Rita Hibbard's picture

Bill Gates puts money down to increase global food production

rita_hibbardwebArguing that the ideological battles waged in the push to increase the globe’s food production create no winners, Bill Gates today does what he usually does to make things happen: He puts money on the table.

He’s announcing a $120 million package of agriculture-related grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to nine institutions around the world, part of his foundation's growing interest in increasing agricultural development, Seattle Times business reporter Kristi Helm writes today. His foundation has spent $1.4 billion over the past three years in Africa and South Asia, drawing criticism from those say it is “too heavily focused on technology solutions,” Helm writes.

Speaking at the World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, Gates will argue that the "ideological wedge" between groups who disregard environmental concerns and groups who discount productivity gains could thwart major breakthroughs that are within reach.

"It's a false choice, and it's dangerous for the field," Gates said in advance excerpts from the speech. "It blocks important advances. It breeds hostility among people who need to work together. And it makes it hard to launch a comprehensive program to help poor farmers.

Carol Smith's picture

Utah's safety net stretched thin

Utah's social safety net for its poorest and most vulnerable citizens is starting to fray. Numbers tell the story. There are 250,000 people without health insurance in the state, of which only 10 percent qualify for state health plans. More than one-third of the 1,550 people who were receiving "general assistance" emergency funds from the state have been cut off since the last Legislative session because the state slashed the assistance period from two years to one. And the number of families going to food banks for survival has surged from 52,000 to 90,000 in the last few months.

Food banks were able to accommodate the surge with help from federal stimulus funds.

But that funding is temporary. The hunger is not.

The increasing pressure on the safety net is happening just as the state faces a possible $750 million budget shortfall, writes Cathy McKitrick of the Salt Lake Tribune.

Advocates for low-income citizens spoke during a "People's Summit on Poverty" this week. People find themselves suddenly poor because of any number of bad breaks - from divorces to layoffs to illness.

Many of these folks rely on state aid temporarily while they figure out how to get themselves back on track.  Without aid, they are at risk for slipping into homelessness, addiction, despair, or any of the other myriad afflictions of poverty that cost the state more in the long run.

Carol Smith's picture

Pepper growers in a pickle

The public appetite for locally-grown food only seems to be growing, but the supply remains under threat as small growers and family-owned operations struggle with the fallout from non-local forces, including foreign competition and immigration reform.

The green chile harvest just getting underway in New Mexico provides a glimpse into the new farm economy. Sandra Baltazar Martinez of the New Mexican looks at the effect labor shortages, and competition from cheaper producers, such as Mexico, have had on the area's signature crop, which has to be hand-picked and de-stemmed. Martinez writes that the amount of land devoted to growing chile has shrunk from 34,500 acres in 1992 to 11,100 last year.

Chile growers aren't the only ones feeling the heat. In Washington state, the Tacoma News Tribune reports farmers are getting crash training courses in preparation for immigration audits.  In dairy states, farmers have seen their labor force evaporate as the Wall Street Journal explains.

And in Utah, fertile land is being paved over for housing tracts and parking lots.

Family farms that have been around for generations are going bankrupt or out of business, writes Salt Lake Tribune columnist Rebecca Walsh.  

At the same time, people continue to go hungry.

People going hungry in WA's farm belt

We believe this qualifies as true irony: More than 10 percent of the people living in one of the country's richest farm belts don't know where their next meal is coming from. Ingrid Stegemoeller of Washington's Tri-City Herald writes that the food stamp program in the area -- near a lot of farms as well as the Hanford Nuclear Reservation -- is now allowing food-stamp recipients to spend their coupons at farmer's markets. The story is ostensibly about the food-stamp program but provides a good overall look at the need in Benton and Franklin counties in south-central Washington.