THE PROMISE OF BIOTECHNOLOGY: INNOVATION IS KEY TO FEED THE WORLD
Jeff Raikes’ perspective on how global agriculture can “feed the world” has a different flavor than what the ag community may already know.
This billionaire literally puts his money where his mouth is and asks others to join him at the table to help develop agriculture as a tool.
“We’re in the midst of an incredible population explosion,” Raikes said. “The need is most in areas that are less arable and with less water resources. It’s an enormous challenge for our current resources to help the most vulnerable.”
To better understand Raikes, it’s important to know from where he comes. The son of a Nebraska grain farmer, Raikes was a senior executive to Bill Gates at Microsoft and then as CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
He also adopted fellow Nebraskan Warren Buffett’s belief to reinvest wealth to make bigger social impacts. Today, Raikes and his wife, Tricia, have their own philanthropic foundation that focuses on worldwide youth development and includes education, health and nutrition and job development.
At a talk he called “Seeds of Change” at the Danforth Plant Science Center, Raikes couched his comments by explaining his farm roots and then shared his ideas on how agriculture can help ease hunger and poverty. Here are some of his points:
- Upwards of 75 percent of the world’s poor live in rural areas, and the majority depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Agricultural productivity growth is the most direct and efficient lever to reduce rural poverty. Agricultural growth builds self-sufficiency for individuals and communities.
- A global target for agricultural development are small-holder farmers, who Raikes characterized as women, earnings of less than $1 a day, farm plots of less than one hectare, or about two football fields, and grow a diversity of crops and raise livestock. “Biotechnology revolution is here and what we can do to use those tools to make a huge difference in the world is now,” he said.
- Raikes is a board member with Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. He believes AGRA’s work is tantamount to feeding the world by working on new agriculture technologies and business approaches to fit the needs of impoverished, undernourished populations. Population projections estimate the world population will hit nearly 8 billion people by 2030.
- AGRA works with scientists worldwide, including those at the Danforth center, to have trained 500 plant breeders, 400 new crop varieties and placement of 25,0000 seed dealers to ensure than African farmers have access to new ag technologies and methods. “In other words, we helped sprout a partner ecosystem for small- and medium-sized entrepreneurs involved in that system,” Raikes said.
- Among AGRA’s goals in the next 10 years is to continue finding more partners and leveraging these assets. “I think we should feel a sense of urgency,” Raikes added, pointing out the recent example of the refugee crisis in Europe. “I believe food and water security are the most important factors” to address growing population issues.
- Help comes in many forms, ranging from investment in biotechnology organizations such as the Danforth center to making donations, grants and other forms of financial support to groups working directly with farmers. More information can be found at raikesfoundation.org