A Jack of All Trades: The King of Silicon Valley Weighs in on International Agriculture



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By: Alex Crawley, Staff Member

Although Bill Gates is probably most famous for being the self-made billionaire who created the powerhouse Microsoft, he has recently made headlines for issues far removed from software.[1] Lately, he has been speaking out about the funding for agricultural research, or rather, the lack thereof.[2] In addition to speaking out on BBC’S Today,[3] he recently devoted nearly his entire annual letter on behalf of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which was twenty-four pages long, to the issue of world hunger and to encouraging investment into agricultural research.[4]

Gates’ letter focuses mainly on the “15% of the world [just over 1 billion people] in extreme poverty.” [5] He is urging more people to “mak[e] the choice to keep on helping extremely poor people build self-sufficiency,” and emphasizing that, while farming is integral to poor countries, rich countries have largely turned their backs on agriculture.[6] Considering that only $3 billion per year is spent globally on agricultural research, he has a valid point.[7]

The Gates Foundation has spent about $2 billion dollars over the past five years to supplement research that would help to alleviate the global food crisis.[8] Gates is especially focused on the research into genetically modified foods, and has specifically praised the work of Norman Bourlaug, a Nobel Prize winner who helped create new strains of wheat that were resistant to wheat stem rust, a fungus that had previously plagued wheat crops.[9] He is advocating for more innovations like this one, especially considering that new forms of wheat rust have since developed and moved from Uganda to Iran and Yemen.[10]

Gates’ position on agricultural research has created some otherwise unlikely allies and piqued the interest of many. The Crop Protection Association Society has endorsed his view internationally, and has agreed that “high-tech food production systems” are an integral part of the answer to “the food poverty crisis.”[11] Meanwhile, U.S. groups, like the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, have also taken an interest.[12]

Gates’ plea comes at a crucial time. The EU’s policies are currently inhibiting innovative agricultural research,[13] and the USDA has recently decreased its research centers in response to congressional budget cuts.[14] The Gates Foundation, however, has given grants to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations[15] and the International Food Policy Research Institute.[16] Hopefully, the Gate’s Foundation good-will initiative will inspire other organizations to invest in this area “where there is less profit opportunity but where the impact for those in need is very high.”[17] Otherwise, “one in seven people will continue living needlessly on the edge of starvation.”[18]

[1] Logan Hawkes, GMO Crops Get Big Backer in Bill Gates, Western Farm Press, 1 (Feb. 1, 2012, 11:21 AM), http://westernfarmpress.com/government/gmo-crops-get-big-backer-bill-gates?page=1.

[2]Gates Foundation Calls for More Ag Research Funding, The United States Agricultural & Food Law and Policy Blog, http://www.agandfoodlaw.com/2012/02/gates-foundation-calls-for-more-ag.html.

[3]Dan Colombini & Mike Stones, Bill Gates and CPA Urge Support for GM Techniques, Foodmanufacture.co.uk (Jan. 25, 2012), http://www.foodmanufacture.co.uk/World-News/Bill-Gates-and-CPA-urge-support-for-GM-techniques.

[4]Hawkes, supra note 1.

[5]2012 Annual Letter From Bill Gates, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 1 (Jan. 2012), http://www.gatesfoundation.org/annual-letter/2012/Documents/2012-annual-letter-english.pdf.

[6] 2012 Annual Letter From Bill Gates, supra note 5 at.

[7] 2012 Annual Letter From Bill Gates, supra note 5at 3.

[8] Hawkes, supra note 1.

[9] 2012 Annual Letter From Bill Gates, supra note 5 at 5.

[10] 2012 Annual Letter From Bill Gates, supra note 5 at 5.

[11] Colombini & Stones, supra note 3.

[12] Bill Gates and CPA Urge Support for GM Techniques, U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (Jan. 25, 2012) http://usfraonline.org/2012/01/bill-gates-and-cpa-urge-support-for-gm-techniques/.

[13] Colombini & Stones, supra note 3.

[14] Hawkes, supra note 1 at 2.

[15] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Nov. 2011), http://www.gatesfoundation.org/Grants-2011/Pages/Food-and-Agriculture-Organization-of-the-United-Nations-OPP1029955.aspx.

[16] International Food Policy Research Institute, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Nov. 2011), http://www.gatesfoundation.org/Grants-2011/Pages/International-Food-Policy-Research-Institute-OPPGD1451.aspx.

[17] 2012 Annual Letter From Bill Gates, supra note 5.

[18] 2012 Annual Letter From Bill Gates, supra note 5.