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Sharon Farmer, Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation/AP

Bill Gates Takes Innovative Approach to African Agriculture

September 29, 2008 09:47 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
With outside help, African countries seem to be turning an agricultural corner, focusing on education and technology to increase production and become self-sufficient.

Making Progress

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While Congress struggles with a bailout plan, other influential barons are putting their money to use elsewhere. Bill Gates and Howard Buffett have donated more than $75 million toward “helping small farmers in Africa and Latin America to sell their crops as food aid,” reports Time magazine.

The duo’s foundations have spearheaded a five-year program called Purchase for Progress, which will help small farmers cultivate crops for the UN World Food Program, a major distributor of food in Africa. The program is innovative because funds will go toward agricultural education, helping farmers with crop storage, the planting of more effective seeds and transportation of produce to market, rather than just buying farmers’ crops.

Purchase for Progress was announced Sept. 24, on the heels of a discussion led by Kofi Annan earlier this month, which focused on the need for a food chain revolution. According to BusinessWeek, Annan feels that “neglect of agriculture” is “the underlying cause of African poverty,” and pointed to the World Bank’s “misguided policies” as further cause.

To cope with food shortages, some African countries have begun accepting genetically modified (GM) food and crops, such as drought-resistant maize. According to the BBC, “GM has for years been viewed with suspicion across the continent,” but today, the emphasis is on developing “Africa solutions to African problems,” whether GM or not.

Although Europe has banned GM food, Africans have recognized that their situation is unique, and requires innovative solutions. Dr. Mpoko Bokanga, a leading figure in Africa’s GM movement, said, “Europe is at a different situation in terms of food production, they have surplus. In Africa, we have deficit.”

Background: GM crops in Africa

In January 2006, a Mali “citizens jury” voted against introducing GM crops. The jurors instead “proposed a package of recommendations to strengthen traditional agricultural practice and support local farmers,” according to the International Institute for Environment and Development.

Birama Kone, a small farmer who served on the jury said, “GM crops are associated with the kind of farming that marginalises the mutual help and co-operation among farmers and our social and cultural life.”

Related: Farming failure and success in Malawi, India

Opinion & Analysis: The case against GM

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