Bill Gates urges agencies to help poor farmers

Says ‘report cards’ show what works

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ROME Bill Gates pressed U.N. food agencies on Thursday to become more efficient in helping poor farmers and to set up a kind of accountability “report card” for countries receiving aid as he announced nearly $200 million in grants from his foundation.

The Microsoft founder brought his campaign to fight poverty and hunger in Africa and Asia to a forum of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), one of three Rome-based U.N. food agencies.

He called on the trio of agencies to improve coordination among themselves and to insist that the countries receiving food aid, agriculture technology, know-how and other assistance show what they have accomplished with periodic reports he likened to “report cards” or “scorecards.”

That also could focus donor attention on what works.

“Without the scorecard, donors tend to fund fad-oriented, short-order things,” Mr. Gates later told a small group of journalists.

Much of about $2 billion spent by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation over the past five years to fight poverty and hunger in Africa and Asia has gone toward improving agricultural productivity.

The foundation initially focused on “inequities in global health,” Mr. Gates said, but expanded to agricultural projects after “we realized that many of the poorest people in the world were small farmers.”

The foundation, which he co-chairs with his wife, Melinda, is based in Seattle.

Mr. Gates urged the U.N. agencies to commit to measurable targets for increasing agricultural productivity but to take into consideration that advances in farming, such as for plant breeding, can take several years.

When pressed for time frames, he gave, as way of example, five to six years for livestock-vaccination programs.

But he also advocated taking immediate advantage of high-tech methods - such as genomic science - to improve plant breeding more quickly than with traditional methods.

“[The] use of such techniques can make the difference between suffering and self-sufficiency” for small farmers in developing countries, he said.

Among the projects receiving funding from the foundation is one to monitor the effects of agricultural productivity on a region’s population and environment.

Other grants will build on existing projects, including the release of 34 new varieties of drought-tolerant maize and the delivery of vaccines to tens of millions of heads of livestock.

Mr. Gates has embraced high-tech - and to some critics controversial - solutions for boosting agriculture, including supporting genetic modification in plant breeding as a way to fight starvation and malnutrition.

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