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Gates backs ‘super’ cows and crops

Investments will be targeted at innovations that will aid poor farmers around the globe

Computer mogul Bill Gates is backing agriculture innovation in a big way.

He’s funding research into “super crops” and breeding higher-yielding dairy cows along with the British government, he announced recently in Scotland.

The work could lead to cows producing more milk, chickens laying better-quality eggs and crops being able to withstand droughts or disease, and received a funding injection of about US$174 million from Britain’s Department for International Development and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“If you care about the poor, you should care about agriculture. And if you care about agriculture, you care about livestock,” Gates told an audience at the University of Edinburgh.

“What that means in this context is helping poor farmers get as much as possible out of their animals.”

Livestock — mainly cattle, sheep and goats — are a source of nutrition and income, and a long-term asset for families. Improving their health and productivity can substantially benefit vulnerable farmers who are often one bad harvest away from ruin, Gates said.

The Gates Foundation will invest US$40 million in projects to develop livestock vaccines and make them accessible to the poorest small-scale farmers across Africa and South Asia through the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines, a public-private partnership based in Edinburgh.

About 750 million people in low- and middle-income countries depend on livestock farming, says the International Livestock Research Institute, with the sector accounting for 40 per cent of agricultural GDP globally.

“We think that the result of this investment will help 100 million African farmers, but also give a payback to U.K. farmers as well, as disease doesn’t stop at borders,” Penny Mordaunt, Britain’s international development minister, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone from Scotland.

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