Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, gestures as he speaks during an International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) Annual Governing Council in Rome February 23, 2012.

Improvements in agriculture remained slow in Sub Saharan Africa, said Microsoft founder Bill Gates in a speech at the International Fund for Agricultural Development’s 35th governing council in Rome, Italy on Thursday.

While the world’s attention to agriculture has gained as a result of institutions such as the G8 and African Union, there was still a need to work in a coordinated way which would see these organisation drive the agricultural agenda and set ambitious goals in its development.

Gates co-chairs the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation with his wife. The foundation has committed about $2 billion to help develop small farmers in developing nations.

He revealed that he has committed about $200 million in research for agricultural products that range from rice seeds that survive floods, micro irrigation that can produce water in times of drought as well 30 new variants of drought tolerant maize as well as new vaccines for live stocks.

In addition, small holder farmers had potential to gain a market share in lucrative markets if the right investments were made.

“It is possible for small farmers to double or even triple their yields in the next 20 years while preserving the land for future generations. This is an ambitious goal. To meet it, farmers in both regions will have to increase productivity three to five times faster than they have been doing over the past 20 years,” he said.

Gates added that the impact of these productivity increases would see more than 400 million people move out of poverty.

According to the Food And Agriculture Organisation, more than one billion people were under nourished worldwide.

“The poverty line is an abstraction, but the advantages of being above it are very concrete. People who escape poverty are no longer just keeping their bodies alive; they are building assets for the future. These assets will purchase a doctor’s care or a school uniform. In the end, you have a self-sufficient family that can invest in the next generation. This should be the future we imagine,” he explained.

Gates believed that in order to reverse the global hunger pandemic and ensure a sustainable and efficient small holder farming sector, a system of public scorecards should be implemented to help “the international agriculture community organise itself to achieve a global productivity target”.

Gates pointed out that scorecards would ensure that each part of the system focuses on its key contribution to the overall goal and diagnose problems as they arise, as well as “spread the most effective interventions”.

“As it stands, we don’t really know what’s working and what isn’t. Consequently, we can’t separate the policies and strategies that work from those that don’t, and leaders who consistently get bad results also consistently remain in their posts,” he said. - Ayanda Mdluli