Earlier this year, I visited a flood-prone area of India where farmers were planting a new variety of rice that was bred to survive the standing water that often wiped out entire crops – and produce twice the harvest the old variety yielded in a good year. Not surprisingly, demand for the new seed is high. In the next six years, an estimated 20 million farmers in poor countries will plant this and other new varieties of rice seed.
This is one example in my report to G20 leaders of the enormous potential that innovation can play in global development and in improving living conditions for people in the world’s poorest countries. Another example I point to in the report is the impact that new drugs and new long-lasting, insecticide-treated bed nets are having in the battle against malaria. As a result of these efforts, deaths are down 20 percent in the last 10 years. Meanwhile, research into a malaria vaccine is showing promising results. This could eventually be another tool in the battle against malaria.
Especially now, when economic conditions are putting a lot of pressure on aid budgets, the G20 is in a unique position to catalyze new approaches to research and delivery of development aid to the world’s poor. The rapidly-growing member countries of the G20 – such as China, Indonesia, Brazil, and Mexico – are particularly well-positioned to accelerate the kind of innovation we need. In addition to their ability to contribute economically, these nations – having successfully grown their economies and dramatically reduced poverty rates – possess a sophisticated understand of what poor countries need.
I’m excited about the opportunities for these rapidly growing countries to form new kinds of “triangular partnerships” that involve poorer countries and traditional donors from wealthier nations.
We’re already seeing some great examples of this. In response to a request from African leaders for a better weapon against meningitis epidemics, the Serum Institute of India developed a vaccine for meningitis A, the first vaccine created specifically for poor countries. The effort involved the private and public sectors in industrialized and rapidly growing countries, including raw materials provided by a Dutch biotech company and a technology transfer from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Thirty years ago, Japan helped Brazil adapt the soybean to Brazil’s tropical savanna and it is now one of Brazil’s most important crops. Now, Brazil is working with Japan to help poor farmers in Mozambique grow soybeans in an area with similar climate and soil conditions. And the Japanese are looking at ways to upgrade Mozambique’s port and railroad infrastructure to make it easier for farmers to export the beans.
China has launched a “Green Super Rice” partnership with several global research centers to help develop adapted varieties of rice with 15 poor countries in Africa and South Asia. China also plans to sequence 10,000 varieties of rice to discover traits such as heat tolerance and disease resistance that are needed to adapt to climate change.
Recently, our foundation joined with the Chinese government and private companies there to make low-cost vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics available for developing countries. We also are partnering with another G20 country, Brazil, to share its expertise in agriculture, tropical diseases, family health, and vaccines with African countries.
In the report, I talk about other approaches to development that can help poorer countries better tap their own domestic resources. For instance, improving the transparency of government deals with mining, oil, and timber companies is a way to increase revenue and minimize mismanagement and corruption. The G20 countries could assist in this effort by supporting legally-binding transparency requirements.
Helping governments in poorer countries do a better job of collecting taxes could also have a big benefit. One G20 country, South Africa, is leading the way here, working with several neighboring countries to strengthen their revenue systems. Similarly, the G20 should, I believe, encourage multilateral institutions to better prioritize their aid efforts.
Given that the private sector is the main driver of economic growth, it makes sense for the G20 to look at innovative ways to tap private investment and expertise to help countries development essential infrastructure such as roads, and irrigation and power systems. Tapping even a small portion of the sovereign wealth funds of rapidly growing G20 countries for infrastructure investment could raise tens of billions of dollars for badly needed development.
Encouraging investment by diaspora communities – by reducing transaction costs associated with remittances and selling bonds that could be used for infrastructure development – is another great idea I would love to see the G20 embrace.
Other innovation and partnership strategies are outlined in the report. But even if the G20 were to adopt many of these, it is still critical that wealthier nations uphold their development commitments as a step toward giving the poorest people the opportunity for a better life, improving the world economy, and helping strengthen global stability.