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Bill Gates at Davos: Rethinking How to Feed the World

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'Global food demand will double between now and 2050 as the world’s population reaches 9.2 billion.'

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How can the increased demand for food be met in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner?
Proposed Goals:
• Ensure there is no hungry or malnourished child by 2020
• Double food production in Africa over the next 10 years
• Double the income of small farmers so they can feed themselves and make money
• View Africa as the continent to feed the world; the average African farmer feeds two people, the European 130 – better technology and financial resources can change this
• Double agricultural investment throughout the world; post-harvest waste should be halved
• Eliminate trade barriers and subsidies to improve worldwide food production

One billion people suffer from malnutrition throughout the world. This is the single-most important – and neglected – issue on the global agenda. Feeding the planet’s population is a huge challenge. Today there are 6.2 billion people; by 2050 the number is expected to rise to 9.2 billion. Nevertheless, there is no reason why this challenge cannot be overcome. Sufficient land, water, technology and skills are available. What needs to happen, however, is to overcome the constraints.

The issue is not just that the world’s population will grow by 50% over the next 40 years. The need for agricultural products will double. Agricultural investment and innovation will need to increase in the short term. But technology alone is not enough; farmers require more education and collaboration. There are other challenges, too, such as climate change or the wasted use of available food resources for the production of biofuel. There also has been a shift in the type of food wanted with populations moving increasingly to urban areas.

Africa has not yet had a green revolution. It is critical to invest in approaches that go beyond. This means working with traditional methods, but also finding the most appropriate scientific expertise for responding to these problems. Transgenic solutions, such as wheat or rice with resistant genes, may prove more effective, but countries themselves need to decide which genes are safe. A lot of data and information is available on the benefits of genetically-modified seeds. These can help bridge the gap.

Food security is not just an economic or humanitarian issue. It also affects social and political stability. However, to ensure food security, both productivity and distribution need to be improved. This means making better use of science and new technologies. For some countries, genetically modified crops are not necessarily required if self-sufficient. Improving food productivity is important, but so is ensuring that crops reach their markets. An enormous amount of post-harvest waste can be remedied through better management and storage.

Other forms of intervention can make significant differences, such as improved mechanization. In Africa, only 10% of agriculture is done by tractor. Irrigation, too, needs to be increased. Four percent of the land in Africa is artificially watered, compared to 20% in Asia. More high-yield seeds and fertilizer also need to be used. In Tanzania, only 9 kg of fertilizers per hectare are spread, compared to 50 kg in South Africa. Another challenge is making more trained extension workers available to local farmers. A further factor is the need to involve women more. Women are at the centre of agriculture in Africa, and yet only receive a fraction of the training. Another issue is helping farmers, particularly those without properly defined land rights, to receive better access to loan credits.

The elimination of farm subsidies, trade tariffs and price controls can contribute enormously to greater productivity. Protectionism tends to benefit farmers in the richer countries rather than those in the developing world. This can lead to huge disparities. But subsidies are also a huge waste of money. Far more effective would be to channel such funds into development aid. These could then be applied to improve storage facilities or the quality and quantity of rice or coffee production. A better environment for investment is needed, particularly for the small farmer.

Session Panellists
William H. Gates III, Co-Chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USA
Jakaya M. Kikwete, President of Tanzania
Ellen Kullman, Chair of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, DuPont, USA
Nguyen Tan Dung, Prime Minister of Vietnam; Chair, 2010 ASEAN
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director, World Bank, Washington DC; 
Patricia A. Woertz, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), USA

Moderated by Prannoy Roy, Chairman, New Delhi Television (NDTV), India