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Nothing improves an economy as efficiently as agriculture, the Microsoft founder says

Investing in agriculture is essential if the fight against world poverty is to succeed, according to Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who spoke at an International Agriculture and Food Security Briefing sponsored by Farmers Feeding the World, a Farm Journal Foundation Initiative, and the Senate Hunger Caucus.

"It’s been proven that of all the interventions to reduce poverty, improving agricultural productivity is the best. All the other different economic activity—yes it trickles down. But nothing as efficiently as in agriculture," Gates said to a packed conference room in the U.S. Senate office building.

Several congressmen and many staff attended the briefing, along with key influencers in agricultural policy. The event offered a rare chance to hear from Gates himself about his foundation and its work in agriculture.

"I want to talk about why investments in agriculture make such a big difference in the lives of the poor," Gates said. "Our agriculture program has become one of our biggest, and it’s one of our fastest growing. That’s because we’ve seen huge results, and without it we don’t see a way of achieving our goals, where kids can be healthy, their brains can fully develop, and they can have a chance to live a normal life.

"Most of the poor people of the world are farmers—farmers with very small plots of land, who have to deal with a great deal of uncertainty because they don’t know what their yield is going to be, and in many years they are making just enough—or not even enough—to have the food that they expect."

Read on to see more of what Gates had to say.
 

The Green Revolution: A Model for Success

"There is a history of success here. Certainly the green revolution is one of those unbelievable stories that’s quite exciting. I was down in Mexico at CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center) a couple months ago. They were putting in a Norm Borlaug statute down there, talking about how they are carrying on in the spirit of his work, to help everyone in the world put in high-productivity crops.

"That revolution certainly saved hundreds of millions of lives. But it’s a revolution that’s not yet complete. And if we take the world as a whole, in the ‘80s and ‘90s, there was a shift away from agriculture, not focusing on what still had to be done. And particularly if we look at Africa, because of the breadth of eco-systems there, this green revolution, this increase in productivity, is not noticeable at all.

"You take that history of yield chart, and not only are they at a very low level, but they are essentially staying at that level. So it’s time for a renaissance of the green revolution. Obviously we learned a lot in the first green revolution about sustainability, use of agriculture, making sure it reaches out to the very poorest farmers. This time around, as we redo what was done well, we can do it in an even smarter way.

"The metrics here are pretty simple. About three-quarters of the poor who live on these farms need greater productivity, and if they get that productivity we’ll see the benefits in income, we’ll see it in health, we’ll see it in the percentage of their kids who are going off to school. These are incredibly measurable things.

"The great thing about agriculture is that once you get a bootstrap—once you get the right seeds and information—a lot of it can be left to the marketplace. This is a place where philanthropy and government work, and market-based activity, meet each other."

Increasing Investment in Research

"It’s been proven that of all the interventions to reduce poverty, improving agricultural productivity is the best. All the other different economic activity—yes it trickles down. But nothing as efficiently as in agriculture."

"Our agricultural program has a number of aspects. A fair bit of it is in the upstream area. We’ve become one of the larger funders of the CGIAR system. Places like CIMMYT do really unbelievable work. And given the impact of their work, and the importance of the work, we’ve all got to be disappointed that funding is not even at peak levels. It’s come off from the peaks of a long time ago, and it needs to be renewed. In particular, given the opportunities of taking the genetic revolution and various digital approaches that track productivity and look at genotype and phenotype information, we have to dedicate ourselves to upgrade the tools and the skills that are in those centers, so that they are benefitting from the latest science.

"A lot of the research is done here in the United States. It’s research on things like wheat rust, productivity, and various stresses like drought management. Many of these things are going to be beneficial throughout the globe. Stopping wheat rust is not just a benefit for the poor, it’s a benefit for wheat farmers in middle income and high income countries. I think we’ve lost track of the public goods here, whether it's coming from the research centers or from the universities. We are under-investing.

"That’s always a challenge in capitalism—innovation is under-invested in, and particularly innovation on behalf of the poorest. So all of us with our voices, and this is certainly one of the goals of the foundation, must not only fund agricultural research, but encourage others to do that as well.

"Of course just developing new seeds is not enough. You’ve got to get into the countries and look at the policies, the land policies, the Extension policies, the research policies, the acceptance of GMO techniques. And make sure every one of those things is managed in a very strong way. There’s a lot of research, a lot of benefits, that’s not getting out to the farmers who need it.

"The U.S. traditionally has played a key role in agriculture research. It has played a key role in food aid. What we see in the numbers, though, is that agricultural research has been flat-lined. The PCAST (President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology) report went through and looked at how that affected not just the poorest countries but everyone, and talked about a need to increase that investment.

"The leverage of that investment will be particularly strong because of new advances, new digital approaches. In fact, just recently the foundation announced an initiative with the Department of Agriculture about open data for agriculture. [We are taking] what’s called cloud techniques, or big data techniques, and gathering together all the information—whether it’s understanding which policies work, how to direct crop breeding activity, or the genotype, phenotype information data basis. [We want] everybody leveraging everybody else’s work to move forward here."

Funding a Better Future

"I’m very optimistic that we can increase productivity. One of the ways that all of us can renew our commitment to this is going down and seeing firsthand how U.S. investments are making a difference in the lives of small-holder farmers. My wife last year went to Tanzania. The [trip] happened to be led by Sen. Graham. It was pretty amazing, even for Melinda, who has been involved in this for a long time, to go out and meet the farmers and talk to them about what they were going to do as they got more productivity.

"One woman had a new maize variety supported by the U.S., and what she had seen is that it had doubled her income. And everyone there was looking around and seeing that she had to walk three miles a day to get water. No electricity, no transport. So they were very curious to ask her what she was going to do now that she had this additional income. And she had a very straight-forward answer: invest in her children’s education so they would have an even better future.

"So when you hear the kind of impact this stuff can have, the scale that it’s needed, I think we all get very dedicated to this work. So I’m glad to be here and thank you for your commitment to this cause, and hopefully we can recruit more resources both in the U.S. and around the world to move even faster."

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Cabras são as novas cortadoras de relva do aeroporto de Chicago

O O’Hare International Airport, em Chicago, recrutou um rebanho de 25 cabras para a sua equipa de colaboradores. Os animais irão cortar a relva da infra-estrutura e zona envolvente e foram cedidos por um restaurante próximo. As novas colaboradores serão “gestoras de vegetação” do aeroporto.

Um dos sócios do restaurante comprou inicialmente os animais pensando no menu do seu estabelecimento. Mas, no fundo, eles revelaram-se “os cortadores de relva perfeitos”, em especial da vegetação nas áreas de acesso difícil e rochoso do aeroporto.

“Quando a cidade lançou a proposta, pensámos que era uma ideia local muito interessante e sustentável”, disse o sócio do restaurante.

Espera-se que as cabras limpem cerca de 23 metros quadrados de vegetação por dia, especialmente nas áreas montanhosas perto de riachos e em estradas actualmente cobertas de mato.

Os cortadores de quatro patas vão ter um guardador responsável por se certificar de que o rebanho não foge do perímetro que lhe cabe – com cercas para o manter longe das pistas do aeroporto.

“Estamos a usar recursos naturais de forma mais eficiente”, afirmou o Comissário de Aviação da cidade, de acordo com o Consumerist.

Quanto às cabras, não se vão transformar em hambúrgueres quando o trabalho estiver concluído – elas vão regressar à quinta onde vivem actualmente até à próxima Primavera, voltando depois mais tarde a trabalhar no aeroporto.

 

 

 

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Smithsonian

May 10, 2013 1:49 pm  

Image: Loring Loding

Have you ever noticed that almost every barn you have ever seen is red? There’s a reason for that, and it has to do with the chemistry of dying stars. Seriously.

Yonatan Zunger is a Google employee who decided to explain this phenomenon on Google+ recently. The simple answer to why barns are painted red is because red paint is cheap. The cheapest paint there is, in fact. But the reason it’s so cheap? Well, that’s the interesting part.

Red ochre—Fe2O3—is a simple compound of iron and oxygen that absorbs yellow, green and blue light and appears red. It’s what makes red paint red. It’s really cheap because it’s really plentiful. And it’s really plentiful because of nuclear fusion in dying stars. Zunger explains:

The only thing holding the star up was the energy of the fusion reactions, so as power levels go down, the star starts to shrink. And as it shrinks, the pressure goes up, and the temperature goes up, until suddenly it hits a temperature where a new reaction can get started. These new reactions give it a big burst of energy, but start to form heavier elements still, and so the cycle gradually repeats, with the star reacting further and further up the periodic table, producing more and more heavy elements as it goes. Until it hits 56. At that point, the reactions simply stop producing energy at all; the star shuts down and collapses without stopping.

As soon as the star hits the 56 nucleon (total number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus) cutoff, it falls apart. It doesn’t make anything heavier than 56. What does this have to do with red paint? Because the star stops at 56, it winds up making a ton of things with 56 neucleons. It makes more 56 nucleon containing things than anything else (aside from the super light stuff in the star that is too light to fuse).

The element that has 56 protons and neutrons in its nucleus in its stable state? Iron. The stuff that makes red paint.

And that, Zunger explains, is how the death of a star determines what color barns are painted.


Read more: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/smartnews/2013/05/barns-are-painted-red-because-of-the-physics-of-dying-stars/#ixzz2TxHnErBp
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

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