Gates agriculture grants focus on seeds, climate

* Drought, flood tolerant crop investments to stay strong

* Climate change seen serious challenge for agriculture

* Govt budget pressures risk cutting aid, research

DES MOINES, Iowa, Oct 14 (BestGrowthStock) – Gates Foundation,
which has donated $1.5 billion to agriculture in developing
countries, is focusing more investments on seeds and technology
to help small farmers adapt to climate change, the foundation’s
chief executive said on Thursday.

“Most of our grants support conventional breeding. But in
certain instances we include biotechnology approaches because
we believe they can help farmers confront drought, flooding,
disease, or pests more effectively than conventional breeding
alone,” Jeff Raikes, chief executive of the foundation started
by the billionaire founder of software giant Microsoft
(MSFT.O: ), said in a speech to the World Food Prize meeting.

Raikes cited recent funding for a project to develop
drought-tolerant corn for African farmers, which is now being
used in Malawi and other countries. Other grants have helped
develop a variety of rice that can tolerate submergence so that
farmers won’t be wiped out by floods.

Gates Foundation, which focuses on aid to small farmers, is
working on multiple fronts to address the problems that climate
change is making for developing nations.

“We’ve known for years that farmers were going to have to
contend with harsher weather, but now we’re getting a clearer
idea of the scale and scope of the crisis,” Raikes said.

“The places that will suffer the most severe weather — the
volatile temperatures, the changing patterns of rainfall, the
droughts and the floods — are the same places where the
poorest farmers live. Their very survival will depend on their
ability to adapt to climate change.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture accounts for about
two-thirds of employment and one-third of total economic
output, according to the Gates Foundation. In South Asia, rural
poverty rates hover near 40 percent.

WATER SCARCE

Raikes said development of crop varieties to resist pests,
diseases and drought were vital but the climate crisis had
sharpened focus on one practical issue: water scarcity.

“Rivers in China are drying up. Groundwater levels in India
are dropping rapidly. And yet, because of rapid population
growth, urbanization, and changing diets, the global demand for
water is on pace to double in just 50 years,” Raikes said.

“Without drastic changes, demand is going to outstrip
supply in the areas where the poorest farmers live.”

Given the growing crisis, Raikes said it was necessary for
both the private sector and governments to resist cutting aid
for developing countries’ agriculture despite recessions.

“We need to remain vigilant in these tough economic times
to make sure that donors follow through on their pledges.
Budget pressures are threatening the progress we’ve been
making,” Raikes said. “The G20 countries pledged $22 billion
last year, but this year it looks unlikely that they’ll meet
their pledges.”
(Reporting by Christine Stebbins; Editing by Peter Bohan and
Cynthia Osterman)

Gates agriculture grants focus on seeds, climate