January 26, 2018 / 4:00 PM / 6 months ago

'Super' crops and cows - Bill Gates, UK inject cash into farm science

LONDON, Jan 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The world’s farmers took one step closer to growing “super crops” and breeding higher-yielding dairy cows as Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest men, and Britain announced funding for innovative agricultural projects in Scotland on Friday.

Research that could lead to cows producing more milk, chickens laying better-quality eggs and crops being able to withstand droughts or disease received a funding injection of about $174 million from Britain’s Department for International Development and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“If you care about the poor, you should care about agriculture. And if you care about agriculture, you care about livestock,” Gates told an audience at the University of Edinburgh.

“What that means in this context is helping poor farmers get as much as possible out of their animals.”

Livestock - which include cattle, sheep and goats - are a source of nutrition and income, and a long-term asset for families. Improving their health and productivity can substantially benefit vulnerable farmers who are often one bad harvest away from ruin, Gates said.

The Gates Foundation will invest $40 million in projects to develop livestock vaccines and make them accessible to the poorest small-scale farmers across Africa and South Asia through the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines, a public-private partnership based in Edinburgh.

About 750 million people in low- and middle-income countries depend on livestock farming, says the International Livestock Research Institute, with the sector accounting for 40 percent of agricultural GDP globally.

“We think that the result of this investment will help 100 million African farmers, but also give a pay-back to UK farmers as well, as disease doesn’t stop at borders,” Penny Mordaunt, Britain’s international development minister, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone from Scotland.

Mordaunt said the urgency of the task was clear and the research being funded would have a dramatic impact.

Britain will support CGIAR, a global research body, with funding of £90 million ($128.25 million) over three years to deliver new farm technologies that will support food security by producing more nutritious and climate-resilient crops.

A further £4 million ($5.7 million) will be invested in the Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health, a joint venture in Edinburgh and Nairobi that aims to improve the productivity and health of livestock in sub-Saharan Africa, using the latest genetic technologies.

$1 = 0.7018 pounds Reporting by Adela Suliman; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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