Plant Biology as a Natural Solution
Plant science research can sustainably transform a crop’s productivity and its adaptive capacity to climate stress for smallholder farmers. The stakes are high, and there is no time to lose.
Demand for smallholder-focused innovation is already substantial — and increasing. One in four people on the planet will live in sub-Saharan Africa by 2050, yet yields on the continent are only 15-20 percent of those in similar growing regions.
Despite this, conventional research and development often neglects the priorities and needs of smallholders if the risk is too high or the road to commercialization too uncertain. Gates Ag One uses patient capital and our unique convening power to change this.
A Spotlight on the Science
Gates Ag One is exploring every promising discovery with the breakthrough potential we seek. Advance to the next slide to see some of the emerging discoveries already on our radar.
Photosynthesis is the natural process that all plants use to convert sunlight into energy. However, plants have not yet evolved to photosynthesize efficiently, with only five percent of this solar energy getting converted into growth. A project called Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) is working to harvest more of this untapped potential in plants to boost farmers’ yields and improve their livelihoods.
Nitrogen is one of the most important nutrients that a crop needs to grow. It can be re-applied to the soil each year through either compost, manure or mineral fertilizers, but what if this is not accessible to smallholders in sufficient quantity or at an affordable price? A project called Engineering Nitrogen Symbiosis for Africa (ENSA) aims to increase yields of cereal crops like maize and soybeans by giving them the ability to produce nitrogen through naturally occurring rhizomes in their roots, reducing reliance on external inputs.
Cassava is a staple crop for around 800 million people globally, grown almost exclusively by smallholders. Yields have remained largely stagnant for 50 years, but the Cassava Source-Sink Project (CASS) aims to change this by helping the crop absorb nutrients more efficiently and use them to grow bigger tubers, the most widely eaten part of the plant.