Some people come to the World Economic Forum expecting caviar. Bill Gates said he would bring cassava.
“I don't know what Swiss customs will say about it,” said Mr. Gates, chairman of Microsoft and co-chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “I'll put it in a nice plastic bag or something.”
Assuming he makes it past the border guards, Mr. Gates is bringing the tubers — some of them healthy, others rotten — to Davos to underline a pitch for his foundation's efforts to eradicate hunger in places where food is scarce and crops are often blighted.
Since 2009, Mr. Gates has been publishing an annual letter that details his foundation's work and sets priorities for the coming year. This time, the letter, which was set to be published on Tuesday in Seattle, highlights the need for innovation in agriculture to improve nutrition in poor countries.
The foundation, the world's largest philanthropic organisation, donates about $300 million a year to agriculture projects, a little more than one-tenth of its overall annual commitments. About half of the organisation's money goes to health care, including efforts to fight diseases like AIDS, polio and malaria, and the rest is dedicated to education and other initiatives.
Last year, Mr. Gates' letter focused on the foundation's efforts to develop and disseminate vaccines. A milestone in the battle against deadly diseases was reached this month when the Gates Foundation and other groups announced that last year, for the first time, India had not recorded a single case of polio.
Mr. Gates said he had decided to emphasise agriculture this year because he felt it was not getting the necessary attention. At the same time, he added, the need for food is easily understood by the public because it is “so primary.”
“We get a strong response on health issues,” he said by telephone. “But when we show a farmer getting better sweet potatoes that are more nutritious, the response is even stronger.”
The letter describes the plight of a farmer in Tanzania whose staple cassava crop has been infected by two diseases that have attacked the leaves of the trees as well as the roots, which are the edible crop. Cassava can be used to make a variety of foods, including tapioca.
“The billion people who wake up every day trying to figure out if they have enough food to eat won't be at Davos,” said Mr. Gates.
He added that the foundation's goal was to cut this number, calculated by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation, in half by the end of the decade. Mr. Gates is a longtime visitor to the forum, where the foundation and Microsoft typically have a strong presence. — New York Times News Service
Agriculture not getting the necessary attention, he says