Africa Farms Get Massive Pledge to Spur "Green Revolution"

September 15, 2006

Two major U.S. philanthropic groups will spend $150 million (U.S.) over the next five years to bring a "green revolution" to Africa's small farms.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation last week announced that they will contribute $100 million and $50 million respectively to help Africa's rural farmers boost food production.

Working together as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, the foundations are seeking to develop and secure access to higher-yield, drought-resistant seed varieties that will grow in Africa's nutritionally spent soil.

Officials say the cooperative effort is the first phase of a long-term commitment to boost food security on the continent, which has 16 of the 18 most undernourished countries in the world (map of Africa).

"Today no country of any size has been able to sustain a transition out of poverty without substantially raising productivity in the agricultural sector," Bill Gates, co-chairman of the Gates Foundation, said during a conference call with journalists last week.

Variety of Efforts

The aim of the new program is to give African farmers science and technology benefits that have largely flowed to rich countries.

Roy Steiner, a Gates foundation program director, says most of the $36 billion spent globally on agriculture research every year is geared toward large farmers and wealthy consumers.

For example, "one of the fast-growing research areas focuses on golf grass," he said.

The new initiative is modeled after the Rockefeller-funded Green Revolution, a massive philanthropic and governmental effort that brought high-yield grains, pesticides, and management techniques to developing countries in Asia and Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s.

Though criticized by some experts for its ecological impacts, the revolution is widely seen as having significantly boosted cereal-grain production in those regions.

The alliance will support the Program for Africa's Seed Systems (PASS), which has earmarked $43 million to 40 national breeding programs. Efforts to get the new seed to farmers though community seed systems and seed companies will get $24 million.

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