What We Do

Agricultural Development

Strategy Overview


Sarah Mehari, owner of Sarah Mehari Poultry Distribution Center, distributes chicken from EthioChicken, a foundation grantee which increases productivity by delivering improved chickens, vaccinations, affordable blended feed, training, distribution, and delivery to small folder farmers.


is an inclusive agricultural transformation led by smallholder farmers who are empowered with the knowledge, tools, and technologies to improve their livelihoods, lift their families out of poverty, and contribute to a sustainable global food system.

The Challenge

At A Glance

A majority of the world's 1 billion people who live on less than $2 a day are smallholder farmers who rely on agriculture for their livelihood, and yet many of them struggle to grow, raise or sell enough food to meet the needs of their families.

Growth in agriculture generates up to four times greater poverty reduction than growth in other sectors: by transforming agriculture, we aim to transform the lives of smallholder farmers and the economies of the countries in which they live.

Helping women farmers is one of our top priorities because women do much of the agricultural work and their well-being affects the health, welfare, and education of their children.

Increasing agricultural productivity is a critical first step in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals of ending hunger and poverty by 2030, and feeding the planet’s rapidly expanding population, and yet untapped agricultural potential continues to contribute to persistent poverty and hunger across much of the developing world.

The overwhelming majority of poor people surviving on less than $2 a day in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are smallholder farmers working small plots of land about the size of a football field. These farmers, many of whom are women, often lack basic tools, technologies, infrastructure, financing and know-how, and are powerless against extreme conditions including drought, pests and disease. Reliable, tailored agriculture advice and localized market and pricing data are hard to come by, and government policies often fall short of meeting smallholder farmers’ needs.

The end result is poor farmers getting a fraction of the yields that their counterparts in more developed countries get, and potentially productive, fertile communities relying on costly food imports and food assistance to feed their citizens. This ongoing struggle for smallholder farmers and their families to grow enough food keeps them poor and hungry, at risk of malnutrition and other hunger-related diseases, and impedes the economic growth of developing countries at large.

Smallholder farmer production is uniquely susceptible to a changing climate as farmers often lack access to climate smart technology and innovations, and rising temperatures and unpredictable rainfall will only exacerbate their challenge of low and unreliable yields. It is estimated that climate change could reduce crop production by as much as 10 percent by 2030 and by 30 percent by 2080.

The Opportunity

Transforming agriculture improves rural economies, reduces poverty, and increases access to nutritious food.

Purchase for Progress connects small farmers from Musaza and other areas around Rwanda with a market for their beans and maize.

When farmers grow more food and earn more income, they are better able to feed their families, send their children to school, provide for their family’s health, and invest in their farms. This makes their communities economically stronger and more stable, providing jobs not only in agriculture, but also boosting non-agricultural sector opportunities such as food processing, trade, manufacturing and services. Growth in agriculture drives inclusive growth, generating up to four times greater poverty reduction than growth in other sectors.

Helping farmers improve their yields requires a comprehensive approach that includes the use of seeds that are more resistant to disease, drought, and flooding; information from trusted local sources about more productive farming techniques and technologies; greater access to markets; and government policies that serve the interests of farming families.

Agricultural development must also address gender disparities and help make food systems more nutritious. In Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, women are vital contributors to farm work, but because they have less access to improved seeds, better techniques and technologies, and markets, yields on their plots are up to 30 percent lower than on plots farmed by men. Addressing this gap can help households become more productive and, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), increase total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent. Improving the quality, accessibility, and affordability of nutritious food produced in developing countries is fundamental to reducing undernutrition and creating a healthier, more productive society.

Our Strategy

Agricultural Development is one of the largest initiatives of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. To date, we have committed more than US$4 billion to agricultural development efforts, primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Our approach is based on the following principles:

  • Foster breakthrough discoveries in scientific research and technology to improve crops and livestock. All over the world, we partner with leading scientists to explore new ways to make agriculture more productive by developing higher yielding, more nutritious, and drought and disease-resistant crops and livestock to boost incomes and improve nutrition for smallholder farmers and rural communities.
  • Strengthen the tools and systems on which farmers rely. We work with public and private sector partners to ensure promising technologies, tailored advice, financial services, quality inputs and localized market information are adapted for and available to resource-poor farmers so they can choose the solutions that work best for them.
  • Strengthen global and national policies that benefit smallholder farmers. Our investments support policymakers, donors, and civil society to identify evidence-based policy priorities, articulate options for cost-effective policy implementation, and drive resources for inclusive agricultural transformation at global, national and local levels.
  • Provide better data, analytics and evidence. We invest in reliable, cost-effective, open data systems for agriculture to improve evidence-based decision-making and support improved measurement and monitoring of farm-based productivity, income and gender and nutrition outcomes for smallholder families, with the aim of identifying levers and fostering inclusive growth.
  • Empower women farmers by strengthening gender responsiveness of existing programs and investing directly in women’s economic development. Across our entire program, we work to increase women farmer’s access to resources like financial services and improved inputs, and to advance representation, voice, and opportunities for women farmers including the ownership of critical assets.
  • Strengthen national food systems to ensure equitable access to safe, affordable, and nutritious diets year-round. We help improve access to nutritional crops and livestock. We focus on increasing the supply and affordability of nutrient-rich foods, like those from animal sources and legumes, and through the biofortification of crops like sweet potatoes in poorer and rural communities. Access to these nutritious foods makes these communities much healthier.

Areas of Focus

We invest in the following strategic areas that we believe will help address the challenges and local realities faced by farming families in the developing world.

Research and Development

Harvested Swarna Sub I rice, a STRASA variety from IRRI, being dried at the home of farmer Kamlavati Devi.

We support research to develop more productive and nutritious varieties of the crops grown and consumed by farming families. These include varieties adapted to local conditions that deliver specific benefits farmers seek, such as increased yields, better nutrition, and tolerance to drought, flood, and pests. We fund research to discover ways to better manage soil and water resources and reduce crop loss due to spoilage, weeds, pests, disease, and other threats.

Agricultural Policies

Timely, relevant, and accurate information is crucial to farmers. Policymakers in developing countries also need good data to inform their decision making. We support data collection, research, and policy analysis to help evaluate the impact of various approaches, get accurate information to farmers, and assess the effects of national and international agricultural policies. Our research also includes measuring the progress of our grants to ensure that they are delivering the anticipated benefits to farming families.


Livestock is a key part of farming in developing countries and is crucial to the livelihoods of more than 900 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. We support efforts to improve the health and productivity of livestock—particularly chickens, goats, and cows—by improving animal genetics and veterinary care. To ensure that farmers can benefit from animal health and genetics technologies, we test models for providing farmers with the knowledge and tools they need to increase their on-farm production and connect to stable markets. Our work particularly aims to increase income-generating opportunities for women, who may have little control over productive resources such as land, but sometimes own and control livestock, especially poultry and goats.

Improved Systems

Technology enables farmers, like Adasa John in Tanzania, to access crop-related information via cell-phone.

We support efforts to get new and appropriate tools and farming practices into the hands of farmers. This includes improved seeds and access to better soil, water, and livestock solutions. We look for ways to strengthen knowledge exchange through technologies such as mobile phones and radio. We also work with farmers’ organizations to help farmers hone their business management skills, gain greater purchasing power and marketing leverage, and improve their crop and resource management skills. Additional priorities include helping farmers improve their storage and post-harvest activities, meet quality and quantity commitments, link to large-scale and reliable markets, and establish partnerships with buyers, processors, and farmers’ organizations.

Strategic Partnerships and Advocacy

To achieve the goal of sustainable agricultural productivity, our strategy relies on strong partnerships with donor countries, multilateral institutions, private foundations, and other organizations. While strengthening existing partnerships, we are building new partnerships with countries such as Brazil and China, which have developed their own agricultural sectors through technological and policy innovation and are increasingly important to agricultural growth in the regions where we work. Through our advocacy efforts and investments, we seek innovative solutions to agricultural policy challenges and we work to foster the political will and public support to solve them. Our overall goal is to ensure that donor and developing-country investments and policies support sustainable smallholder farmer productivity.

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