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Great minds think alike: farmers deserve our support

May 24, 2011

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Karl Grobl for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Women grow between 60 and 80 percent of the food in poor countries. They feed their families and communities, and deserve our support. Photo: Karl Grobl for Mercy Corps

Farmers are on people’s minds these days, and they deserve to be.

Most of the world’s poorest people are small farmers who produce their own food but often lack the tools and resources to grow more and take crops to market. One key to reducing hunger and poverty is to invest in these farming families.

This is already happening in some places with great success. In 2008, Mercy Corps received a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support more than 9,000 farming families in some of the poorest countries on earth: Central African Republic, Nepal, Niger, Somalia and Sri Lanka. After a few years of investing in simple resources like seeds and tools, average incomes of those families shot up 92 percent.

Recently, Mercy Corps launched a campaign to draw attention to the critical role that farmers play in creating food and prosperity. We’re currently spotlighting female farmers who grow 60 to 80 percent of food in poor countries. Mercy Corps helps hardworking women establish and expand farms that feed their families and communities. We also help women achieve economic independence to avoid hunger in the future.

Bill Gates agrees with us on farmers. Today in Washington DC, he stood with USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to declare the importance of investing in small farmers. Emphasizing that “helping poor farming families is the answer,” Gates spoke about the critical role that agriculture plays in international development and the need for public and political will to support it — even during tough economic times.

Gates is trying to get others involved too. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has issued a challenge for everyday people to great creative with a compelling message — in the form of a tweet, blog, video, poster, or something else — to illustrate why investing in small farmers is good for the world. You can take part and give a shout-out for small farmers at the “Small Farmers are the Answer” challenge!

Times are tough and budgets are tightening, so it could be tempting to cut assistance to farmers who live a half a world away. But for farming families in poor countries, a little help — to buy seeds, improve irrigation systems or get better market pricing information — can go a long way. Take it from us – and Bill Gates: helping farmers is a smart move.