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DFID research: UK Government and Gates Foundation partner to support agricultural research and boost productivity of poor farmers

Collaboration focussing on dealing with the most serious threats to food production in the developing world.

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The Department for International Development (DFID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced a coordinated effort to reduce hunger and poverty in developing countries by supporting agricultural research projects to help small farmers increase their yields and incomes. DFID and the foundation will work together to identify the projects, and the foundation’s Agricultural Development initiative will manage them.

The collaboration will focus on dealing with the most serious threats to food production in the developing world-such as crop diseases, pests, poor soil quality, and extreme weather-and tackle these threats from multiple angles to develop long-term, sustainable solutions.

Scientific research that helps farmers produce more and better food using fewer resources is critical for combating hunger. Farmers also need access to new tools, better training, reliable markets, and supportive policies. However, insufficient attention and resources have been given to supporting this key poverty- and hunger-reducing research.

“For many of the poorest people in Africa and Southern Asia, the crops they grow not only provide most of their food but also an important source of income. It’s these people who are hit hardest by food price spikes,” said the UK’s International Development Minister Andrew Mitchell. “Working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we can drive new ways to make direct improvements in people’s lives, whether by making disease-resistant crops more widely available so that small-scale farmers can grow and sell more, or by developing crops with added nutritional benefits that will give their families a better diet.”

This co-funding partnership comes as escalating food prices are putting millions at risk of hunger and malnutrition and threatening economic and social stability throughout the world. In January, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s price index hit an all-time high, with prices for everything from rice to maize to sugar to meat surpassing 2008 levels.

“We applaud DFID for taking a leadership role in supporting agricultural research,” said Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the Global Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We hope other governments in both the developed and developing world and donors will follow the UK’s lead and increase investments to provide small-scale farmers with the tools they need to improve their yields so they can feed their families and overcome poverty.”

Through this new collaboration, Cornell University is receiving US$40 million (£25 million) to continue its work to develop wheat varieties that are resistant to emerging strains of stem rust disease, such as Ug99, which are spreading out of East Africa and threatening the world’s wheat supply. Because wheat represents approximately 30 percent of the world’s production of grain crops and nearly half of that production will be harvested in developing countries, protecting wheat supplies is critical to global food security.

Since 2008, when the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project at Cornell was first funded by the foundation, researchers have distributed new stem rust resistant wheat varieties for testing and evaluation to more than 125 sites in 40 countries. They have strengthened rust screening nurseries in Kenya and Ethiopia and distributed nearly five tons of Ug99-resistant seed for planting in seven countries that are at high risk for food insecurity, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

Under Cornell’s leadership, the DRRW collaboration now involves 18 leading universities and research institutes throughout the world, as well as scientists and farmers from more than 40 countries.

A second grant of $3 million (£1.9 million) was awarded to Diagnostics for All (DFA). DFA will develop inexpensive diagnostic tests that small farmers can use to improve the quantity and quality of milk produced by their cows and the safety of cereal grains. The new tests, which will cost only pennies, will check for bovine pregnancy, milk quality, and a common toxin found in grain. Small farmers across Africa depend on livestock to supplement their food and income. By eliminating the high cost of these tests, and making them more accessible to small farmers, these technologies will make livestock more productive. Farmers will be able to improve their own food security and make more money by allowing cows to produce more milk each year.

DFID is contributing approximately US$32 million (£20 million) over the next five years to this partnership, and the foundation is providing US$70 million (£44 million). Funding will support efforts that quickly put new technologies into the hands of small farmers, such as new seeds and robust, low-cost diagnostic tools; advance existing efforts by researchers, crop breeders, and development programs to help small farmers manage crop diseases and grow more nutritious crops; and support agricultural research that promotes cutting-edge scientific innovations.

Department for International Development

The Department for International Development (DFID) is the part of the UK government that manages Britain’s aid to poor countries and works to get rid of extreme poverty. It is working to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the international targets agreed to by the United Nations (UN) to halve world poverty by 2015.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people–especially those with the fewest resources–have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Jeff Raikes and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. Learn more at or join the conversation at Facebook and Twitter.

Editors Notes

Media Contacts

Cornell University
Linda McCandless
Phone: +1.607.227.5920 (m) or +1.607.255.2696 (w)

Diagnostics for All
Jeff Krasner
Phone: +1.617.840.9806

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Published 20 February 2011