Why Bill Gates is investing millions in Darling Downs
BILLIONAIRE Bill Gates' humanitarian work has hit the Southern Downs, with the business magnate donating millions of dollars into research to be conducted near Warwick.
Professor David Jordan, who is based at the Hermitage Research Station, and his team have been recognised by a $3.8million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help improve breeding programs in developing countries.
Mr Jordan said the money would be used in the quest to fight global famine.
"The Gates Foundation tends to recruit people with skills in the area, so they found someone from the private industry who worked with sorghum," he said.
"He knew what we did, and that we knew sorghum, and he asked what we could do to improve sorghum production in Africa.
"We came up with this idea to try and improve the way breeding programs in Ethiopia were breeding sorghum."
Having travelled to Africa over 10 times, Mr Jordan said Warwick provided an ideal location for the research to take place.
"Land here and in Ethiopia is quite similar," Prof Jordan said.
"When you think of Ethiopia, what probably comes to mind is the great famine, and deserts.
"But they have black, volcanic soils similar to what you see outside."
The project is set to help identify ways sorghum can be better bred in Ethiopia, leading to greater genetic gains and on-farm profitability.
"Plant breeding is this process where you try and cross plants together and get a new variety, hopefully producing a better one," he explained.
"This particular project is more about helping to train people to produce crops that have better yield."
Mr Jordan said sorghum was the obvious grain to centre the breeding program project around.
"Sorghum is a great example of the gains that can be achieved by effective plant breeding, even in difficult dry land cropping environments," he said.
"Productivity gains from sorghum in Australia are the highest in the world."
The grain, which is used most commonly in Australia as a livestock feed, is a dietary staple for a fifteenth of the world's population.
"It's a crop that grows really well in drier parts of the world, so there about 500 million people that use it," Mr Jordan said
"It's a staple food in Africa, India and Pakistan, and a little bit in China."
He explained it was not only a fast-growing grain, but extremely diverse.
"I've worked on it all my life," he explained.
"One of the reasons I like working with it, is that it's diverse, especially when you compare different species.
"If you put a selection of wheat varieties together, you can say 'that's all wheat'. With sorghum you can get species that don't look the same, but they are all sorghum."
The Gates Foundation project involves developing a website to act as an information hub and encourages organisations to conduct self-assessments.
The project will review breeding programs in Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Bangladesh and the Indian states Bihar, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh.