During a recent climate change symposium in Washington, D.C., AgWeb sat down with Pamela K. Anderson, the new director of agriculture development for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Anderson, who spoke at the conference, has spent her career researching staple crops that could improve conditions for small-holder farmers and alleviate hunger. She decided to devote her life’s work to the cause in the 1970s during college and moved to Latin America at age 20.
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Later, Anderson returned to the U.S. to finish advanced degrees at the University of Illinois and Harvard University. She spent 15 years working on national research programs in Latin America before entering the international research system. She rose to become director general of the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru, part of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
Now, she is based in Seattle and runs a program that she describes as a "catalyst" for international agriculture development.
What impact has the Gates Foundation had on research conducted by international research centers?
It was like oxygen for those of us in the business when the Foundation began investing in basic upstream research in 2006. This was before the food crisis, and we were getting to the point where it was increasingly difficult to conduct research. It wasn’t uncommon for advances in the lab, like the Scuba rice I talked about this morning, to take 30 years to find its way into the field. The decision by the Foundation to support research on basic breeding was phenomenal.
The opportunity to take the experience I gained working at an international research center to the Gates Foundation was an opportunity that I just couldn’t say no to.
Judging by Bill Gates’ recent remarks, the Foundation seems to be taking a more holistic approach to agriculture development, an approach that recognizes the importance of building food delivery systems and gaining foreign government support, in addition to basic seed research.
It is, and it was a real tactical shift in the way that we had been working. In general, we were tending to go into the most difficult countries—the poorest of the poor. The foundation figured out pretty quickly that there was wisdom in digging in behind a progressive leader like Dr. Akin Adessina of Nigeria and Dr. Agnes Kalibata of Rwanda, where there was a political will to really move things. If it could chock up some success stories, that would help all us learn and serve as inspiration for other groups of leadership.
In the agricultural strategy of the foundation, we have given ourselves permission to work from upstream basic research to the delivery of it, to the policies that allow it to function, and to the work with the government. We have an end-to-end scope. The challenge is figuring out the best place to put down our money.