Livestock Strategies Rise as Intervention for Gates Foundation

Livestock farming is shifting to the fast track as a key intervention in the global battle against hunger and poverty, said Dr Gregg BeVier of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in his presentation to the 2012 Banff Pork Seminar.
calendar icon 16 February 2012
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The world's largest private foundation allocates over US$3 billion annually in giving to initiatives that bring innovations in health, development to the global community, and support education in the United States, reports Meristem Land and Science.

The foundation started funding agriculture in 2006 as a way to help small farmers increase their productivity, and reduce hunger in poverty. Livestock farming is becoming an important component of that investment portfolio, said Dr BeVier, senior programme officer for livestock investment, speaking at the 2012 Banff Pork Seminar. Over $92 million in Foundation grants went to livestock initiatives in the past several years and that is expected to increase over the next decade.

Dr Gregg BeVier

He said: “Agriculture is a great intervention to use because three-quarters of the people in the less developed countries are doing it already it's a huge factor in their GDP.

“If you can figure out ways to support their self-sufficiency and sustainable improvement in agriculture, it is a way to provide them with more food and more income, to break the cycle of hunger and poverty.’

Support for livestock farming is potentially a very powerful intervention since over 930 million in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia alone are livestock keepers and rely heavily on livestock for nutrition and income. The vast majority of the population in these and other less developed areas of the world live on $1 or $2 a day.

The foundation has a ‘theory of change’ for investing in strategic, levered interventions to get these people to a better quality of life. “It's about understanding how change occurs and how we make the greatest impact,” said Dr BeVier.

The Foundation’s outlook also includes an agenda of ‘impatient optimism’ that is helping support global efforts, such as the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal to reduce poverty and hunger by 50 per cent by the year 2015.

“"That's sort of our north star, if you will,” he says. “It’s a tremendous challenge. But it’s within reach. And agriculture, including livestock farming, is a critical part of the solution.”

Five Focus Areas

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has five areas it focuses on as part of its global development programme. The first and largest of these groups is agricultural development. Other groups include water sanitation and hygiene, financial services, global libraries and special initiatives. The Foundation typically does not go into conflict or post conflict areas and focuses on areas of greatest need where it can make a powerful impact.

The focus for agricultural investment is sustainable productivity improvement, continued Dr BeVier. As an example, an indigenous chicken in Kenya can produce 40 eggs a year but in the developed world, a chicken may produce 240 eggs. “There's a 200 egg per year gap just because of differences in genetics and health and management. We would look at that situation and say, how could an intervention close that gap?”

The Foundation takes a three-pronged approach to support its agricultural interventions through efforts in research and development, policy and access to markets, to create an environment where the investments have the best opportunity to benefit the farmer.

High–Growth Area, GDP Driver

There is strong and growing demand for livestock interventions.

Dr BeVier explained: “If you look at the FAO data, there’s going to be a big demand for meat consumption and animal sourced foods in the future. In the regions we’re looking at, the rise in demand is projected at 150 or 160. So as a livestock team, we can stand up before our leadership group and say one of the reasons we need to invest in this area it’s a very high growth area. It’s an important GDP driver.”

Currently, livestock interventions represent about six per cent of the overall Agriculture Development portfolio in the Foundation but Dr BeVier is a strong advocate and believer that this will grow over the next several years. Hurdles have included the simple fact that livestock is a tough area to implement improvement in the less developed world, particularly compared to interventions in plant-based agriculture but the Foundation has researched strategies to overcome logistical challenges and identify high value intervention options.

This work is now shifting more strongly to implementation.

Dr BeVier continued: “I see us really starting to focus more on livestock initiatives. We’ve really narrowed down our strategy to animal health and livestock genetics. When we look at the value of production as well as the productivity gap that could be improved with interventions in these areas, it’s extraordinary. So you’re going to see more of our grants on diagnostics, medicine, vaccines and different aspects of genetics.”

As part of this effort, the Foundation started with a list of over 100 priority diseases to address and has since slashed that down to 15, and now further to six.

“That’s how we look at the process. We look at the global need, then we look at the feasibility of the disease, we look at what others are doing, and we look at our unique advantages. Then we act where we can make the best contribution,” concluded Dr BeVier.

Further Reading

- You can other articles from the Banff Pork Seminar 2012 by clicking here.

February 2012
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