How the Gates Foundation Supports Food Security in Insecure Countries

For many countries, the strength and stability of the economy rests in the strength of the agricultural industry. If the farmers are in trouble, the industry suffers, and if the industry suffers, so do the local and national economies. This is true for many parts of the world, with Africa often leading the pack. Through its Global Development Program, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently awarded Michigan State University (MSU) $7.8 million to help farmers in eight African nations improve farming methods and create more efficient and sustainable markets for small farmers.

Related: Gates Foundation: Grants for Global Development

The research work will take place over the next four years, focusing on the African nations of Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Zambia, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. MSU researchers will work with local universities, organizations, institutes, and government ministries to promote viable strategies to ensure these small farms are more productive, working toward food security and economic stability.

The initial focus of this program centers on the seed development, crop rotation, and fertilization of maize, sorghum, and rice crops. Focusing on the entire life cycle of these crops from seed to market will help researchers identify best practices to increase agricultural productivity in Africa. These practices can then help other African governments to do the same.

MSU and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation believe that raising the agricultural productivity of the small farmer will eventually have a ripple effect on the local communities and the country as a whole. The initial impact will be for the individual farmer. If these small farmers can increase productivity, they will become more food secure. If the implementation of the sustainable farming methods learned through this research allows the farmers to produce surplus crops, they can sell the surplus — helping them to become more economically secure. This individual economic security then spills over into local and eventually national economic development and security.

This latest $7.8 million the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation award to MSU follows a $4 million grant to the university in 2008. That award focused on analyzing and developing an agricultural marketing trade system in Africa. After all, if the farmers can't sell their surplus crops in a relatively efficient marketing trade system, it defeats the purpose of learning the best methods to grow the surplus crops in the first place.