Farmer Green Bill Gates. Listen, you capitalist laggards!
He isn't talking, but I'm sure it's his latest application of his own innovative idea he calls Creative Capitalism. (I've written about it earlier; see my 'Bill Gates, Nobel Prize for Economics 2008!',' October 2008, americanchronicle.com). I've been using Microsoft applications since I can remember 'Alpha' (Word 1); I've been following up his career and software for better or for worse. If I know Bill Gates from his Microsoft days, he's trying to program it as the industry standard.
Putting his money where his mouth is, Bill Gates gets 5 stars from me, a critic of capitalism - and Microsoft. He announced that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was granting a total of $120 million to 9 pro-poor farmer green groups, according to the news, about his 'call for united action to support world's poorest farmers' (ANN, 15 October, reuters.com):
$15 million, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa: The AGRA Policy Program
$10 million, American Institutes for Research (AIR): Farmer Voice Radio
$4.7 million, Grameen Foundation: Building a Network of Community Knowledge Workers
$18 million, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics: Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE) of Sorghum and Millets
$21.25 million, International Potato Center: Sweet Potato Action for Security and Health in Africa (SASHA)
$10.4 million, New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and Michigan State University (MSU): African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE)
$12 million, Partnership for Child Development (PCD): Home-Grown School Feeding
$9.7 million, Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN): Developing Farm-Based Livelihoods in Endemically Poor Regions of India
$19 million, Wageningen University: Putting Nitrogen Fixation to Work for Small-Holder Farmers in Africa (NforAfrica).
I have a problem with that! There's been some mistake, and I don't think I can forgive the one who erred on the side of more.
And I can't decide who the culprit is. Was it the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation who erred greatly, or was it the calculator built into Microsoft Office 2007 that didn't know My Dear Aunt Sally?
You see, now I'm using Bill Gates' programmer-friendly Word 2007 and I have customized it so that I have the icon for Calculate (Formula) on my Quick Access Toolbar above the Ribbon. As Microsoft instructed me as far back as 13 years ago (Word 1997), if I remember right, I typed these amounts as one paragraph, with only a space to separate the numbers and words:
15 million 10 million 4.7 million 18 million 21.25 million 10.4 million 12 million 9.7 million 19 million
and then selected the whole text and clicked Calculate. And what did I get? 120.05 million dollars, or 120,050,000 dollars, which means one of the 9 go-get-granters got an extra 50,000 dollars! In my country's currency, that's about 2,500,000 pesos extra - it must have been the International Potato Center in Peru; look at the last digit in its $21.25 million. That's no joke. It would take me 10 years earning $5,000 every 12 months to make that much money. So, you see, a little mistake goes a long, long way.
No, Bill Gates won't be pleased.
Yes, I'm sure the poor farmers would be pleased. The news was on Bill Gates speaking his mind at the World Food Prize Symposium (ANN, 15 October, allafrica.com). Thinking locally and acting globally, new farmer Bill Gates urged governments, donors, researchers, farmer groups, environmentalists and others to set aside ideologies and unite to help farms boost their yields and farmers increase their incomes so that they can rise above hunger and poverty. The farmers are the ones who feed the world, so why should they remain poor?
Actually, Bill Gates' memo to the rich to help the poor farmers is an old note, not a new message at all. What is new is that he insists that the efforts be:
(b) locally adapted, and
(c) economically viable and environmentally sustainable.
Farmer knows best. This is also called The Bottom-to-Top Approach, in contradistinction to the Top-to-Bottom Approach of many an expert. The expert knows more, the farmer knows better!
I didn't know Bill Gates is a farmer at heart, a green farmer at that. Speaking at the World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines 15 October, held in honor of the 2009 World Food Prize winner Gebisa Ejeta, the Ethiopian scientist who bred a sorghum resistant to drought and the Striga weed, Bill Gates not only said we know-it-all experts have to listen to the illiterate farmers; he also said we have to help those farmers grow their crops on poor soils, get their harvests to the market, and get a fair price for their produce. I say it may help to consider that for producers and creators, a fair price is a human right.
'Melinda and I believe that helping the poorest small-holder farmers grow more crops and get them to market is the world's single most powerful lever for reducing hunger and poverty,' Bill Gates said. If we don't help the farmers enough, in broad daylight we can always watch the display of market forces - the bulls and the elephants degrading the harvests and depressing the incomes of the already poor farmers.
I see that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has a new vision for the better seeds, trainings, market accesses, policies that favor poor farmers. Hence the $120.05 million total grants for higher-yielding sorghum and millet; higher Vitamin A sweet potato; higher-value policies for poor farmers; higher levels of access of knowledge by farmers through the radio and cell phone; higher nutrition for school children; higher vigilance by governments on biotechnologies; higher women's participation in managing land and water in their villages. The $120.05 million is part of a total of $1.4 billion that the foundation has committed to the higher application of the science of agriculture.
Bill Gates remembered the Green Revolution as a successful failure (my term); he did say it succeeded in increasing food and at the same time in increasing the use of fertilizers and irrigation to the levels of abuse. What happened was that the soils were depleted of their wealth of nutrients; the crops became more susceptible to pests, diseases and drought; and farmers became wasteful of water as long as they had it in abundance. On top of all that, the Green Revolution did not help the farmers tap favorable markets to sell their harvests. We experts taught the farmers how to farm but not how to compute!
'The next Green Revolution has to be greener than the first,' Bill Gates said. 'It must be guided by small-holder farmers, adapted to local circumstances, and sustainable for the economy and the environment.'
The poor farmers who? The World Bank says that would be about 750 million people who depend on farming for their (bare) living.
Bill Gates noted that the G20 group of developed countries recently made a 3-year, $22-billion pledge to help solve global hunger by supporting the poor farmers of the world. That's to the G20's credit. Your credit is good, but we need cash. 'It's a great thing that donor nations are focusing on this issue,' Bill Gates said, 'but we need them to spell out clearly what the $22 billion means - how much is old money, how much is new, how soon can they spend it, and when will they do more?'
'When will they do more?' In short, Bill Gates was telling the G20 group of nations that for the millions of poor farmers, $22 billion is only good for peanuts. And only for now.
Bill Gates noted that there are on one hand those who argue for higher productivity without sustainability, and on the other hand those who argue for sustainability without higher productivity. About the ideological wedge (never mind the mixed metaphor), he said:
It's a false choice, and it's dangerous for the field. It blocks important advances. It breeds hostility among people who need to work together. And it makes it hard to launch a comprehensive program to help poor farmers. The fact is, we need both productivity and sustainability - and there is no reason we can't have both.
Bill Gates has turned out to be a better farmer than many a great graduate of high-prestige universities of agriculture around the world, including the University of the Philippines Los Baños where I graduated. And we are talking here of a computer nerd who is a Harvard high school dropout! (Not me.)
He wants strong policy support systems for agriculture from governments. For both poor household and national food security. You can't think of the country without thinking of the poor household.
He wants new crops that can withstand drought and flooding, so that the poor farmers can hope to adapt to climate change. If you can't change the farmer, change his crop.
He wants expanded markets for the poor farmers' produce. You have to teach the farmer marketing, but not make him attend college, if it were the likes of Harvard.
He wants the World Food Programme (WFP) to buy more food from poor farmers for the WFP to stack up for food aid; in fact, the WFP had already bought 17,000 metric tons of food from them. If the rich won't help the poor, help the poor do what they can!
He wants new knowledge broadcast and impact the lives of small farmers. Science is more for the people, and less for scientists.
He wants the cell phone to be a device for reaching and teaching farmers. To make sure farmers can't escape from new knowledge wherever they are.
He wants for farmers more HOPE: harnessing opportunities for productivity enhancement. Hope must spring eternal from the human breast. Higher yields, lower costs, higher incomes - hopefully from the thirsty drylands of Africa and Asia.
He wants sweet potato farmers to live sweeter lives than they have ever tasted. Sweeter than sweet potato.
He wants biotechnology with limits to growth. 'No rules, no borders, no limits' cannot apply to biotechnology. Old-gold conventional breeding has an exalted place among the jewels of high-tech hybridization.
He wants the poor farmers and their children to get enough food and adequate education. (Harvard did grant him a degree, and he values that.)
He wants legumes to enrich the soil as well as enrich the lives of small farmers, to happen like shelling peas.
He wants the women to learn better how to farm, to teach, to sell. So that anything the men can do, the women can do better.
He is thinking like millions of the rich aren't thinking.
He wants more for more. I hope that as he throws 12,005,000,000 more coins into The Fountain of More Knowledge, his wish is our command.
Bill Gates would be pleased.