Gates Foundation announces major $1.4bn drive to help small-scale farms

Funds will help those most vulnerable - yet most vital - to world food security adapt to climate change

Somalis displaced by drought settle at a camp. Less than 2 per cent of global climate finance is devoted to helping small farmers cope with climate change. AP
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The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Monday announced a major $1.4 billion initiative to help smallholder farmers cope with climate change.

The drive, unveiled at Cop27 in Egypt, aims to recognise the importance of small-scale farms in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia to the global food system and do more to help them adapt to the changing climate.

It comes as the United Nations last week warned that the world was not doing enough to help poorer nations adapt to the turmoil caused by global warming and said the annual financing need would be $340bn by 2030.

Central to this are small scale farms. More than two billion people depend on smallholder farms for food and income, yet less than 2 per cent of global climate finance is devoted to helping these farms adapt to climate change, the Gates foundation said.

The projects use big data, analytics, and digital platforms that try to boost incomes and food security in small-scale farms.

"From the droughts in the Horn of Africa to the floods in Pakistan and Nigeria, the groups that contributed by far the least to climate change — small-scale agricultural farmers who are the poorest of the poor — are being most affected right now by the impact of climate change," the foundation’s chief executive Mark Suzman, told The National on the sidelines of Cop27.

A Pakistani girl crosses a flooded street in the Jaffarabad district of Balochistan province last month. The country recently experienced its worst floods in more than a decade. AFP

“It is a moral and practical imperative that the world gets much more serious about investing in global climate adaption. The needs are critical."

Four-year farm funding plan

The foundation will fund initiatives over four years to help smallholder farmers to boost digital technologies, spur African-led innovation and build support for female smallholder farmers to capitalise on their untapped potential.

“Women in rural Africa are the backbone of their food systems, but they have never had equal access to the resources they need to reach their full potential or build resilience to looming climate threats,” said Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the foundation.

“As the climate crisis accelerates, women’s vital role in their economies is too important to overlook. With the right financing and marketing support, women smallholder farmers could earn more in a day than they currently earn in a month, ultimately transforming these regional food systems and unlocking a healthier, more sustainable and more prosperous future for families and communities across the continent," she said.

Mr Suzman said the challenging geopolitical backdrop made it difficult to for countries to focus on the key issue of climate change.

“It is absolutely not moving fast enough," he said, when asked if countries were doing enough to tackle climate change.

"That’s where we see a role for philanthropy like ours."

The foundation will work with partners such as the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the CGIAR Excellence in Agronomy that works with African research institutes, local businesses and farmer organisations to distribute the funds.

It will also work on other projects to develop a text-messaging weather system for farmers and strive to improve the health of livestock and reduce the carbon footprint of small holdings.

“The climate crisis is causing enormous harm every day as it jeopardises entire regions of people and economies,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the foundation.

“More funding is necessary to ensure agricultural and technological innovations are widely available to vulnerable communities, helping them to adapt to climate change, save lives and increase economic growth.”

Cop27 continues in Sharm El Sheikh until November 18.

Cop27 - in pictures

Updated: November 07, 2022, 2:58 PM