the world. In 2008, food prices jumped to record levels, causing riots, hunger, instability, and a plunge back into poverty for millions. Early this year, food prices spiked again, even higher than the peak of three years ago.
But Gates argued that sweeping change is already underway. He praised US leadership for helping to secure $22-billion in commitments to food security that were announced at the G8 and G20 meetings in 2009. While only about half of these pledges have been disbursed or are on track to be disbursed, Gates noted the commitment of President Obama and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to spend $3,5-billion over three years through the Feed the Future programme. He also lauded Congress for including $100-million in the budget for the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program. He noted that France has put food security and agriculture at the top of the G20 agenda this year.
"We have a big budget deficit, and foreign assistance is always an easy target. So we need to tell people over and over why this spending is worth it-even in tight economic times," Gates says.
He points out that farming is a business that helps poor farmers build self-sufficiency and improve their lives. He explains how the foundation and its partners are focusing their efforts on helping farmers get better seeds, healthier soils, and access to markets, as well as supporting better data and policies.
"In country after country, these approaches have improved the livelihoods of small farmers while reducing poverty and increasing economic growth," Gates says. "It's proving the point again and again: helping poor farming families grow more crops and get them to market is the world's single most powerful lever for reducing poverty and hunger."