New Green Revolution to end hunger

Updated: 2013-03-27 07:15

By Bill Gates (China Daily)

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In 1968, when I was in high school, a book titled The Population Bomb was published. The author, Paul Erlich, began the book with this statement: "The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate" I knew very little about farming then, but was frightened by the vision and wondered if anyone could prevent this future state.

Fortunately, due in large part to the individual dynamism and genius of a man named Norman Borlaug, this dire prediction did not come true. Borlaug, along with Yuan Longping and other researchers, identified new seed varieties for rice, wheat and maize, launching the "Green Revolution" in the 1960s that helped farmers double and triple their yields around the world.

But the benefits of the Green Revolution didn't reach every region of the world; yields in Africa are still dismally low and farmers continue to face tough conditions to grow their crops. Climate change has contributed to an increase in droughts and floods in tropical regions, which is a huge challenge for smallholder farmers living there.

Today, almost a billion people are affected by severe hunger and poverty. It is a horrible irony that so many of those who go to bed hungry are the same people growing and harvesting food. But poor farmers are not the problem to be fixed, they are the solution.

At our foundation, we put the smallholder farmer at the center of our work, we believe by listening to their needs and understanding the crops they want to grow, the food they want to eat, we will make the right investments and find the best innovations to help drive a new Green Revolution in Africa.

China is one of our key partners, with rich experience and deep expertise in agriculture, which can help accelerate progress in poor countries. China is also a world leader in rice breeding.

We are thrilled to be partnering with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences to develop a series of new rice varieties, Green Super Rice. The new rice varieties will mean farmers have to use less inputs - so they don't need to rely as much on fertilizer and water. Green Super Rice has been introduced to some African and Asian countries for early trials. In some pilot countries, it has helped smallholder farmers increase production by 20 percent. The next step is to share China's promising results with other poor countries, and help farming families increase productivity in an affordable and sustainable way.

The innovations in gene sequencing, led by Chinese scientists at the Beijing Genome Institute, could also lead to dramatic productivity gains. Historically, it would take years for crop breeders to find and cross breed the right combination of seed variants to deliver higher yielding seed varieties. Now, however, scientists can sequence the genomes of thousands of plants and use computer algorithms to predict which combinations will work best, greatly simplifying and accelerating this process and the potential gains for farmers.

Imagine the analogy of a large public library with rooms full of books. We used to have to use the card catalogue and browse through the books to find the information we needed. Now we know the precise page that contains the piece of information we need. In the same way, we can find out precisely which plant contains a gene conferring a specific characteristic.

It is exciting to be partnering with BGI in this initiative, working with some of the best scientists, and the best technology to drive progress for the poorest people in the world.

Beyond agricultural innovation, China has rich experience and significant potential in bio-gas, vaccine R&D and manufacture, and medicine research, which are critical for helping the poorest in Africa to alleviate poverty and live productive lives. We are pleased to cooperate with the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology to co-invest in these innovative programs for the poorest in Africa and around the world.

The author is co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

(China Daily 03/27/2013 page8)