Gates Foundation Invests $70 Million to Help Save World’s Food Supply

A wheat killer is on the move from Africa to Australia. The Gates Foundation wants to stop it from wreaking havoc on the world.


The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced that it is investing $70 million into food security initiatives in order to battle one of climate change’s looming threats–catastrophic food shortages. The United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) is also jumping on board with a $32 million commitment.

The funds will go toward research on improving crop production, including examining the rise of certain predators, such as Ug99, a stem rust disease affecting wheat crops. The Ug99 strand is spreading, adding numbers to the millions of people who are already fleeing their countries due to agriculturally unstable environments. The disease was originally identified in Uganda in 1998 and has now spread to Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Yemen, and Iran and variants are now on their way to North and South America, Australia, and South and Central Asia.

Cornell University’s Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project will receive a nice chunk of this philanthropic largesse–$40 million to identify rust-resistant genes in wheat crops and distribute those crops to small farmers, $15 million of which will come from DFID.

“Against the backdrop of rising food prices, and wheat in particular, researchers worldwide will be able to play an increasingly vital role in protecting wheat fields from dangerous new forms of stem rust, particularly in countries whose people can ill afford the economic impact of damage to this vital crop,” said Ronnie Coffman, Cornell professor of plant breeding and genetics and director of DRRW.

Cornell works with a number of partners to achieve identification and distribution, including the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Syria’s International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), and a number of the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) labs around the world.

“It is important that public and private institutions work together to develop long-term, sustainable and effective solutions to make life better for the world in which we live,” said David J. Skorton, president of Cornell University.


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Jenara is an overseas reporter for Fast Company and a freelance writer/producer in Asia, regularly on CNNGo, and a graduate of Harvard and UC Berkeley.