A farmer plows his field in Fanbougou, Mali. Photo by: European Commission

BRUSSELS — The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the European Commission will spend more than $600 million on research to help smallholder farmers who face deteriorating growing conditions due to climate change, they announced Tuesday.

Some $300 million from the Gates Foundation and $318 million from the Commission between 2018 and 2020 will go towards tackling problems such as how to protect crops against rising temperatures, droughts, floods, diseases, poor soil and pests.

“Two-thirds of the world’s poorest people live in Africa and Asia, and roughly 800 million of them rely on agriculture for their livelihoods,” the Gates Foundation said in a statement. “These smallholder farmers play a negligible role in generating carbon emissions, but they suffer some of the harshest effects of climate change.”

The foundation said the initiative complemented developing countries’ climate adaptation plans in the areas of crop improvement, protection, and management.

Among the possible new technologies, the foundation evoked the potential to combine big data with robotics to scan fields of crops, to better understand plant characteristics; the development of drought-tolerant varieties of rice; heat-tolerant beans; and new ways to detect and control crop diseases.

The Commission said it will continue working with the Gates Foundation, as well as member states such as France, Germany, Italy, and Spain to identify priority areas. It said the initiative would improve knowledge of primary production methods, processing technology, organization along value chains, food security, and nutrition.

The partnership would also aim at “enhancing research architecture and developing the national and regional research capacities conducive to innovation,” the Commission added.

Neven Mimica, the EU development commissioner, welcomed the chance to work together on “critical gaps in agricultural and food systems R&D.”

Also on Tuesday, the Gates Foundation launched the One Planet Fellowship with the BNP Paribas Foundation and Agropolis Foundation: A 15 million euro ($17.6 million) program over five years to help 600 young African and European researchers study how African farmers can adapt to climate change.

The announcements coincided with the One Planet Summit in Paris, hosted by the French government, United Nations and World Bank, to discuss how to generate funds needed to honor the two-year-old Paris Agreement on climate change.

Speaking at the event, Bill Gates, the foundation’s co-chair, called agriculture “the most promising path out of poverty for individuals and countries.”

Gates said getting better seeds to the world’s poorest farmers would make them more productive and resilient.

“With that additional productivity they will be able to have a buffer stock and not suffer from the more variable weather that they are going to deal with.”

He added in a statement that the foundation was excited to join the Commission “to drive forward research and innovation that will help farmers improve their crop yields, respond to climate pressures and have access to the latest developments in farming practices.”

Read more Devex coverage on food security and agriculture.

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  • Vince Chadwick

    Vince Chadwick is the Brussels Correspondent for Devex. He covers the EU institutions, member states, and European civil society. A law graduate from Melbourne, Australia, he was social affairs reporter for The Age newspaper, before moving to Europe in 2013. He covered breaking news, the arts and public policy across the continent, including as a reporter and editor at POLITICO Europe.