How to feed a billion hungry people

Today Bill Gates addressed a meeting in Rome where he told the international agricultural community it had fallen short of delivering the help that small farmers in developing countries need, and that a better approach to supporting farming was needed to feed a billion hungry people.

“If you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture,” said Gates. “Investments in agriculture are the best weapons against hunger and poverty, and they have made life better for billions of people. The international agriculture community needs to be more innovative, coordinated, and focused to help poor farmers grow more. If we can do that, we can dramatically reduce suffering and build self-sufficiency.”

Gates told IFAD, the World Food Programme (WFP), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that the approach being used today to fight against poverty and hunger is outdated and inefficient. He urged these food agencies to commit to a concrete, measurable target for increasing agricultural productivity and to support a system of public score cards to maximize transparency for themselves, donors, and the countries they support.

“The goal is to move from examples of success to sustainable productivity increases to hundreds of millions of people moving out of poverty,” said Gates. “If we hope to meet that goal, it must be a goal we share. We must be coordinated in our pursuit of it. We must embrace more innovative ways of working toward it. And we must be willing to be measured on our results.”

The number of hungry people in the world has reached the 1 billion mark, and global food prices that were beginning to fall last July—signaling some relief—are starting to creep up again. According to estimates, small farmers in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa can double or almost triple their yields, respectively, in the next 20 years. This sustainable productivity increase will translate into 400 million people lifting themselves out of poverty.

“History has shown us what’s possible when people can grow enough food. If we want to transform the lives of people in Africa, we need to focus our efforts on raising agricultural productivity, creating markets and making agriculture a business not a development activity,” said Akin Adesina, Nigerian Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Gates also announced nearly $200 million in grants, bringing to more than $2 billion the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation’s commitment to smallholder farmers since the agriculture program began in 2006.

Update: you can now watch a video of the presentation below: (Bill Gates starts speaking at 15:00)