Gates gift gives poor farmers a lift

by Matt Noltemeyer
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African farmers
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged $300 million over the next three years to support agricultural research.
 
PARIS, FRANCE — Poor farmers in developing African and Asian countries have a minute contribution to carbon emissions, but will require the most innovative tools and technologies to adapt to climate change.

To that end, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged $300 million over the next three years to support agricultural research that will help the world’s poorest farmers improve, protect and manage their crops amid a rapidly changing environment.

About 800 million people in Africa and Asia rely on agriculture for a livelihood likely to be threatened by changing growing conditions, including rising temperatures, diseases, poor soil fertility, attacks from crop pests and extreme weather patterns such as droughts and floods.

The Gates Foundation gift came in response to needs assessed by the developing countries and outlined in their adaptation plans under three categories: Crop improvement, crop protection and crop management.

Crop improvement research seeks to meet the growing demand for food. Such research areas include boosting photosynthesis to generate major increases in crop yields and enhancing some plants’ natural processes that draw nitrogen from the air into the soil for more efficient crops that use less water and fertilizer. The study of plant characteristics via data gleaned with robotic assistance will aid understanding of crop breeding and speed the process.

Part of the Gates pledge will help farmers protect their crops from drought, floods, heat and attacks from plant pests and diseases. Breakthrough varieties, including drought-tolerant rice and maize and heat-tolerant beans already have debuted. Scientists are developing new ways to detect and control diseases that can destroy cassava, sweet potatoes and yams, crucial crops in West and Central Africa.

Finally, part of the $300 million commitment will be devoted to teaching poor farmers innovations in managing existing farmland to give them insights into the most advanced practices, particularly in soil health.

The Gates Foundation pledge was announced earlier this month at the One Planet Summit in Paris, where the European Union also committed a $318 million investment in agricultural research and development.  Also at the conference, the foundation launched the One Planet Fellowship in partnership with BNP Paribas Foundation, and Agropolis Foundation. The $20 million, 5-year program will support 600 young African and European researchers working to help African farmers adapt to climate change. 
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