Inside the Gates Foundation's War on the World's Biggest Health Problem

When you think of the world's largest health problem, you may land on the usual suspects, such as heart disease, cancer, AIDS, or malaria. But it turns out that the world's biggest health challenge isn't a disease at all. It's malnutrition. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has one of its many sights set on eradicating this global scourge with its latest $45.7 million grant to the African Agricultural Technology Foundation.

Related: Gates Foundation: Grants for Global Health

The Gates Foundation is well known for granting away massive amounts of money. The African Agricultural Technology Foundation grant, which spans five years and three months, is the largest grant in agricultural development the foundation has given away this year. The focus of the grant? Maize, or as we in the States like to call it — corn.

Here's a little fun fact. In most parts of the world, the word corn refers to the seeds of any grain, such as barley or wheat. The term maize is used because it refers specifically to one grain — what we call corn. Corn isn't a popular grain simply because it's delicious. No, corn is popular the world over because it has so many different uses and can grow and thrive in a number of different climates. Another fun fact: Maize is a water-efficient crop, making it perfect for the drought-plagued African continent. But the plant still needs enough water to grow "knee high by July," as a good corn crop is described in the farming vernacular.

The problem for farmers living in these hot and dry climes is discovering which cultivar of corn to plant. Planting an entire crop, crossing their fingers, and willing it grow aren't really an option.

The African Agricultural Technology Foundation will put the Gates Foundation grant to use by developing and distributing to small African farms maize hybrids that tolerate drought, are higher yielding, and are insect resistant. The logic isn't rocket science — more food feeds more people.

With more than 2 billion people in the world suffering from malnutrition, the more crops one farm can yield, the better. Not only is the work of the Gates Foundation and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation important in the here and now — it's important for the future as well. Experts estimate that the world population will grow to 9 billion people by 2050. This means that global food production will have to increase by 70 percent to 100 percent  from its current levels. If this doesn't happen, we can only imagine how much worse global malnutrition will become.

Related: Trevor Mundel