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Gates pushes UN food agencies to do more to help poor
February 23, 2012 / 4:25 PM / 6 years ago

Gates pushes UN food agencies to do more to help poor

* Gates says global food system is outdated, inefficient

* Urges agencies to set a common goal for raising farm productivity

* Says new technologies can help in fight against hunger

By Catherine Hornby

ROME, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates told the United Nations’ hunger-fighting agencies they were inefficient and urged their leaders on Thursday to set new targets, redirect resources and turn to technology to make better progress.

The Microsoft founder’s $34 billion foundation, one of the world’s most generous, said the three Rome-based agencies should set a goal for raising farm productivity and introduce a system of scoring states publicly for their efforts to reduce poverty.

“The world’s agriculture and food system is now outdated and inefficient,” Gates told a conference at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

“Countries, food agencies, and donors aren’t working together in a focused and coordinated way to provide the help small farmers need, when they need it.”

The 66-year-old Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which has previously faced criticism for weak governance and a lack of transparency, needed to focus more on ensuring individual country programmes lead to improvements, Gates said.

A scorecard system whereby states are rated in areas such as seed development and farmer education could help, he said.

Gates said he expected the FAO’s new leader Jose Graziano da Silva, who took over in January, to take critics’ views on board and redirect resources, cut bureaucracy and reduce duplication.

Price volatility and the economic slowdown could increase the number of people at risk of hunger in the world. The FAO in 2010 estimated up to 925 million people were at risk.

FRESH GRANTS

A global food price crisis in 2008 highlighted years of chronic under-investment in agriculture in developing countries.

Gates urged the IFAD, the FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP) to take advantage of new technology such as genome science, which has made it easier to breed plants.

He also said data collection by satellite was a good way to free up people for other critical work.

“If we do connect breakthrough science to the people who need it most, they will leapfrog generations of innovation they missed,” he said.

Gates’ foundation, which is devoted largely to funding health projects in developing countries, launched its agriculture programme in 2006.

On Thursday, he announced an additional $200 million worth of grants, bringing the foundation’s total commitment to smallholder farmers to more than $2 billion. (Editing by Sophie Hares)

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