Yesterday, I was at GrowCanada Conference 2009 in Calgary and was very fortunate to hear Dr. Prem Warrior from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation speak about agriculture’s role in solving global poverty.
Dr. Warrior discussed the reality of global poverty being concentrated in South Asia and Sub Saharan Africa. In fact, 78% of the world’s starving live in those two regions. Other factors affecting areas like the Sub Saharan is that it has crop yields that are 2-5 X less than other developing countries.
Dr. Warrior stated that, “agriculture is the route out of poverty for the poor.”
He provided an example of the typical Malawi farmer
- few acres of relatively infertile land
- no mechanization
- little fertilizer, uses her own seeds, no crop protection products to deal with diseases and pests
- she has no weather or agronomic information
- kids cannot go to school and the family has no sanitation
Many times the industry talks about innovation as the way to feed the world. Dr. Warrior seemed to agree with this concept as he provided key concepts in defining innovation. He stated, ” Innovation is the ability to grow crops with less water, less land, and less fertilizer and crop protection products.” He then mentioned a couple of examples of how the Gates Foundation is innovating to provide solutions to solve poverty.
Drought tolerance – Creating drought tolerant maize is a “game changer.” Being able to grow maize in areas that are non-traditional areas would provide the poor with crops able to feed and provide value to the local village area.
C4 rice – Current varieties of rice are considered C3. If the Gates Foundation is successful more solar energy efficient rice will be developed.
Dr. Warrior was very clear that the Gates Foundation is selecting projects based on what affects most people, what has been neglected and where can they make the most impact. In terms of agriuclture the five key points he made were:
- focus on small farms
- meet the needs of women
- protect the environment
- partner with others
- long term focused
Dr. Warrior was very inspiring and really made me feel like there was hope for the future in the area of poverty. Because of the Gates Foundations willingness to take risks in areas where Govenrment and private research will not and cannot afford, the Gates foundation has a huge opportunity make a stepped change in how we solve some of these issues.
Dr. Warrior’s closing slide summed up the presenatation by saying, “The time to innovate is now”