The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced on Tuesday that it was teaming with the Rockefeller Foundation to increase agricultural productivity in Africa.
The new program will try to repeat the success of a Rockefeller program known as the "green revolution," which greatly increased grain production in Latin America and Southeast Asia beginning in the 1940s.
The two foundations will make an initial investment of US$150 million -- US$100 million from Gates and US$50 million from Rockefeller -- to increase access to high-yield seeds.
This means developing new varieties of seeds, training African crop scientists and retooling seed distribution systems.
"Agricultural production per capita has increased everywhere in the world except [in] Africa," Rajiv Shah, director of agricultural development and financial services programs at the Gates Foundation, said. "It's the one place where production has been declining relative to population."
The program is one of the first financed by Gates' new global development program, which aims to expand the foundation's operations.
But the green revolution has its critics.
"Narrowly focusing on increasing production -- as the green revolution does -- cannot alleviate hunger because it fails to alter the tightly concentrated distribution of economic power, especially access to land and purchasing power," Peter Rosset wrote in 2000, when he was executive director of Food First.
The foundations, apparently mindful of such criticism, are trying to develop a system that will address these issues.
"Whatever strategy we adopt has to be integrated to work, and it will vary by country and region," said Nadya Shmavonian, vice president for foundation initiatives at Rockefeller.
This strategy will include an assessment program and the creation of a new organization.
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