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Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Bill's Letter Calls For Fair Play In Agriculture

Source: Gates Foundation
"Innovation is the key to improving the world," Bill opens in the annual letter from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, pointing to the extraordinary progress made globally in innovation. And yet, he goes on, over 1 billion people live in extreme poverty.  That's 15% of the population. They are short of food yet most of them live and work on farms. Perhaps the word 'farm' here means more of a smallholding, as Bill says this land doesn't produce enough food for these families to live on.  

At Sustainability Consult, we are fascinated by food, the food industry and organic/alternative food movements so it's great to see someone so influential attacking this issue.  

While 15% in extreme poverty is an improvement on 50 years ago, it's still a horrendous figure. With global recession, we're also seeing more stories on Western European families in real hardship, unable to feed their families in the way they would hope to. This can only get worse. Bill's solution is to educate the farmers. Like training the trainer, this is a sustainable way to share best practice and solutions like managing soils and irrigation techniques to improve yield from the same land.

Investment is needed to fund agricultural innovation. Bill calls the investment "relatively modest" and warns that without it, one in seven will continue living on the brink of starvation. The Gates Foundation wants to see more innovation in areas which bring a lower return than much private investment. The Gates Foundation has already put $2 billion into the pot to help poor farming families, promoting innovations like sustainable land management, farm worker education and building networks and markets. I'm not sure what their position on GMO is at this point.

Gates brings to light the massive decline in the number of people working in farming. Farming is really hard work, margins are slim if they exist at all and there is pressure from all sides. Small farmers need our support. Basically, farming is in crisis worldwide. What doesn't feature in this annual letter is the need to help local farmers in our own countries by buying local food from markets, farm shops and through box schemes. We've just signed up for an organic veg box scheme and are excited to receive the first delivery of Benelux-grown veggies.  

As an aside, I'm amused that Bill Gates' signature is on Wikipedia. Just don't get carried away and start writing fake billion dollar cheques in his name please.

Blog by Kathryn Sheridan


  1. The B&G Foundation does appear to have put its faith in GMO as the solution to the global food crisis:


  2. Thanks Neil,

    I did think that was quite likely from the way it was written. Many thanks for the link.