The Gates Foundation in Africa
At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we believe an open exchange of ideas is essential to tackling urgent global challenges. Our approach to agricultural development recognizes hunger as a complex challenge with no single solution. It is unfortunate that Raj Patel et al., the authors of “Ending Africa’s Hunger” [Sept. 21], chose to mischaracterize the foundation’s strategy despite our detailed and frank conversations.
We support a broad range of solutions. In addition to quality seeds, small farmers need locally appropriate farming practices, access to markets and a policy environment that supports their success. We invest in all these areas. Environmental sustainability is critical for long-term impact, which is why we fund projects like micro-irrigation for efficient water use and planting legumes among other crops to fertilize the soil naturally. We also recently made a grant to Worldwatch Institute to undertake a comprehensive study of the highly complex intersection between the environment and agriculture.
Women do the majority of the farm work in Africa, so we have funded a major career development program for sub-Saharan women in agricultural research, and another to engage women farmers in agricultural policy development.
Our agricultural work is focused on helping small farmers to live healthier, more productive lives. The “uniquely African Green Revolution,” called for by African leaders in 2004, recognizes that reducing hunger and poverty begins with such farmers and their families, and that is why we and our partners are working to ensure that their voices are heard and their needs are met. Ultimately, it will be up to countries and farmers themselves to decide what approaches are right for them. (See gatesfoundation.org/agriculturaldevelopment/Pages/default.aspx for a detailed overview of our agricultural development strategy.)
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Patel et al. Reply
We agree that an open exchange about Africa’s agricultural development, and the philanthropic interventions to shape it, is tremendously important. We welcome the chance to continue the debate here.
We’re grateful that the Gates Foundation talked with us for over an hour in Seattle and responded to our questions on e-mail, but we note that there is nothing specific in our article with which it disagrees. Mark Suzman seems unhappy that we didn’t faithfully reproduce the foundation’s public relations materials, but that’s not our job. Rather, we strove to put its projects in context, revealing the industrial connections the foundation fails to make evident on its website.
Yes, the Gates Foundation funds the planting of beans and micro-irrigation. But as a proportion of disbursement, these projects are marginal to the technological investments in the development of genetically modified crops. That is why we couldn’t in good conscience report the more trivial examples as representative of the organization’s broader thrust.