Gates Foundation Taps Into Chinese Expertise For Its Work in Africa

Microsoft co-founder and Chairman Bill Gates talked with the Seattle Times about his new full time role with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Below are excerpts of his remarks about his foundation’s plans to apply lessons from China, in particular in the area of agricultural research, to its work in Africa.

Q: How can the foundation do work in China?

Gates: Well, the foundation has done a number of things in China, grants for a hepatitis B vaccination, because the disease burden in China, particularly in their poorer regions, is one of the highest in the world. So we helped out with that.

We’re doing some AIDS-related things in China. Also, when you think of China, they have capabilities that now that they’ve improved their economy a lot, they can be a factor to help poorer countries. And so our agricultural people have spent a lot of time in China because China has agricultural expertise that could help raise crop yields significantly in Africa. We’re looking at some exchange programs there that would draw on the good work, and the expertise that’s in China, and help get Africa up to that same type of level.

China is kind of interesting, because it’s in some ways, it’s not large, it’s a recipient, but in a lot of ways it’s a participant in the things that need to get done.

Q: Is China accepting of the role of outside nonprofit organizations coming in and trying to work on the significant problems? How have you been able to deal with the leadership when you approach that country?

Gates: Well, we worked with the health ministry on a lot of things. On some, like the AIDS thing, they were very welcoming, and it’s good collaboration.

It will be interesting to see on tobacco how much they cooperate on that. The U.S. was at a much, much higher level of wealth before it did anything about tobacco, so China has a chance to act well before the equivalent time that the U.S. did. It will vary by topic how much you get government cooperation on those things.

Some things, like delivering vaccines, you’ve got to get the government to help. And in China they do quite a good job of that. Vietnam [has] actually a higher vaccine-coverage rate than the United States. There are parts of Africa where the vaccine-coverage rates are quite low.

Q: And how does the Gates Foundation, as you said, work to bring some of what’s going on in China in terms of seed development and agriculture into Africa?

Gates: Well, for example, the two leading places for rice research are one international group down in the Philippines and a group in China. And so figuring out what would it take for them to think about the particular needs of Africa in terms of the varieties grown there, and how we get these traits, say drought resistance, into those, in some cases they’ve just cooperated with us without us funding any activity. In some cases, we fund them to pay particular attention to the problems in the case of that crop out of Africa.