Gates Foundation partners with Brits to boost food production

In case you missed it, food has played a big part in the uprising now rocking and re-shaping the Middle East.

Planting in Kenya

That’s not why the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has decided to put up $70 million in partnership with the UK’s lead aid agency (aka DFID, Department for International Development), which is donating $32 million, to support agricultural research aimed at improving food production in Africa and Asia.

But it’s worth noting that food insecurity leads to political instability, which leads to economic instability … and so on.

If you still can’t figure out why you should care about people in Africa going hungry, consider that you probably also used to think Egyptian politics didn’t really affect you. They do, and they will. Pay attention.

Reuters reports:

Amid global unrest over food security, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said it was forging a new effort to support agricultural research projects in Africa and Asia aimed at helping small farmers increase crop yields and farm incomes.

One large problem that you haven’t heard of but could use a techno-fix is wheat rust. Here is the Gates Foundation’s good overview of the problem as well as an article by AllAfrica.com about the new Gates-UK partnership’s focus on this crop disease.

As the Reuters story also notes, the Gates Foundation’s work on agricultural development for poor countries tends to favor technological solutions and western industrial agricultural approaches.This has led some to criticize the strategy since these approaches have typically worked to benefit large agri-corporations like Cargill, ADM and Monsanto to the detriment of small farmers.

Some critics say it is the power and economic imbalance of the international food market operated by these large firms — not a lack of food production — that is causing the food shortages. The Gates Foundation, however, wants to launch a Green Revolution for Africa aimed at improving smallholder farmers’ crop yield, increasing access to markets and working at the grassroots level.

An op-ed for Digital Journal probes deeper into this debate and asks “Is the Gates Foundation Helping or Hindering Food Shortages?

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.