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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: Ever-stronger engagement in agriculture

Chris-EliasSenior management and center scientists welcomed Chris Elias, the new President of Global Development of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to CIMMYT headquarters on 30 March 2012, providing among other things an introduction to major programs. Elias’ background includes experience in the global non-profit health sector and most recently as CEO of PATH, a nongovernmental organization whose portfolio includes solutions for AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. David Bergvinson, Senior Program Officer for Science & Technology, for the Foundation accompanied Elias to CIMMYT.

The Foundation is among the center’s major donors and directly funds the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) and Improved Maize for African Soils (IMAS) projects. CIMMYT is also partner to other Foundation recipients for important work like that of developing and deploying wheat that resists the deadly Ug99 strain of stem rust and projects to develop micronutrient rich maize and wheat varieties. In addition to its funding, the Foundation has provided valuable support and guidance to CIMMYT on research management, policy engagement, and in fundraising. Through DTMA, 25,000-30,000 tons of drought tolerant maize is being deployed annually to smallholder farmers across Africa.

The visitors toured the long-term conservation agriculture field experiment, new areas of construction at El Batán, and the germplasm bank. CIMMYT presenters particularly highlighted global food security concerns. “We’ve been able to attract excellent new staff in recent years and combine that with the knowledge and experience of current scientists,” said Marianne Bänziger, deputy director general for research and partnerships. “We have a tremendous team, but if we look at the challenges we are deeply concerned with future food security. The food price peaks we saw in 2008 and 2011 are just a beginning. There is a close alignment of food prices with social unrest. This why we have a very clear strategy.”

Lumpkin voiced CIMMYT’s gratitude for Foundation support. “The improvements happening here are because of donors such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, major efforts by the government of Mexico, and the hard work of staff,” he said.

Elias thanked his hosts. “It’s been a great learning experience for me,” he said. “I’m sure this won’t be my last visit to CIMMYT.”