Bill Gates calls for more funds to help world’s poorest farmers

Farming in Burundi. Bitare, 2011. [PWRDF/Flickr]

Bill Gates called for more funds to help the world’s poorest farmers deal with climate change on Tuesday (1 September), in an appeal that could help pry open the coffers of industrialised countries.

The call from the tech billionaire and world’s biggest philanthropist to focus on the poor could spur more finance from industrialised countries to small-scale farmers during negotiations for a global deal to fight climate change in Paris at the end of the year.

The focus on the poor was also in line with the Pope, who in a sweeping pastoral letter in June connected poverty, inequality and environmental degradation.

In a post on his GatesNote blog, Gates said it was critical to protect small farmers in the world’s poorest countries – because they produce a large and growing share of the world’s food supply and because they face even greater risks because of climate change.

“For the world’s poorest farmers, life is a high-wire act – without safety nets. They don’t have access to improved seeds, fertilizer, irrigation systems, and other beneficial technologies, as farmers in rich countries do,” Gates writes. “Now, climate change is set to add a fresh layer of risk to their lives … Of all the people who will suffer from climate change, they are likely to suffer the most.”

Aides to Gates said the intervention was aimed at directing more climate finance to the world’s poor and on measures that could help protect small scale, growers from extreme weather and other risks expected in the decades ahead.

“He is trying to make sure that that money gets spent on what he would think is the highest priority which is food vulnerability for the poorest people,” said Geoffrey Lamb, the chief economic and policy adviser to the Foundation. “It’s the people who are very vulnerable.”

Those priorities according to Gates include better water management, to protect against drought; research to develop seeds that are drought and pest-resistant and do not demand as much expensive fertiliser. But it was not strictly about technology, Lamb said.

“It is an intervention to say: ‘look we are a significant player in global development supporting small scale agriculture and research and development for agriculture and Bill thinks that it is absolutely vital that if we think about a future that is hotter, drier and climate stressed that we think about the people who have very little margin between them and real crisis.”

Pumping up funds for climate finance is seen as a pre-condition for a strong climate deal. Diplomats gathered in Bonn this week for one of the last formal negotiating rounds before Paris.

Related: Everything you need to know about the Paris climate summit and UN talks

So far, governments have pledged only $10bn (£6bn) to a Green Climate Fund – a tiny fraction of an earlier pledge to mobilise $100bn a year by 2020 to help developing economies cut greenhouse gas emissions and protect their populations from climate change.

The Green Climate Fund has also come under criticism for its priorities – in particular its dealings with big coal financiers.

With its $43bn endowment, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the world’s largest private charity, exercising enormous influence on global development policy. The Gates Foundation said it spends about $390m on aid programmes aimed at small-scale farmers – or more than 10% of its total grants. It is also working with the Green Climate Fund to decide where to direct climate finance.

The Guardian has called on the foundation to divest from coal, oil, and gas, because the majority of fossil fuels can not be burned without trigger dangerous climate change. Gates rejects the idea of divestment, but he has said he would invest $2bn in renewable energy technologies.

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