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Originally published Saturday, October 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Gates Foundation: Agriculture called key to prosperity

A society's prosperity is inextricably linked with its agriculture, the president of the global-development program for the Bill & Melinda...

The Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — A society's prosperity is inextricably linked with its agriculture, the president of the global-development program for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation says.

Sylvia Mathews Burwell says that history has shown that no country or region has ever lifted itself out of poverty without sustainable agriculture. She says that is a key reason why the Gates Foundation has added agriculture issues to its portfolio.

Africa is a perfect illustration of the problem, she said. The continent was a net exporter of food but now relies on imports to sustain itself. She said the Gates Foundation was focused on changing that dynamic.

"While the need is clear, the opportunity is also clear."

Burwell spoke Thursday during a lunchtime keynote address at World Food Prize celebrations in Des Moines. The event includes three days of meetings on hunger issues with leaders from education, private industry and government.

Former Sens. Bob Dole and George McGovern are the winners of this year's award for creating the George McGovern-Robert Dole International Food for Education and Nutrition Program.

The program, which was established in 2000, has provided more than 22 million meals to children in 41 countries.

The World Food Prize was created in 1986 by Iowa native Norman Borlaug, who won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for spurring the so-called "Green Revolution."

Recipients are awarded $250,000, which Dole and McGovern plan to split.

Burwell praised Borlaug's work and his enduring legacy during her hourlong speech.

The World Food Prize was a fitting venue for her to speak, she said, because it prizes partnership and coming together to solve big problems — just like the Gates Foundation.

She said the foundation had an unofficial motto.

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"If you want to go fast, go alone," she said. "If you want to go far, go together."

She said the Gates Foundation, like the World Food Prize, would continue to focus on big goals.

"When it happens to a single farmer that's a success story," she said. "When it happens to a community, that's development."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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