Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Working Together for Small Farmers

February 23, 2012

If you care about poor people, you need to care about agriculture.

Most extremely poor people in the developing world get their food and income from farming small plots of land. Many others live in big cities and need access to inexpensive food to be healthy and productive. So helping small farmers grow more food sustainably is the best way to fight hunger and poverty over the long term.

History is on our side. In the past several decades, agricultural yields in many places have doubled, and hunger and poverty have been cut in half. Now it is time to continue and accelerate that progress.

This week, I am speaking to the leaders of the international agriculture community at a meeting at the International Fund for Agricultural Development.  The audience will be made up of the key people working in developing countries, aid agencies in developed countries, and international groups like the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization—and my message is that they need to do better for small farmers.  

I am urging them to set a common productivity target and create a system of public scorecards to hold themselves accountable. If they take these steps, I believe it is possible to meet the world’s most aggressive goals for reducing hunger and poverty.

One of the most important priorities is connecting the poorest farmers in the world to breakthroughs in agricultural science and technology. Right now, a digital revolution is changing the way farming is done, but poor small farmers aren’t benefitting from it.

For example, we now have satellites that can identify instantly and precisely how much wheat there is in a field. However, many developing countries are still sending people out with a pad, pencil, and tape measure to estimate yields. As a result, we take more time and expense to get less accurate and incomplete data. Better data, collected in a timely way, means decision makers have better information  to make policies that can help farmers. That is one example of how a digital revolution can make a difference. .

Innovation is the concept on which Melinda and I created the foundation. For years, we saw the impact that innovation in the computer industry had on the richest people in the world. But at the same time, the poorest half was hardly benefitting from innovation at all. We hope our foundation can work with partners to help change that.

The stakes could not be higher. The world’s ability to help small farmers be more sustainably productive will determine whether or not they remain in poverty or whether the hard work results in self-sufficiency for hundreds of millions of people.

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