Bill Gates: Seed innovation is the best way to ensure food security, mitigate the effects of climate change
The Bill and Melinda Gates co-chairperson Bill Gates said investing in seed innovation is one of the best ways to ensure food security for a world increasingly affected by climate change.
In an exclusive interview with CNBC-TV18’s Shereen Bhan, Gates said the investment in seed innovation, which he pegged at around $1 billion, needs to be doubled for it to have any impact.
“In a rich world, productivity is far greater per acre than in developing countries. So, as we give them seeds that are adapted to their conditions and find a way to give them good advice — probably using mobile phones for a lot of that — help them with credit to buy fertilizer, if we can double that productivity, then the calories are in good shape,” Gates said.
He said it was time we had a Green Revolution of the like seen in the 1970s.
“The amount of money going into seed innovation is less than a billion (dollars), you know, (and) our goal for the world is that if we got that up to $2 billion, that would be the biggest thing to help avoid climate disasters,” Gates said.
Gates says his foundation will be one of the biggest funders in seed innovation.
“We’re also talking about, you know, as we looked at climate, how do you minimise the damage and climate adaptation — which means getting ready for the extra heat — doesn’t get enough attention. And we’re not as good at measuring which interventions are the most impactful for climate adaptation, but it’s very urgent that we get going on that.”
One of the more recent criticisms leveled at Gates was the frenetic pace at which he was buying out farmland in the US — he is the biggest landowner in the country. Gates says it’s all keeping in mind his philanthropic efforts.
“I own, through an investment office that invests in quite a few things, about 1/4000 of the land in the US, so it’s a very distributed thing. There’s not any one person who owns much of that land. You know, they’ve decided it’s a good investment. The money that I haven’t spent through the foundation, we invest it, try to get returns so we can have as much to send to poor countries as possible,’ Gates explained.
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Bill Gates calls for doubled investment in seed development
Cites ICRISAT’s dryland cereals and legumes which are more tolerant to drought
Co-chair and Trustee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, speaks during the inauguration of the 8th International Conference on Agriculture Statistics in New Delhi on November 18, 2019.
To support small farmers, it is important to double investment in technology innovations to develop new seeds which are resistant to heat, drought, humidity and pests, said billionaire philanthropist and tech mogul Bill Gates. Mr. Gates was speaking at an international agricultural statistics conference on Monday.
“Mention the Green Revolution, how foundations like Rockefeller and Ford were able to back incredible work by people like Norman Borlaug. Today, faced with climate change and the inequity of the difficulties before farmers, we need to double down. We need to more than double our investment in making these innovative seeds and particularly, the seeds that are publicly available,” he said.
Agricultural researchers now have tools that allow them to create seeds resistant to various stresses, said Mr. Gates, offering the example of ICRISAT’s development of dryland cereals and legumes which are more tolerant to drought. “This is a case where the seeds are in the lab, but we have a lot of work to do to get them out into the farmers’ hands, especially smallholder farmers,” he said, adding that private sector involvement in such innovation was also critical.
Mr. Gates’ statement comes even as the Centre plans to introduce a new Seeds Bill in this session of Parliament, which includes a price capping mechanism that seed companies say will stifle innovation and the development of new seeds. Farmers’ groups, on the other hand, have called for more stringent price and quality control to ensure that small and marginal farmers are not denied the benefits.
Other innovations mentioned by Mr. Gates included what he called the “Internet of Cows”, where livestock are given wearable devices which collect data to help increase their productivity, and digital soil mapping, which offers farmers more detailed advice on fertilizer use than is currently possible with the government’s soil health card scheme.
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More than 180,000 households were reached with new technologies that increased the production of sorghum and millets by up to 150% across 11 countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The recently concluded Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE) of Sorghum and Millets project, supported by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, involved 50 partners led by ICRISAT from 2009-2015.
Some of the major milestones include:
- 49 cultivars released by the project countries (25 sorghum; 13 pearl millet; and 11 finger millet)
- 183,421 farm households reached with new production technologies
- 8,579 tons of seed produced under the program (6,251 tons of sorghum; 2,084 tons of pearl millet; and 244 tons of finger millet)
- 178,447 mini-packs of seed distributed initially at no cost, but at the beginning of the second year a partial cost recovery approach was implemented. The packs were sold to farmers primarily through field days, seed-producing farmers and local agro-dealers
- 50 researchers received advanced degree training with HOPE support (15 PhD and 35 MSc degrees completed)
- 3,280 National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) scientists took part in HOPE-sponsored short courses
“The project provided additional evidence that it is indeed possible to increase production of sorghum and millets in some of the most resource-poor areas of sub-Saharan Africa and India. Working with a number of national and regional research organizations, development partners, private sector, and farmers organizations, HOPE developed, promoted and diffused excellent technology packages that provide a 50% increase in net benefits, while enhancing the capacity of 11 partner countries on two continents,” said Dr Stefania Grando, Director – Science Quality and Strategy, ICRISAT, who led the project.
“Using integrated value chain interventions we were able to achieve our goals to help thousands of smallholder farmers in the harsh drylands of sub-Saharan Africa and four Indian states. Not only was the project able to deliver improved crop varieties but also increased farmers’ access to markets to buy what they need and to sell their produce at competitive market prices,” said Dr David Bergvinson, Director General of ICRISAT.
“Sorghum and pearl millet are major staple food crops in many countries of West and Central Africa. Several technologies including improved varieties of sorghum and pearl millet along with the associated crop management and agronomic practices were generated during the first phase of the project. During the second phase, intensification of research and development activities, and a more in-depth understanding and tackling major obstacles to the uptake of these technologies will be explored for a wider scaling-up,” said Dr Ramadjita Tabo, ICRISAT Regional Director West and Central Africa.
“Farmers access to improved varieties will be enhanced through a more effective and efficient national registration and release of varieties and seed legislation in the three project countries, namely Burkina Faso, Mali and Nigeria,” he added.
According to Dr Bergvinson, “The project has proved that with the right information, farmers are able to make more informed choices, which lead to increased incomes and improved livelihoods. Demand-driven research that empowers farmers to realize their full economic potential will be key in realizing the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi receives ‘Goalkeepers Global Goals Award 2019’ – Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in New York, USA