02/22/2013 02:25 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Partnering to Empower Poor Farming Families and Ensure Global Food Security

There is an African proverb that captures the importance of partnerships in the work we do at the Gates Foundation: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others."

Nowhere are partnerships more important than in efforts to help poor farming families around the world to increase their agricultural productivity. Helping farmers grow and sell more crops in a sustainable and equitable way is a catalyst for rural employment that helps address poverty, nutrition, and food security.

Mexican scientist and CIMMYT collaborator J. Arahón Hernández Guzmán examines a maize ear in Jala, Mexico. Photo courtesy of Eloise Phipps/CIMMYT

One of our partners in this effort is the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (the Spanish acronym is CIMMYT). CIMMYT was the birth place of the first Green Revolution, which resulted from breakthroughs in the development of high yielding wheat varieties that first enabled Mexico to become self-sufficient in wheat production in the 1960s. This was then shared with farmers in India and Pakistan to avert mass starvation.

This success was made possible by bringing together innovation, strong partnerships between nations, and a clear end goal to address an urgent need - global food security.

Just a few weeks ago, we saw another tremendous step towards addressing this urgent need. Bill Gates and Mexican businessman and philanthropist Carlos Slim inaugurated a new research complex at CIMMYT that will address the complex challenges facing maize and wheat farmers around the globe. How?

The new facilities will enable CIMMYT and its international partners to utilize the power of technology to store information on genetic makeup of plants to improve seed varieties for the benefit of millions. CIMMYT's maize and wheat gene banks hold the keys that - through better seed varieties - can help farmers address the challenges posed by climate change, increase the efficiency of crops in the use of fertilizer and limited water resources, and improve the nutritional quality of staple crops.

This important work - to make better use of natural crop diversity - is the largest international effort of its kind. The project is supported by the Government of Mexico under the MasAgro project, and will benefit not only farmers in Mexico, but farmers around the globe, through a network of dedicated researchers - many of whom have been trained at CIMMYT over the past decades.

Information and genetic resources generated by MasAgro will be shared freely with the global maize and wheat community, and serve as a model for other crops that are vital to smallholder farm families. Generating these global public goods is a unique role that CIMMYT plays in the agricultural development ecosystem.

In Bill Gates' Annual Letter, he emphasized the importance that innovation, goals, and measurement have played in enabling the world to work toward meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - including the goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.

The donation made by Carlos Slim to modernize CIMMYT's research facility will help ensure its continued contribution to develop and delivering farmer-preferred solutions that increase productivity in a sustainable manner. Providing resources for agricultural innovation, building strong partnerships, and setting clear goals for productivity gives us good reason to be optimistic about the future of food security and increased farm productivity to help lift rural families out of poverty.

This post was written by David Bergvinson. Bergvinson is deputy director within the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Agricultural Development team, overseeing efforts to leverage digital technologies to accelerate the development and delivery of products, services and knowledge to help millions of the world's poorest farming families boost their productivity and incomes.
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