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Photo by Dave Anderson
Isaya and Restituta Mlewa at their Tanzanian organic farm.

Bill Gates' 2012 annual letter "is an argument for making the choice to keep on helping extremely poor people build self-sufficiency."

In an interview with the U.K.'s MSN news, Gates explains that his hope for the letter is that it "helps people connect to the choice we all have to make. Relatively small investments changed the future for hundreds of millions of small farm families. The choice now is this: Do we continue those investments so that the 1 billion people who remain poor benefit? Or do we tolerate a world in which one in seven people is undernourished, stunted and in danger of starving to death?

"In times of tight budgets, we have to pick our priorities," Gates continues. "It's clear that in this particular time, we're in danger of deciding that aid to the poorest is not one of them. I am confident, however, that if people understand what their aid has already accomplished—and its potential to accomplish so much more—they'll insist on doing more, not less. That is why I wrote my letter."

At Heifer, our supporters, donors, staff members and participants around the world say Amen! and pass the tomatoes to spreading the gospel on how small investments (in our case heifers, goats, bees or tree seedlings), can stop hunger in the short-term and create sustainable income in the long-term. Every day we see investments in small farm families empower them beyond subsistence to create a chain of self-sufficiency that lifts up entire communities.

Heifer works with the Gates Foundation on the East Africa Dairy Development project that not only connects dairy farmers to markets, but links public and private interests including banks and investors, to create a growing local economy based on agriculture.

In his letter, Gates emphasizes not only innovations in agricultural production, but also in creative partnerships to better feed the world. "I am excited because innovative partnerships that capitalize on the comparative advantages of all these players can accelerate progress, speeding the transition beyond aid for many poor countries."

Heifer shares similar goals with the Gates Foundation, including a focus on investing in women, preserving land for future generations and developing innovations in the field that engage the people we are trying to help in making the best decisions for their land, culture, sustainability and environment.

Isaya and Restituta Mlewa, shown above, and featured in this World Ark magazine article, are proof that participants have innovations of their own to add. From the gift of one dairy cow and Heifer training in dairy and organic farming, the couple came up with their own systems using animal and plant waste that are now an example for the thousands of farmers they have trained across Africa.

In Nepal, the Heifer project community of Shaktikhor, through a Farmer Field School, did their own research into feed varieties and care that improved the health and increased the weight of goats throughout the community. Their innovations were shared and picked up by other Heifer project communities in Nepal.

At a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland today, Gates said "innovations in crop science, access to information for farmers and new models of cooperation between governments and private enterprises are some of the developments that can improve global food security," he said. "I believe the opportunity to double or even triple (food) productivity is there."

Join the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Heifer International in promoting the value of investments in agriculture around the world to end hunger and poverty.


Donna Stokes

Donna Stokes is the managing editor of World Ark magazine. She has worked for Heifer International since September 2008 when she leaped over to the nonprofit world from a two-decade career in newspaper journalism.