To support small farmers, it is important to double investment in technology innovations to develop new seeds which are resistant to heat, drought, humidity and pests, said billionaire philanthropist and tech mogul Bill Gates. Mr. Gates was speaking at an international agricultural statistics conference on Monday.
“Mention the Green Revolution, how foundations like Rockefeller and Ford were able to back incredible work by people like Norman Borlaug. Today, faced with climate change and the inequity of the difficulties before farmers, we need to double down. We need to more than double our investment in making these innovative seeds and particularly, the seeds that are publicly available,” he said.
Agricultural researchers now have tools that allow them to create seeds resistant to various stresses, said Mr. Gates, offering the example of ICRISAT’s development of dryland cereals and legumes which are more tolerant to drought. “This is a case where the seeds are in the lab, but we have a lot of work to do to get them out into the farmers’ hands, especially smallholder farmers,” he said, adding that private sector involvement in such innovation was also critical.
Mr. Gates’ statement comes even as the Centre plans to introduce a new Seeds Bill in this session of Parliament, which includes a price capping mechanism that seed companies say will stifle innovation and the development of new seeds. Farmers’ groups, on the other hand, have called for more stringent price and quality control to ensure that small and marginal farmers are not denied the benefits.
Other innovations mentioned by Mr. Gates included what he called the “Internet of Cows”, where livestock are given wearable devices which collect data to help increase their productivity, and digital soil mapping, which offers farmers more detailed advice on fertilizer use than is currently possible with the government’s soil health card scheme.