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Foundation Joins Global Trust Fund to Support Small Farmers | Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Bill Gates calls agriculture investments “incredibly effective” way to reduce hunger and poverty

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Phone: +1.206.709.3400
Email: media@gatesfoundation.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, joined representatives of the governments of the United States, Canada, Spain, and South Korea at the U.S. Department of the Treasury today to launch a global trust fund to help the world’s poorest farmers grow more and earn more so they can lift themselves—and their countries—out of hunger and poverty.

Initial contributions to the fund total nearly $900 million, including a $30 million commitment from the foundation. Proposed by the G20 last year after the economic crisis and rising food prices pushed the number of hungry people to 1 billion, the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program is a concrete step to translate $22 billion in food security pledges into action.

“Investing in small farmers is an incredibly effective way to combat hunger and extreme poverty—history has proved it many times,” said Gates, whose foundation has committed $1.5 billion to date to agricultural development. “The launch of this fund is an important step forward, but only a first step. Other countries meeting at the European, G8 and G20 summits in June, and at the U.N. Summit in September should join the four founding partners and make good on their pledges. If we all sustain focus until the job is done, hundreds of millions of people will lead better lives.”

According to the World Bank, about three-quarters of the 1 billion people who live in extreme poverty depend on agriculture for a living. Even if they manage to grow a surplus, they often lack a reliable market in which to sell it. Despite these challenges, there are reasons for optimism in the fight against hunger.

“This renewed investment in agricultural development is excellent news for our small farmers, who face degraded soil, pests, disease, and a changing climate as they struggle to feed their families and overcome poverty,” said Kofi Annan, former U.N. secretary-general and current chair of the board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). “The multi-donor trust fund is a smart and efficient way to harmonize donor support with country-led efforts that are already showing impressive results. With solid and sustained investments in agriculture and strong partnerships across sectors, we can build on this progress and create a more just and food-secure world.”

In a recent Gallup survey in 18 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, residents listed agriculture and jobs as the most important issues their governments should address in the next year. Small farmers need a comprehensive, long-term approach that is sustainable for the economy and the environment. That means improved seeds, tools and training, access to markets where they can sell their surplus, and better policies to support their efforts. Hosted by the World Bank, the trust fund will focus on countries with strong national plans that are already using their own resources on these kinds of effective interventions.

African countries are already taking the lead. In 2004, African heads of state pledged 10 percent of their national budgets to achieve 6 percent annual growth in agriculture. In 2008, 20 African countries achieved the 6 percent target. In Rwanda, investment in agriculture rose by 30 percent from 2007 to 2009. In 2008, the country reported that its agricultural production increased 15 percent.

The foundation’s investments and partnerships in Africa and South Asia are already yielding promising results:

  • The African-led organization AGRA and its partners have released more than 100 new varieties of improved seeds across the continent, educated thousands of local agro-dealers, and trained more than 280,000 farmers.
  • In India, low-cost treadle pumps have provided 100,000 farmers with new microirrigation technologies that have helped double their incomes.
  • New rice varieties that withstand flooding have helped farmers in flood-prone areas of India avoid losing their entire crops. The project has exceeded production targets fivefold due to high demand from farmers and strong government support, especially in India.
  • Farmers in East Africa using new varieties of maize that produce greater yields in drought conditions produced up to 30 percent more maize than those without the improved seeds.
  • The World Food Programme has contracted to purchase nearly 50,000 metric tons of food from small farmers in the same countries where the food will be eaten, instead of buying it from big traders or shipping it from other countries.
“The world knows what works,” said Gates. “I am convinced that with a combination of great partnerships and shared commitment, we can help the world’s small farmers overcome hunger and extreme poverty.”

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