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U.S.'s Geithner, Bill Gates to launch agri-fund for poor

22/04/2010 - 1:11

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates said on Wednesday they will launch a global agricultural fund to boost food production in the developing world.

In an opinion piece, Gates and Geithner said the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, which will be launched in Washington on Thursday, will help farmers grow more food and earn more from farming.

"As the world's population increases in the coming years and as changes in the climate create water shortages that destroy crops, the number of people without adequate access to food is likely to increase," Gates and Geithner wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

"As that happens, small farmers and people living in poverty will need the most help," they wrote.

The fund was first proposed by the United States at a meeting of the Group of Eight in Italy in 2008, where it urged countries to pool their resources to invest in agriculture in the world's poorest countries.

Gates and Geithner said commitments for the fund total nearly $900 million from now until 2012. They said Canada, Spain and South Korea would contribute funding.

The fund, which will be supervised by the World Bank, will provide financing to poor countries with high levels of food insecurity and have developed sound agricultural plans to boost crop production.

The fund will invest in infrastructure that will link farmers to markets, promote sustainable water-use management, and increase access to better seeds and technologies.

A rise in world food prices in 2008 to record levels highlighted the chronic underinvestment in agriculture in developing countries, where three-quarters of the poor live in rural areas.

Gates' foundation has long been active in providing funding for projects to increase agricultural production of small-scale farmers in Africa and elsewhere. It has particularly been interested in improving access to food, working closely with the United Nation's World Food Programme.

The United States is the world's largest food aid donor. While enough food is produced in the world to end hunger, more than 1 billion people go hungry because they cannot afford to buy food or otherwise cannot access supplies.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Richard Chang)

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