U.S. Must Lead Fight Against Hunger — Bill Gates

Billionaire Bill Gates knows how to end the poverty and hunger that afflicts nearly one billion people worldwide – help them grow more food.

At a food security conference May 24, Gates called for U.S. leadership in a global campaign to expand food production. Agriculture ministers of the Group of 20 major developing and emerging economies meet in June, with farm and rural development a top issue.

Near-record food prices this year have focused attention on scanty grain reserves amid rising demand from a growing world population that increasingly wants meat on its plate.

Although hunger is a longtime scourge, Gates said he was optimistic it could be eased by a sustained focus on subsistence farmers who account for three-fourths of the poor and malnourished of the world.

Investment in high-yielding seeds, better farming techniques, improved tools and sales outlets “is strikingly effective,” he said.

“It’s proving the point over and over 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,” said Gates.

In 2009, the G8 group of rich nations pledged $22 billion in public funds to achieve long-lasting global food security, including some $3.5 billion from the United States. About half of the pledged money has been contributed so far.

The United Nations estimates the world population will grow by one-third, to 9.3 billion, by 2050. Per capita demand for meat will double and demand for grain will rise by 70 per cent by then, the International Food Policy Research Institute said May 24.

The $34-billion Gates Foundation, the largest U.S. philanthropy, has made $1.7 billion in grants to agricultural projects in the past five years.

Gates said a common goal of these projects, mainly in Africa and South Asia, is to triple productivity in 15 years.

The foundation helped finance development of a flood-tolerant rice strain that is being adopted in Asia.

The United States will devote some $950 million this fiscal year to “Feed the Future,” the government’s initiative for global agriculture and rural development, said Rajiv Shah, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the conference’s opening speaker.

This amount is part of the funds pledged by President Barack Obama in 2009 as part of the G8 effort.

The Chicago Council for Global Affairs, sponsor of the day-long symposium, gave the United States an overall grade of “B-minus” for leadership in agricultural development. Projects such as Feed the Future got a “B-plus” but U.S. lack of progress on removal of barriers to development rated a “D.”

A 2012 overhaul of U.S. farm policy provides an opportunity “to rethink these important issues,” said the council in a report.

Fiscal 2012 funding for the major U.S. food aid program, Food for Progress, would be cut by 30 per cent, to $1 billion, in a bill approved by a U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee. A program that provides school meals in the developing world would be cut by 10 per cent, to $180 million.

Subcommittee chairman Jack Kingston, a Republican, said the proposed cuts were part of belt tightening for many Agriculture Department programs amid efforts to contain budget deficits.

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