While most billionaires are engrossed in aggrandizing their empires, some are pausing and rethinking their priorities. Corporate empires and governments can exist only if the ordinary citizen can exist in basic contentment, especially with regard to the provision of daily food. But food is becoming scarcer each year, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for the poorer citizens to nourish themselves with an adequate supply of daily food. Bill Gates, understanding this, declared, “We cannot tolerate a world in which 1 in 7 people is undernourished, stunted, and in danger of starving to death.”

In his annual letter posted on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation website, he wrote:

‘Right now, just over 1 billion people—about 15 percent of the people in the world—live in extreme poverty. On most days, they worry about whether their family will have enough food to eat. There is irony in this, since most of them live and work on farms. The problem is that their farms, which tend to be just a couple acres in size, don’t produce enough food for a family to live on…

‘Despite the rich world’s distance from farming, food-related issues are important for all of us. In the 1960s and 1970s, when I was in high school, people worried that we simply couldn’t grow enough food to feed everyone in the world. A popular book that came out in 1968, The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich, began with the statement: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…” Fortunately, due in large part to the Green Revolution, this dire prediction was wrong.

‘But the world’s success in warding off famine led to complacency. Over time, governments in both developed and developing countries focused less on agriculture. Agricultural aid fell from 17 percent of all aid from rich countries in 1987 to just 4 percent in 2006. In the past 10 years, the demand for food has gone up because of population growth and economic development—as people get richer, they tend to eat more meat, which indirectly raises demand for grain. Supply growth has not kept up, leading to higher prices. Meanwhile, the threat of climate change is becoming clearer. Preliminary studies show that the rise in global temperature alone could reduce the productivity of the main crops by over 25 percent. Climate change will also increase the number of droughts and floods that can wipe out an entire season of crops. More and more people are raising familiar alarms about whether the world will be able to support itself in the future, as the population heads toward a projected 9.7 billion by 2050…

‘We can help poor farmers sustainably increase their productivity so they can feed themselves and their families. By doing so, they will contribute to global food security. But that will happen only if we prioritize agricultural innovation…

‘Given the central role that food plays in human welfare and national stability, it is shocking – not to mention shortsighted and potentially dangerous – how little money is spent on agricultural research. In total, only $3 billion per year is spent on researching the seven most important crops. This includes $1.5 billion spent by countries, $1.2 billion by private companies, and $300 million by an agency called the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Even though the CGIAR money is only 10 percent of the spending, it is critical because it focuses on the needs of poor countries. Very little of the country and private spending goes toward the priorities of small farmers in Africa or South Asia…

‘We have the ability to accelerate this historic progress. We can be more innovative about delivering solutions that already exist to the farmers who need them. Knowledge about managing soil and tools like drip irrigation can help poor farmers grow more food today. We can also discover new approaches and create new tools to fundamentally transform farmers’ lives. But we won’t advance if we don’t continue to fund agricultural innovation, and I am very worried about where those funds will come from in the current economic and political climate.

‘The world faces a clear choice. If we invest relatively modest amounts, many more poor farmers will be able to feed their families. If we don’t, one in seven people will continue living needlessly on the edge of starvation. My annual letter this year is an argument for making the choice to keep on helping extremely poor people build self-sufficiency.

‘My concern is not only about farming; it applies to all the areas of global development and global health in which we work. Using the latest tools—seeds, vaccines, AIDS drugs, and contraceptives, for example—we have made impressive progress. However, if we don’t make these success stories widely known, we won’t generate the funding commitments needed to maintain progress and save lives. At stake are the future prospects of one billion human beings.’

To read the full letter, click HERE.