For more than a billion people living in the world’s poorest countries, agriculture and livestock are a “lifeline out of poverty,” according to Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
On Friday, Gates headed to the University of Edinburgh for the unveiling of a “cutting-edge” crop research project that is set to help up to 100 million African farmers lift themselves out of poverty.
The aim is to develop more nutritious crops, that can also resist the challenges of disease and extreme weather conditions, that present an ever-greater threat globally.
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The UK’s international development secretary Penny Mordaunt announced the project, which has been supported by funding from both the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and UK aid.
“The science and research being led by the great minds here in Edinburgh are making huge strides in improving the health and productivity of livestock,” said Gates.
The Microsoft founder added that it was “great” to have the chance to “see how the UK’s leadership in research and innovation doesn’t just benefit Britain, but also saves and improves lives in the poorest parts of the world.”
Research by UK scientists is identifying the specific genes that help crops become more nutritious, grow faster, and become more resilient to adverse weather conditions — such as flooding and drought.
In Kenya, for example, two years of failed rains have left 3.4 million people in need of food aid, and 480,000 children needing treatment for acute malnutrition. It’s the worst humanitarian crisis the country has faced since 2011, and it’s likely to continue claiming lives well into 2018.
British scientists are also working to tackle the diseases that cause devastating economic loss for farmers in Africa, including Animal African Trypanosomiasis (AAT) — which kills more than 3 million cattle a year, and is estimated to cost African economies more than $4 billion a year.
But, experts estimate, a drug to treat the disease will be available within the next 5 years.
The research — which received £90 million in government funding, and £28 million from the Gates Foundation — is also be a serious advantage for British farmers, because it is working to find solutions to these diseases before they reach the UK
Mordaunt, who is announcing the research, said: “Unpredictable flooding, plant diseases, and drought are threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of farmers in Africa who struggle to grow enough crops to put food on then table — the urgency of the task is clear.”
“That’s why UK aid is supporting British scientists to develop new crops that are more productive, more nutritious, and more resistant to droughts and flooding, as well as creating new medicines to protect cattle and poultry from devastating disease,” she added.
She said that new ideas and innovations such as this “will help Britain create a healthier, more secure, and prosperous world for us all.”
Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals, which include actions against hunger, and climate change. UK aid plays a significant part in this effort, by working to help people lift themselves out of extreme poverty. You can join us by taking action here.
Disclosure: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a funding partner of Global Citizen.
Editor's note: This piece has been updated to include a disclosure that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a funding partner of Global Citizen. We regret the oversight.