The blog of Bill Gates
gatesnotes
The blog of Bill Gates

What Cowboys Can Teach Us About Feeding the World

Sign In
 
GO
Your search for "", with selected filters, does not match any posts. Please try again with a different search term or reset filters.

Popular searches include: Books, Malaria, and Future of Food.
RELATED ARTICLES ON
Logout:


Become a Gates Notes Insider
- or - Sign up with email
This email is already registered. Enter a new email, try signing in or retrieve your password
Send me updates from Bill Gates
Sign Up
Join the Gates Notes community to access exclusive content, comment on stories, subscribe to your favorite topics and more. We will never share or spam your email address. For more information see our Sign Up FAQ. By clicking "Sign Up" you agree to the Gates Notes Terms of Use / Privacy Policy.
Account Settings
VIEW & EDIT PROFILE
Your Information
First name
Last name
Save
Cancel
Email address
This email is already registered
Save
Cancel
Please verify email address. Click verification link sent to this email address or resend verification email.
Password
Save
Cancel
Send me updates from Bill Gates
You must provide an email
Send me comment notifications via email
On-screen comment notifications
Your Interests
Saving Lives
Energy Innovation
Improving Education
Philanthropy
Book Reviews
About Bill Gates
Deactivate Account
Click the link below to begin the account deactivation process. Deactivate account If you want to permanently delete your account and remove its content, please send us a request here.
Ok
Gates Notes Insider Sign Up FAQ

Q. How do I create a Gates Notes account?

A. There are three ways you can create a Gates Notes account:

  • Sign up with Facebook. We’ll never post to your Facebook account without your permission.
  • Sign up with Twitter. We’ll never post to your Twitter account without your permission.
  • Sign up with your email. Enter your email address during sign up. We’ll email you a link for verification.

Q. Will you ever post to my Facebook or Twitter accounts without my permission?

A. No, never.

Q. How do I sign up to receive email communications from my Gates Notes account?

A. In Account Settings, click the toggle switch next to “Send me updates from Bill Gates.”

Q. How will you use the Interests I select in Account Settings?

A. We will use them to choose the Suggested Reads that appear on your profile page.

Forgot your password?
This email is already registered. Enter a new email, try signing in or retrieve your password
Reset Password
Change your header photo
your image
 
Change
your image
Uh Oh!

The image you are trying to upload is either too big or is an unacceptable format. Please upload a .jpg or .png image that is under 25MB.

Ok
First name
Last name
Enter a first and last name. For example, "Richard Feynman"
Bio
0/160 characters
Edit Profile
Account Settings
Comment History
Save
Cancel
Suggested Reads
Reset your password.
Set New Password
Your password has been reset. You will now be redirected to the sign in page, or you can click here
Ok
Get emails from Bill Gates
Send me updates from Bill
You must provide an email
This email is already registered
Continue
We will never share or spam your email address. For more information see our Sign Up FAQ. By clicking "Continue" you agree to the Gates Notes Terms of Use / Privacy Policy.
 
your image
Uh Oh!
The image you are trying to upload is either too big or is an unacceptable format. Please upload a .jpg or .png image that is under 25MB.
Ok
Welcome FirstName!
You are now a Gates Notes Insider
Update Your Profile Information
First name
Last name
Save
Cancel
Email address
This email is already registered
Save
Cancel
Please verify email address. Click verification link sent to this email address or resend verification email.
Send me updates from Bill Gates
You must provide an email
Select Your Interests
Saving Lives
Energy Innovation
Improving Education
Philanthropy
Book Reviews
About Bill Gates
Continue
Confirm
Are you sure you want to
deactivate your account?
Deactivating your account will unsubscribe you from Gates Notes emails, and will remove your profile and account information from public view on the Gates Notes. Please allow for 24 hours for the deactivation to fully process. You can sign back in at any time to reactivate your account and restore its content.
Deactivate My Acccount
Go Back
Your Gates Notes account has been deactivated.
Come back anytime.
Welcome back
In order to unsubscribe you will need to sign-in to your Gates Notes Insider account
Once signed in just go to your Account Settings page and set your subscription options as desired.
Sign In
Request account deletion
We’re sorry to see you go. Your request may take a few days to process; we want to double check things before hitting the big red button. Requesting an account deletion will permanently remove all of your profile content. If you’ve changed your mind about deleting your account, you can always hit cancel and deactivate instead.
Submit
Cancel
Thank You! Your request has been sent
Become a Gates Notes Insider for access to exclusive content and personalized reading suggestions
Sign up to receive occasional updates from the Gates Notes
Sign Up
Privacy Policy
Please complete your account verification. Resend verification email.
This verification token has expired.
Your email address has been verified. Update my profile.
Your account has been deactivated. Sign up to re-activate your account.
View all newsletters in the newsletter archive
You are now unsubscribed from receiving emails.
Sorry, we were unable to unsubscribe you at this time.
The blog of Bill Gates
What Cowboys Can Teach Us About Feeding the World
Profile & Settings
Sign Out
Hello,
Profile & Settings
Comment History
Sign Out
0
0
0
Back to profile
Comment History
title
in reply to
name
description
It looks like you're using an older version of Internet Explorer which may not display all the features on this site. Upgrade Now » close
Beasts of the Southern Tropics

What Cowboys Can Teach Us About Feeding the World

I will be the first person to admit that I’m a city boy. I grew up in Seattle, where my main agricultural experience as a kid was the farmers who sold freshly picked fruits and vegetables at Pike Place Market.

Since then I’ve visited lots of small farms as part of my work with the foundation. But nothing prepared me for where I recently found myself: in the wilds of the Australian outback watching a cattle rancher artificially inseminate a cow.

It’s a pretty graphic procedure to say the least, but I was impressed by how high tech the whole process was at Wylarah Station (a station is the Australian term for a ranch). The Australian Agricultural Company—or AACo—relies on cutting edge genomics to breed wagyu beef cows, some of the most elite cattle in the world.

AACo is one of the foremost experts in the developed world on tropical cattle production. Although they use innovation to raise higher quality beef that they can sell for a good price, I was more interested in learning about how their methods could help farmers in low income countries with similar climates. 

Farmers across sub-Saharan Africa are already raising cattle—beef and dairy—in massive numbers. Ethiopia, Sudan, and Tanzania are among the world’s top 15 cattle producing countries. While there are legitimate questions about whether the world can meet its appetite for animal products without destroying the environment, it’s a fact that many poor people rely on cattle for both nutrition and income. I believe they should be able to raise cattle as efficiently as farmers in rich countries do.

I’m optimistic that technology can improve the quality of African cattle. A typical dairy cow in the United States produces nearly 30 liters of milk every day. Compare that to your average cow in Ethiopia, which produces just 1.69 liters of milk a day. If you want to increase milk yield, you can’t just take a high-producing Holstein cow from Wisconsin and drop it into the tropical savannah. Unlike indigenous breeds, temperate cattle have no natural resistance to tropical diseases—like trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness—and they struggle to get enough nutrition from local food sources.

Instead, you could breed cattle that will flourish in the local climate. That means using artificial insemination—like the process they use at Wylarah Station—to crossbreed a native female cow (with her built-in resilience to tropical heat and diseases) with a bull from a genetic line that produces lots of milk.

Our foundation is already tackling this, but AACo’s technology could make the process much more precise than it is today. One of the things that amazed me most during my visit was how much they know about the ancestry of their cattle. The animals on their ranch have a more detailed family history than most people do. If farmers in Africa were equipped with the same level of knowledge, they could handpick the best possible cow parents and breed a better calf. But that leads us to another problem.

Because they lack adequate storage, most African farmers rely on artificial insemination stations (yes, that’s what they’re really called) to provide sperm samples. Depending on how far a farmer lives from a station, the sample can sometimes heat up too much and effectively die before it is delivered. Many farmers decide not to take the risk. Instead they get their cows pregnant the old-fashioned way, which makes it harder to control genetic integrity and can lead to calves that are less resilient or produce less milk.  

AACo is looking into methods that extend the viability of sperm samples. Similar technology is currently used in Europe to improve the success rate of fertilization, but it hasn’t been tried yet with tropical cattle. If successful, it could double the amount of time a sample can survive outside of storage and make it easier for more farmers across Africa to use artificial insemination.  

“The whole operation was a far cry from the John Wayne cowboy movies I used to watch as a kid.”

Beyond breeding, Wylarah Station uses technology to ensure that their herds receive proper nutrition. I was surprised to see their ranch hands use smart watches to track how much the cows are drinking.

In the past someone had to manually inspect all of the water troughs scattered across the ranch, driving hundreds of kilometers every day. Now they receive a notification on their watch when a sensor detects that a tank needs attention. The whole operation was a far cry from the John Wayne cowboy movies I used to watch as a kid.

Not all of AACo’s innovative approaches could work in the poor world. It’s unlikely that every farmer in Africa will be wearing a smart watch anytime soon (if ever). But as smartphone usage continues to grow across the continent, it’s easy to imagine a future where Africans might use an app to order the perfect bull DNA or make sure their cattle are eating enough—something that an African ICT company called iCow is promoting in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Tanzania with help from our foundation.

There’s a lot we can learn from Wylarah Ranch about how to more efficiently raise cattle, but I can’t ignore the big question: should we rely on animals for food at all? Eating too much meat contributes to higher levels of obesity and heart disease, and raising animals contributes to climate change. That’s why I’ve invested in companies working on meat substitutes, which could one day eliminate the need to raise and slaughters animals entirely.

Although it might be possible to get people in richer countries to eat less, we can’t expect people in low income countries to follow suit. When I went vegetarian for a year in my late 20s, all I had to do to get my daily serving of protein was buy a can of beans or a container of tofu at the grocery store. It’s not so easy for families in poor communities to get the nutrition they need.

For them, meat and dairy are a great source of high-quality proteins that help children fully develop mentally and physically. Just 20 grams of animal protein a day can combat malnutrition, which is why our foundation’s nutrition strategy wants to get more meat, dairy, and eggs into the diets of children in Africa. Cattle are also a huge economic driver in some parts of Africa. In Ethiopia alone, cattle account for 45 percent of their agricultural GDP. In addition, livestock can actually contribute to ecosystems by stimulating pasture growth, enhancing biodiversity, and recycling energy and nutrients.

As more people in poor countries move into the middle class, they will likely eat more beef and drink more milk. But we can mitigate the impact of that growth on the environment by increasing production from the cows they already have. The cowboys of Wylarah Ranch have mastered the art of raising tropical cattle. I don’t know yet how African farmers can benefit from their expertise—our foundation is just starting to dig into this—but I’m excited about the possibilities.  

Become a Gates Notes Insider for access to exclusive content and personalized reading suggestions

Read previous versions of the Annual Letter

Comments
posting ...
Please verify your email in order to make comments. Click here to resend verification email
Sorry, duplicate comments are not allowed. 
Sorry, that HTML is not allowed. 
Sorry, something went wrong. 
Be the first to leave a comment.
Comment Locked
Comments more than 2 months old are locked. For more information, contact us.
Delete Comment?
Deleting this comment will remove replies to this comment by you and others as well. This action cannot be undone.
Delete Comment
Why do you want to report this comment?
It's annoying or not interesting
It's abusive and/or vulgar
It's spam
Report Comment
Your report has been submitted.
Close
Save
Cancel