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Innovations for Poor Farmers

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Innovations for Poor Farmers
 
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Innovations for Poor Farmers
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NOTE 1 / 5
4 Innovations for Poor Farmers - Intro

Whenever I visit small farmers in a poor country, I’m struck by how many are laboring with hoes, plows, and other implements that haven’t changed in generations. Yet farmers in wealthier countries have benefited from wave after wave of technological improvements, including satellite imagery and even robotics. This technology gap is one big reason why some farmers produce much more food than others. Thankfully, some of the brightest minds in Africa, India, and elsewhere are creating new tools to close the gap. Because most of the world’s poorest people are farmers, their work could have a dramatic impact on reducing hunger and poverty.

Here are four innovations that I think are especially promising…

Cassava



NOTE 2 / 5
Mapping Africa's Soils

I’ve spent the past week meeting with politicians, policymakers, and reporters in New York, Washington D.C., and Boston. One topic has pretty much dominated the conversation: Ebola virus.

Cassava Cassava

It’s not surprising. Most of the headlines lately have focused on the undeniably awful news—the number of people who have died, the escalating rate of infection, the first case on U.S. soil. It is a tragedy for the families of those who have died. It is frightening for communities where people are sick. And it is yet another blow for countries that were already hit hard by poverty and other diseases. 

Although you can never move too fast at a time like this, it’s easy to forget just how much has been done. Médecins Sans Frontières initiated a global call to action and has mobilized all its available resources to help combat the spread of the disease. Weeks ago, after the head of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Thomas Frieden, came back from Liberia with dire reports of the situation on the ground, President Obama sent the military to set up hospitals there. Congress agreed to pay for emergency supplies. The National Institutes of Health and other leading research institutions started working on drugs to treat the sick and vaccines to prevent the spread of the virus. France and the United Kingdom committed large sums of money and resources. Philanthropists, doctors, nurses, and other health workers from around the world have signed up to help the communities suffering the most. The global response has been remarkable.

“America has an incredibly responsive public health system that will ensure the virus is quickly contained, and that anyone suffering from it receives high-quality care in medical isolation.” - our foundation’s CEO, Sue Desmond-Hellmann

Even as we do everything we can to stop this crisis, we should also be studying its long-term implications. It’s a reminder of the urgent need to strengthen health systems in the world’s poorest countries. (As our foundation’s CEO, Sue Desmond-Hellmann, wrote last week: “America has an incredibly responsive public health system that will ensure the virus is quickly contained, and that anyone suffering from it receives high-quality care in medical isolation.”) Health systems—which encompass everything from rural clinics to community health workers to hospitals —are the best protection against epidemics.

Cassava This is the photo caption

For example, as soon as the first case was identified in Nigeria, doctors and other people who were there to fight polio immediately helped set up a center to fight Ebola. This was critical in preventing the spread of the disease. Senegal, which has a more developed primary health care system than the most devastated countries, was also able to handle the first cases effectively and prevent a significant outbreak. Improving health systems has other benefits beyond dealing with outbreaks. Providing basic health care raises the quality of life for everyone. It unlocks economic potential—healthy people are more productive. And countries with strong health systems can do a better job fighting both epidemics and ongoing diseases like malaria (which kills 600,000 people every year and leaves many more too sick to work for long periods).

Bill in Berlin Development Aid Basecamp Press

What does this mean in practice? Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea need support to strengthen their primary care systems now. Governments, donors, and other partners—from the private sector to NGOs and faith-based organizations—can join forces to build short-term capacity, while also building the foundation for health systems of the future. It will take an aggressive plan, with accountability measures in place, to start delivering core services such as routine immunization, maternal health, and family planning again.

So I hope we fight Ebola on two fronts: a short-term response to stop this crisis, and a long-term effort to build the health systems that will help prevent the next one.

You can support organizations that are helping fight Ebola:

NOTE 3 / 5
Moving an Ancient Crop to the Cutting Edge

In Africa, half a billion people depend on cassava as a staple crop. But breeding more-nutritious, disease-resistant varieties of the root takes a long time—a decade or more. Now scientists with the Next Generation Cassava Breeding (NEXTGEN) project have cut that time in half, using computer modeling techniques and a treasure trove of new information on the plant’s genome. They have also improved the breeding cycle, so they can zero in on the most desirable traits earlier in the process.

Cassava



NOTE 4 / 5
Making Videos That Make a Difference

How do you cheaply spread good information about farming? The Indian nonprofit Digital Green is having success with simple YouTube videos. They’ve shot thousands of videos featuring farmers sharing best practices. (See for yourself.) Farmers, they’ve found, are much more likely to listen to peers who look and sound like them. The idea isn’t limited to farming either: The UK’s development agency is now helping Digital Green use its platform to spread health messages.

Cassava



NOTE 5 / 5
A Better Way to Get Milk to Market
Cassava Helping dairy farmers earn more money

Being a dairy farmer has risks. As I learned on a trip to Kenya, milk can spill or spoil on its way from the cow to the chilling station. So I asked the team at Global Good to study the problem. Working with Heifer International, they made a jug that’s easy to clean and won’t spill. Partners in Kenya and Ethiopia will make and sell them for about $5 each, versus up to $30 for other jugs. This modest step could help dairy farmers earn more money—and create new manufacturing and sales jobs too.

Being a dairy farmer has risks. As I learned on a trip to Kenya, milk can spill or spoil on its way from the cow to the chilling station. So I asked the team at Global Good to study the problem. Working with Heifer International, they made a jug that’s easy to clean and won’t spill. Partners in Kenya and Ethiopia will make and sell them for about $5 each, versus up to $30 for other jugs. This modest step could help dairy farmers earn more money—and create new manufacturing and sales jobs too.

Being a dairy farmer has risks. As I learned on a trip to Kenya, milk can spill or spoil on its way from the cow to the chilling station. So I asked the team at Global Good to study the problem. Working with Heifer International, they made a jug that’s easy to clean and won’t spill. Partners in Kenya and Ethiopia will make and sell them for about $5 each, versus up to $30 for other jugs. This modest step could help dairy farmers earn more money—and create new manufacturing and sales jobs too.

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Innovations for Poor Farmers

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