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Bill Gates targets $2bn for food security in Africa

By Nneka Nwogwugwu

Bill Gates has said that his foundation is targeting $2 billion for boosting food security in Africa by 2030.

He said this in an interview with Quartz when discussing food security in the era of climate change.

Gates said that food aid is accelerating in response to war, economic turmoil, and climate change—but investment in agricultural research in low-income countries is far lower, and stagnating. Innovations in drought-tolerant seeds custom-made for the climate and crops of African countries, and other bespoke technologies that are well within the reach of scientists, offer a more effective, sustainable path away from hunger. 

The current approach, Gates implied, is a band-aid that fails to heal the underlying wound.

Overall, according to a new report from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world is failing to meet all but two of the 17 “sustainable development goals” that were adopted by the UN in 2015. 

Those two  he said are both related to child mortality: If the current rate of progress continues, the world should hit the goal to bring preventable deaths of children under age 5 to 25 per 1,000 births by 2030, according to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which provides data for the Gates Foundation. 

It should also reach the goal to reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births by 2030.

But other goals related to food and water security, education, the spread of HIV and malaria, and other urgent social, environmental, and health issues, remain out of reach. 

Responding to why it is a problem that the world is spending so much on food aid, he said, “There’s no doubt food aid has saved lots of lives. But it’s very tricky. Sometimes you get too little, sometimes you get too much and you cause the price of food to drop below local farmers’ cost of production and you can actually mess up the normal agricultural markets. 

“In parallel with whatever acute relief is required, you need the idea of inventing better seeds, educating the farmer on using those seeds, getting the credit system to work so that farmers get the fertilizer that they need. So the overall agricultural system is underinvested in.

“There’s no better example of that than looking at the African continent. Given the cost of labor and the availability of land, Africa should be a net food exporter. But because of low productivity, it’s a net food importer. 

“The urgency of the innovation pipeline comes both from the need to get African productivity up, but also the fact that the closer you are to the equator, the more damaging climate change is for agriculture. And Africa is the last place in the world where you have significant population growth. So it’s a huge challenge.”

Suggesting the right approach to solve food insecurity, he said “Our goal for the public seed research system is to get up to $2 billion a year by 2030. And I don’t know if we’ll get there. That’s something that should be very affordable.”

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