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Microsoft’s Bill Gates gave his first major speech on agriculture today in Des Moines. Gates has committed $1.4 billion from his foundation to agricultural development, reports Philip Brasher in the Des Moines Register. About 5 percent of that amount will go to biotech projects. Gates’ speech was a defense of genetically engineered crops as a way to help poor farmers increase food production. Gates criticized those who were “instantly hostile to any emphasis on productivity” while ignoring food production in a world affected by climate change. 

“They act as if there is no emergency, even though in the poorest, hungriest places on earth, population is growing faster than productivity, and the climate is changing,” Gates said. The Microsoft founder said transgenic crops “can help address farmers’ challenges faster and more efficiently than conventional breeding alone.” The Gates Foundation will  help develop drought-resistant corn for use in East Africa. Brasher reports that Gates said the seeds would be licensed royalty free to distributors so that there would be no extra cost to farmers. 

“Of course, these technologies must be subject to rigorous scientific review to ensure they are safe and effective,” Gates said. “It’s the responsibility of the governments, farmers and citizens, informed by great science, to choose the best and safest way to help feed their countries.” Gates said the next green revolution “must be guided by smallholder farmers, adapted to local circumstances and sustainable for the economy and the environment.”

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