Press Room




Jeff Raikes - World Food Prize

October 14, 2010
Prepared Remarks by Jeff Raikes, Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Ambassador Quinn, for your kind introduction.

It is a special honor to be here to celebrate the winners of a prize conceived by Dr. Norman Borlaug.

I grew up working on our family farm a couple hundred miles west of here, near Ashland, Nebraska. And my family is still farming today; in fact, I will spend the weekend on our farm, enjoying the harvest time. 

This photo was taken in the summer of 1978, during my college years.  I loved that John Deere shirt.  I was sad when I realized it no longer fit …and it wasn’t that the shirt had shrunk!

We hosted farmers and agricultural leaders from many countries – Australia, France, Japan, and several Eastern European countries – and I was impressed by their interest in learning about our approaches, to see how they might be applied in their country. 

My father would speak passionately about how American Agriculture could feed the world.  I reflect on his vision fondly, and I know that if he were alive today, he’d see that the real opportunity to feed the world comes from supporting the productivity of farmers – family farmers, smallholder farmers – everywhere in the world.
So one of the first things I did when I was hired as CEO of the Gates Foundation was set up a meeting with Dr. Borlaug.
I planned to ask him about his celebrated career, the exciting days in Mexico in the 1940s, and his thoughts on the challenges of Africa, but he had other things on his mind. Actually, just one other thing: wheat stem rust.

He wanted to make sure I knew that disease was coming back, and he wanted to know what we were going to do to stop it.

I think about that day all the time. If the man who spurred the Green Revolution that fed a billion people was still vigilant well into his nineties, then there’s just no excuse for complacency.

As today’s laureates prove, Dr. Borlaug’s spirit, his sense of urgency and his moral commitment to small farmers, pervade the entire global agricultural development community. David Beckmann understands that the fight against hunger and poverty lines up with the values of the American people, and he has built an enormous constituency for global agricultural development here in the United States. And for almost 20 years, Jo Luck has guided one of my favorite NGOs, Heifer International.

On my first Gates Foundation trip to Africa, I traveled to Ol Kalou , a village in Kenya, to visit a chilling plant put in place by Heifer International with their partner, TechnoServe. 

I loved the concept – supporting smallholder dairy farmers across the value chain.  The chilling plant gave them a consistent market for their milk.  The predictable pricing gave them the courage to invest in better livestock, and the plant provided access to artificial insemination service.  The extension service based out of the plant gave them the know how to produce more fodder and store it better.

I loved the numbers. In just a couple years, they were supporting more than 3,000 farmers in a 25km radius.  The foundation has an aspiration to scale this approach so that it helps 180,000 households.  And I wondered about the stories behind those numbers…

And that’s when I met David and Lucy. They live in a small home a few miles from the chilling plant.  They farm about 2-3 hectares, own one dairy cow, and support eight family members in total – both sets of parents, and two daughters. 

When David and I were chatting, he mentioned to me that he hoped to rebuild his herd to three cattle.  That caught my attention.  Rebuild?  What happened?  David explained that because of the income that the dairy chilling plant now provided through sales of their milk, he and Lucy had decided to sell two of their cattle… so that their oldest daughter could complete a degree in hotel management at the University in Nairobi.

That’s the day I learned it is about the stories in front of the numbers...

David and Lucy’s story is so powerful—the stories you all have to tell are so powerful—because investments in small farmers have an amazing ripple effect.

What you do is not just about alleviating hunger and poverty. It is not just about preventing stunting and wasting. It is about helping people make their dreams come true. It is about hundreds of millions of people who can dare to dream even bigger dreams for their children and grandchildren.

Two years ago, the president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Development Program, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, addressed this symposium and explained why we decided to get involved in this work. It came down to simple mathematics.

Three quarters of the poorest people in the world rely on farming for their food and income. If the goal is to help the poorest people get enough to eat and increase their incomes, then the obvious way to do it is through agricultural development. Or, as Sylvia said, “Clearly, agriculture and prosperity must grow together.”
We believe in that rationale as strongly now as we did then. Agricultural development has immense potential. But as Dr. Borlaug once said, “You can’t eat potential.” And I am happy to be able to say that, because of the work you’ve been doing, we are starting to see something in addition to the potential inherent in agriculture. We are starting to see the realization of that potential. We are starting to see progress for small farmers.  Yes, we’ve been working together, to “take it to the farmer.”

Not everybody shares my opinion. In fact, plenty of people in the development sector say that we in the agricultural development community aren’t showing the necessary commitment, that we’re not making the necessary progress. Some even say we’re not making any progress at all. So I would like to spend a little time providing evidence in support of my optimism.

The first piece of evidence comes from our experience at the Gates Foundation. When we started our agricultural development program, we announced a package of six grants. They totaled just over $300 million, and they were designed to help more than 5.5 million poor farming families in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia improve their lives.

The grants span the agricultural value chain, and they amount to a test case of our strategy. I invite all of you to look at the foundation’s website where we are tracking the progress of these grants.

Two years in, these grants are having a direct impact on hundreds of thousands of farm families and are on track to reach their goals. To give you just one example, we gave a grant to the International Rice Research Institute to develop a variety of rice that can tolerate submergence, so that rice farmers aren’t wiped out by floods.

By the end of this year, more than 400,000 will be planting this variety. By 2017, we project that 20 million farmers will benefit from it. That is tangible progress.

The second piece of evidence is the pace of research and development in agriculture. And when I talk about R&D, I’m talking about high technology and low-technology.

At the Gates Foundation, we are enthusiastic about the potential of science and technology to help small farmers. As Bill Gates told this audience last year, “We need higher yields on the same land in harsher weather. And we will never get it without a continuous and urgent science-based search to increase productivity.” 

Most of our grants support conventional breeding, but in certain instances, we include biotechnology approaches, because we believe they can help farmers confront drought, flooding, disease, or pests more effectively than conventional breeding alone.

But we don’t think high technology is the only answer. Some of the most promising technologies of recent years are ingenious because they are so simple. My favorite example is a triple layer bag for protecting cowpeas from pests.

It was developed at Purdue University in 2007, it costs just $2, and it can increase cowpea farmers’ incomes by $150 per year. That is tangible progress.

The third piece of evidence is the fact that investments in agriculture are going up. Last year, the G20 nations committed $22 billion to agricultural development, and this year the Global Food Security Trust Fund started disbursing money.

Of course, we need to remain vigilant in these tough economic times to make sure that donors follow through on their pledges. Budget pressures are threatening the progress we’ve been making. But agricultural development is back on the global agenda.

A new report by the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa found that U.S. agricultural development assistance to sub-Saharan Africa has grown significantly in recent years, from $657 million in 2005 to just over $1.5 billion in 2009.

Donor countries are following the example of African governments when they invest in agriculture. In 2003, the African Union adopted the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program, or CAADP [Ca-Dip]. CAADP called on African governments to do two things: dedicate 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture, and seek 6 percent annual agricultural growth. 

Twenty countries have signed CAADP compacts, launching solid plans to achieve these goals. Ten countries have exceeded the 6 percent agricultural growth target. That is tangible progress.

The fourth piece of evidence are the macro statistics on poverty and hunger. We have seen investments in agriculture have a huge impact in specific places. I like to give the example of Ghana.

In the last 20 years, cassava production in that country has increased 5-fold, tomato production has increased 6-fold, and the cocoa sector has rebounded to become a crucial part of the economy again. In that time, Ghana has cut hunger by 75 percent.

Of course, Ghana’s story is extraordinary, but the global story is pretty good, too. Since 1990, 1.3 billion people worldwide have lifted themselves out of poverty. That growth is taking place in China and India, but also in Africa, where a dozen countries are on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal on poverty reduction. That is tangible progress.

It’s a good thing that we’re starting to convert agriculture’s potential into better lives for small farmers. It’s a good thing that agricultural development is up to the task we’ve assigned it—because the task is growing larger and more difficult. In the two years since Sylvia came here to explain our strategy, the work has gotten more urgent and more complicated.

The economic crisis is putting enormous pressure on budgets in both donor and developing countries, right at the time when both are showing a new enthusiasm about agriculture. The G20 countries pledged $22 billion last year, but this year, it looks unlikely that they’ll meet their pledges.

Earlier this year, the Global Food Security Trust Fund was launched. Right now, there are 22 countries with almost $1 billion worth of requests into the Trust Fund. But there is only about $130 million available. Countries are interested in this work, there are proven ways to do it well, but there’s a real danger that it won’t get done.

Climate change is very different, but also very serious, challenge. We’ve known for years that farmers were going to have to contend with harsher weather, but now we’re getting a clearer idea of the scale and scope of the crisis. The places that will suffer the most severe weather—the volatile temperatures, the changing patterns of rainfall, the droughts and the floods—are the same places where the poorest farmers live. Their very survival will depend on their ability to adapt to climate change. 

Water scarcity is related problem. It’s already a huge issue in large parts of the world. Rivers in China are drying up. Groundwater levels in India are dropping rapidly. And yet, because of rapid population growth, urbanization, and changing diets, the global demand for water is on pace to double in just 50 years.

Without drastic changes, demand is going to outstrip supply in the areas where the poorest farmers live. I consider this issue so urgent, that I’ve committed a substantial portion of my time to Water for Food, a global institute at the University of Nebraska.

So where does that leave us? I want to show you a short film that I think says a lot about the direction the agricultural development community is headed. It’s about a project by CIMMYT and many other partners, including the Gates Foundation, to help 300 million African farmers boost their maize yields in the face of recurring droughts. I think it’s representative of what we’re all learning, and it points the way toward the future for all of us.

Why do I say the drought tolerant maize project is representative of where the community needs to go? First, it’s all about innovation. One of the biggest challenge facing small farmers in Africa right now is climate change. They can’t change the weather. They can’t change where they live. But this  project can help them thrive on their own land.

The new drought tolerant maize varieties will allow farmers to get 30 percent more maize in a drought.

Second, this project is targeted directly at small farmers. The theme of this conference is “Taking it to the farmer,” Which is apt. It is only by working closely with farmers that we can understand the problems that need solving and devise solutions that are likely to find traction.

This maize project is structured to include small farmers like Sharifa Numbi, who was highlighted in the film, in the breeding process. Drought-tolerant maize doesn’t just happen in the lab. Technology can’t help farmers unless farmers want to use it, and that is a lesson we’ve been learning in agricultural development for 50 years.

In Malawi, the government introduced various improved maize varieties for farmers to test out in their fields. Of these, the farmers preferred an early maturing drought tolerant variety over others. In a year of severe drought, early maturing drought tolerant varieties offer added insurance against starvation.

Malawi’s ministry of agriculture officials took note, and last year the government endorsed the variety preferred by the farmers, encouraging thousands of farmers to use it in the country’s drought-prone areas.

The third reason I think this project captures the direction our community is going is that it’s founded on a massive partnership. Especially in tough economic times, we need to coordinate as never before to get the most out of our combined investments.

And this effort to develop drought-tolerant maize is building on more than two decades of research and involves a broad coalition of partners. You saw that long list of partners flash across the screen after the film. Governments, NGOs, seed dealers: Each plays a vital role in making sure that quality maize seeds get into the hands of small farmers.  

Partnership and coordination are an important way to get value for the money we’re spending. The new institutional model at CGIAR to help coordinate its research efforts is a great example of how we can stretch our resources by reforming the way we work.

I am inspired by the optimism of Sharifa Numbi. “Through our hard work in the fields, we can eradicate poverty,” she said.

She’s right. Agriculture is the best lever we have to pull in the fight against hunger and poverty. We all agree on that. What’s so exciting to me is that we’re not staying in one place. Our community has the tools to help farmers grow more and more nutritious crops even in the face of harsher weather. Our community can keep getting better.

We can learn more about small farmers, we can innovate to get ahead of the next challenge, we can form broader, deeper partnerships that allow us to maximize our impact against poverty and hunger.

What’s required of us is our unfailing commitment to the cause of agricultural development. It’s the same commitment that drives Sharifa Numbi and millions of other farmers in the developing world to wake up each morning and do their part to feed the world.

I see that commitment alive in the eyes of everyone here today, the commitment to “take it to the farmer.”

Progress against poverty and hunger is not only possible. It’s happening—thanks to all of you.

Thank you.

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