Speaking at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs' Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security, Bill Gates called on the United States and other donor countries to boost their investments in agricultural development, which he said is critical to helping farming families overcome poverty and hunger.
In his first major address on agriculture to high-level members of the Obama administration and Congress, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation co-chair noted that three-quarters of the world's poorest people rely on small plots of land for their food and income. By helping them grow and sell more, they can become self-sufficient, which Gates said is the most effective way to reduce hunger and poverty. Gates also praised the U.S. for helping to secure $22 billion in commitments to food security announced at the G8 and G20 meetings in 2009, and noted that his foundation and its partners have focused their efforts on helping farmers get better seeds, healthier soils, and access to markets while also supporting better data and policies.
Released at the symposium, the 2011 Progress Report on U.S. Leadership in Global Agricultural Development (59 pages, PDF) found that pivotal changes — specifically within organizations that administer agricultural development assistance like the U.S. Agency for International Development — have put the U.S. in a position to lead global efforts on food security. Funded by the Gates Foundation, the report also calls on the U.S. to step up its agricultural development work, especially since food insecurity will continue to be exacerbated by global population growth.
"We have a big budget deficit, and foreign assistance is always an easy target," said Gates. "So we need to tell people over and over why this spending is worth it — even in tight economic times....In country after country, these approaches have improved the livelihoods of small farmers while reducing poverty and increasing economic growth. It's proving the point again and again: helping poor farming families grow more crops and get them to market is the world's single most powerful lever for reducing poverty and hunger."