Promoting Clean Technologies ^ Forging Cross-Industry Collaboration

Bill Gates Wants a Green Agriculture Revolution: Here’s Tech That Can Drive It

In agriculture, cleantech, entrepreneur, Environment, greentech, investment, Science, Sustainable, Venture Capital on October 19, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Bookmark and Share


By Josie Garthwaite
Original content at earth2tech.com

bill-gates-agriculture

Excerpts below

At the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa today, Gates announced that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded $120 million in nine new grants to organizations and research partners (including $15 million for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa), to work on the effort, focusing primarily on small-scale farming in sub-Saharan Africa. In his speech Gates called for an end to the ideological division over the future of agriculture: “Productivity or sustainability — they say you have to choose. It’s a false choice,” he said. Rather, we need farming techniques that are both environmentally responsible and highly productive, and technology will help bridge the gap, he said.

Today’s grants are being awarded for projects including distribution of legumes that fix nitrogen in the soil and pest-resistant sweet potatoes, training for African governments to “draw on as they regulate biotechnologies,” help for women farmers in India to manage land and water resources sustainably and programs to deliver information to farmers via radio and mobile phones. The awards come as part of the $1.4 billion that the Gates Foundation has committed so far for agricultural development efforts — promoting techniques such as no-till farming (explained in the video clip below), rainwater harvesting and drip irrigation.

Bookmark and Share


The Gates Foundation has drawn criticism, as the Seattle Times points out today, for focusing too strongly “on technology solutions and higher yields, a path that risks repeating the mistakes of the original Green Revolution.” But a growing number of firms, including startups and small companies, are working on a new wave of agricultural tech that could play an important role in a real green shift.

via Bill Gates Wants a Green Agriculture Revolution: Here’s Tech That Can Drive It.

Climate change is raising the stakes for agricultural tech as the world population grows and the amount of arable land shrinks. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, farmers will have to deal with “increased potential” for extreme events like droughts, floods and heat waves,” and “enduring changes in climate, water supply and soil moisture could make it less feasible to continue crop production in certain regions.” More mouths to feed, plus less arable land and changing rainfall patterns, means growing demand for tech that lets farmers do more with less.

Venture capitalist David Anthony, founding partner of 21Ventures and a frequent co-investor with Quercus Trust, thinks that “aeroponic farming,” or farms in urban environments that use technology like LEDs to grow crops, will find a growing market. His firm invested in Aero Farm Systems, a New York-based startup that develops tech-heavy urban farming processes. In general, Anthony thinks that advanced farming techniques are an under-invested area where his firm sees promise.

A slew of companies are also working on smart water management technology, and some of them could extend to agricultural applications. PureSense, for example, uses soil moisture sensors and sends data via wireless networks to irrigation control systems.

Other companies are helping small-scale farmers bring their surplus foods to market using technology and the broadband age. Take FarmsReach, a California startup that won the audience choice award at our Green:Net conference in March. The 2-year-old company has developed a web marketplace to make it easier for buyers, such as restaurants, hospitals and schools, to order produce from nearby farmers, and for farmers to manage their sales and deliveries.

FarmsReach has been designed with the U.S. food system in mind, but other iterations — perhaps utilizing mobile devices for areas without ready computer or broadband access — could be useful elsewhere. Gates spoke to that need today, urging food companies to “buying power to provide markets for small farmers,” although, “the logistics might be more complex at first.”

Of course, the farmers and communities that the Gates Foundation is seeking to serve with these grants need low-cost solutions, and much of the technology emerging from startups right now still has a ways to go on the cost curve. As Pacific Institute co-founder Peter Gleick put it at this year’s Clean-Tech Investor Summit, “It’s entirely possible to create brilliant water technology that the places that need it the most can’t afford.” So we second the call from Gates for a “greener” revolution, with an extra nudge for startups to  put technology to work for small farmers and the planet.

Bookmark and Share


Photo credit Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Advertisements
  1. Hi there, Jon here. I seen your article while i was searching the web, looking for ideas on renewable energy and sustainable housing. And I was reading this article I found, it was talking about all kinds of things that that really actually excited me, just to know that there are people acting on new technology and ideas on sustainable agriculture. Things such as using L.E.D. lighting for growing such things as fruits and vegtables. I was reading this and it said that “Bill Gates wants a green revolution”. I want to be apart of that revolution. My name is Jonathan Williamson. I from Ontario, Canada. I I’m a Carpentry Apprentice. I plan on getting my carpentry license and starting a business in sustainable housing where the houses will be completly sustainble by them selves. Meaning they would take care of them selves For an example they would control all the basic things of housing such as your water and sewage, Heat and hydro etc. but they would also create its own food source by growing it with in the house. I was reading and said a long the lines of bridge the gap between farming techniques that are both environmently responsible and highly productive. I believe the techniques that need to be followed are automated system that are run with renewable energy which would be environmently responsible and highly productive. I would really like to hear back from you thanks Jon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: