February 20, 2013 | By Bill Gates
Reflections on My Trip to Mexico City
Last week I was in Mexico City, where I had the opportunity to spend two days with some of the best scientists in the world, and a good partner of ours, Carlos Slim. I'm always impressed by science. Usually I'm learning about how science in health is transforming lives, but this time it was the science and innovation in agricultural research that excited me.
On my first day in Mexico, I learned about the work International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (known by its acronym in Spanish, CIMMYT) is doing in conservation and precision agriculture. The lead scientist in the program Dr. Bram Govaerts, meets with farmers, extension and scientists at innovation hubs to test new crop management practices to improve the profits and natural resources of farm land. This was evident in the field where I was asked to water the plot under investigation and Carlos timed the difference in absorption between the land under conservation agriculture and the regular plot. We timed 22 seconds vs 5 seconds. The difference is staggering in the reduced water loss and productivity gains.
One of CIMMYT's exciting new programs, Seeds of Discovery, could also be one of the most innovative programs in genetic research, as it seeks to map out the millions of markers in maize and wheat varieties, to make it possible for plant breeders to find new and improved seeds for farmers all around the world. As Dr. Tom Lumpkin, the Director General of CIMMYT, explained to me, there is still much more work to be done to make this a reality and it will take even greater partnership and expertise in technology and communications to ensure this work reaches the fields and the farmers whose livelihoods depend on it. Dr. Lumpkin thinks it may be another five years before the sequencing of all the varieties is completed and transferred to plant breeders.
It is partnership that brought me to Mexico in the first place. I had already been lucky enough to work with Carlos Slim a few years ago, when we partnered on the MesoAmerican Health Initiative to help reduce maternal and child mortality in Central America. This time Carlos wanted to invest his time and resources into agriculture, to benefit farmers and their families across Mexico and the world. As I listened during the site visit of the CIMMYT center on my second day in Mexico, and talked to more scientists and breeders based out in Texcoco, I knew that the partnership we were building here was more than just a financial one. Carlos' passion and expertise in communications could also help accelerate some of the work being done here, taking the knowledge gathered in the Gene Bank at CIMMYT and building faster, quicker methods of communicating and translating it to breeders.
Carlos also talked about the role his organization could play in connecting farmer organizations and institutes to a coordinated network to ensure the extension systems created under MasAgro can reach and benefit as many farmers as possible across Mexico. Carlos has asked us to share our learning and innovation from other parts of the world to help farmers in Mexico. One example is the exciting work of Digital Green in India, where video is used to help farmers share best crop-management practices as farmers trust knowledge and seed from fellow farmers – resulting in reduced extension costs and increased adoption of improved technologies and practices.
The Slim Foundation announced their funding of $25m to CIMMYT to a packed crowd of international media and delegates. Carlos, Dr. Lumpkin, and I, and representatives from the Mexican state and national government, cut the ribbon and officially opened the new world-class facilities that Carlos' funds created. In doing so, we opened the door for a new generation of scientists to explore and expand the innovation of agricultural research.