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Could a 140-year-old technology help Kenyan farmers become much more prosperous? A few years ago, Sidai Africa, a socially motivated business in Nairobi, believed the answer was a firm “yes.”
The first livestock vaccine was created in France in the year 1879. The technology itself was nothing new, but Sidai believed that if more farmers had access to livestock vaccines, it could be a gamechanger. Their ideas caught the attention of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
When Bill and Melinda Gates started giving to charity more than 20 years ago, one area they focused on was health. They’d read a news story about how hundreds of thousands of children were dying of preventable diseases because they couldn’t get the drugs and vaccines they needed.
As they continued researching, they learned that malnutrition was also keeping millions of children from growing up healthy. Kids needed more nutritious food, and often that nutrition was provided through farming. That’s when Bill and Melinda started asking, “How could farmers raise healthy livestock and grow high-yield crops in order to prosper and provide more for their families?”
These questions are particularly important in Kenya, where agriculture accounts for about a third of the entire economy, and there’s a lot of untapped potential. As many as one-quarter of all livestock in Kenya die annually from diseases that can be prevented. Kenyan crop yields have often been one-third—or less—of those in other countries. Sidai saw room for improvement. They had ideas and brought them to the Gates Foundation, which agreed to provide some money to turn those ideas into reality.
Early funding has allowed Sidai help more than 450,000 Kenyan farmers. They’ve vaccinated millions of livestock and sell their quality feed and seeds in thousands of shops. They offer veterinary services and have developed a pipeline for new technology. Trained Sidai workers go out on motorbikes to deliver knowledge and services at remote small farms. They offer soil testing services so farmers know exactly which fertilizers would be best.
This is why the Gates Foundation funds agriculture projects in Kenya: to make sure that farmers have all the tools they need to feed their families and earn a good living.
Sidai is just one organization doing this work. The Gates Foundation works with many more whose goal is to assist farmers, including the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi and Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. The foundation funds a long list of Kenyan-born projects, including loans to thousands of small farmers; research on how to fight sheep and goat plague; and the development of drought- and heat-tolerant seeds so that Kenyan farmers can adapt to the Earth’s changing climate.
This is how an agricultural revolution happens in a country: It doesn’t come from the outside; it starts on the ground—or in this case, in the ground. Smallholder farmers work with local organizations like Sidai to identify their challenges and develop solutions. Meanwhile, organizations like the Gates Foundation listen and learn; then they can step in with funding and advice. In the end, the harvest is healthier—and so are the children.
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About the 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, and with offices around the world, the foundation is led by CEO Mark Suzman, under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.
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