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Melinda French Gates on the Impact of Agricultural Finance

By Opportunity International

Want to do more to impact global poverty? In an interview in the August issue of Smithsonianmagazine, Melinda Gates outlines the techniques the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is using to fight global poverty in the 21st century. (“Melinda French Gates on Saving Lives,” by Terence Monmaney) It’s part of the magazine’s 40th-anniversary issue, featuring ”40 Things You Need to Know About the Next 40 Years.” If you ever feel that poverty in the developing world is an inevitable fact of life, this interview is an encouraging look at the wide range of strategies that can and are being employed to fight it.

Along with using newhttp://www.opportunity.org/our-work/technology/technology[/intlink] like cell phone banking, and implementing education and healthcare reforms, Gates emphasizes the importance of reaching rural people, especially farmers, with investment and support. 

Poverty is often viewed as intractable. What has your experience taught you about it? 

History has shown that it’s possible for people to overcome even extreme poverty and hunger[…] We also know that certain strategies have an immense impact. Investing in agriculture, for example. Advances in agriculture during the Green Revolution doubled food production, saved hundreds of millions of lives and laid the groundwork for broader development in many countries. 

Indeed, the Gates Foundation makes significant investments in agricultural development. The foundation, along with The MasterCard Foundation, has given Opportunity a $16 million grantto establish an agricultural finance program in order to reach 1.4 million people, including 90,000 smallholder farmers, in sub-Saharan Africa. The program provides farmers access to financial tools like savings accounts, innovative farming techniques, crop insurance, professional training and market linkages. 

Not surprisingly, women play a crucial role in agricultural life in the developing world. And so Gates emphasizes the inextricable link between empowering women and fighting poverty. 

Studies suggest development aid goes furthest if it is directed to women. Is that your experience? 

[…]Agriculture may be the area where the special role of women in development is most clear. Most small[holder] farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are women, but a lot of agricultural interventions don’t take that into account. Some programs aim to increase the productivity of crops without understanding that higher production can mean that women have to work longer and harder in the field, leaving them less time to care for their households; that can undermine the welfare of the household in general. And we know that when a woman gets cash for her work, she is more likely than her husband to spend it on things like food and school fees. 


When you wonder if global poverty is an unavoidable fact of life, read Gates’ encouragement for what can and is being done to impact the most economically marginalized people in the world. Read the entire interview at smithsonianmag.com.

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