When it comes to philanthropists who are especially gifted at finding practical ways to improve our world, Microsoft founder Bill Gates may ultimately prove to be the greatest of them all. And some may find it ironic that the man who made his fortune creating software would now focus so much of his time on agriculture.
While we’ve been focused on the growing profits and land prices enjoyed by American farmers, it’s easy to forget that our farming colleagues around the world aren’t faring nearly so well. We are indebted to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for its work in identifying this massive challenge and allocating $2 billion to helping poor farm families around the world.
Gates’ annual letter paints a stark picture: “Right now, just over 1 billion people — about 15 percent of the people in the world — live in extreme poverty. On most days, they worry about whether their family will have enough food to eat. There is irony in this, since most of them live and work on farms. The problem is that their farms, which tend to be just a couple acres in size, don’t produce enough food for a family to live on,” says Gates.
Pointing to the improvements brought about by past innovation, such as new seed varieties for rice, wheat and corn, Gates believes we can do even better by funding more innovation.
“The world faces a clear choice. If we invest relatively modest amounts, many more poor farmers will be able to feed their families. If we don’t, one in seven people will continue living needlessly on the edge of starvation,” says Gates.
I, for one, am grateful for the generosity and good work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which reminds me that those of us who are so blessed in American agriculture today should remember those who are not.