German Development Minister Dirk Niebel believes that business is the key to combating hunger. One new cooperation deal between German firms and multi-billionaire Bill Gates is set to accelerate rice production in Asia.
It was the kind of meeting that German Development Minister Dirk Niebel relishes. He held talks on Tuesday (29.1.2013) with Microsoft founder Bill Gates. The software billionaire and now co-chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation came to Berlin to talk to the minister and representatives of food and agriculture industries about cooperative projects in the fight against global hunger.
Niebel was visibly satisfied with the meeting, which aimed to agree on how the integration of business and developmental policies could help the world's 2 billion undernourished people.
Reducing dependence on markets
"Together, we will advance the supply chain of basic foodstuffs like rice and potatoes, by reducing the dependence of small farmers on international agrarian markets," said Niebel.
At the meeting, the German Development Ministry, the Gates Foundation, and the 35 German and international companies agreed to make 80 million euros ($108 million) available to various projects. Of that, the Gates Foundation and the ministry are contributing 20 million euros each, and the rest is to come from industry, including companies like chemical giant BASF, seed specialists Syngenta, pesticide manufacturer Bayer CropScience, all of whom have been members of the "German Food Partnership" since last year.
Together, they intend to invest in agriculture production in rural regions in order to overcome malnourishment and hunger. Fourteen million euros will flow into the development of the cashew sector in West Africa, 23 million euros will go to expand tuber production in sub-Saharan Africa, and around 52 million will go into sustainable cotton production in nine developing countries in Africa.
Bill Gates' intention is to turn import countries into true agricultural exporters, something he illustrated using Nigeria as an example. "That country should really be able to provide enough rice for itself, but it still imports it by the ton, because it lacks the education, the right seed, and pesticides," he said.
More and better rice for Asia
The solution was based on cooperation, said Gates. One project, founded through the cooperation of Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines, is to help improve the quality of rice production and serve as a model for the rest of the world. With a financial contribution of around 8 million euros, the Asian-German Better Rice Initiative (AGBRI) is to implement measures that will hopefully increase the basic nutritional value of rice.
"It is completely unacceptable that one in three children in the world cannot fulfill their potential because they lack certain vitamins and minerals," said Liam Condon, board director at Bayer CropScience. For that reason, he said he was committed to improving the total production cycle of rice through better husbandry, better-trained farmers, higher seed quality, and better water management. "Exactly this kind of cooperation between private business and the public sector will clear the path to a green revolution," he added.
Selling GM food?
But German Green party parliamentarian Thilo Hoppe said he believes this alliance against hunger is mainly about finding new markets for "large agriculture corporations." He claims that many of the companies involved, including Bayer CropScience, BioAnalyt, Royal DSM, Lemken & Co., and Syngenta Germany, have a major interest in selling genetically modified seeds. This, Hoppe said, will make small farmers in developing countries dependent on corporations and drive them into a debt cycle.
Bill Gates vehemently denied this. "What we are trying to do here with cotton, cashew, and other kinds of basic food production does not involve any genetically-modified plants," he said.
But Gates said his organization certainly does invest in research into green genetic engineering, in order to give countries the option of buying the seed if they want.
"That was not the case in our previous projects," added Niebel, who said he believes the research work carried out by agricultural companies plays a very important role. "We no longer just talk about the quantity of food - nowadays we talk about the quality too. And I think that's a good development."