Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and co-chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said he plans to expand investment in Ethiopia to financial services and the rural farming community.
Innovative financial services such as mobile banking are improving access to financial services in rural communities, and they will be the third largest investment area for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the coming years, Gates said Thursday at a media round table held at the Sheraton Hotel in Addis Ababa.
Gates said he had a five-hour discussion with Ethiopian authorities, including Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn about mobile banking and financial services — areas that are expected to pay high dividends in Ethiopia.
“We have made substantial investment in financial services in other countries,” Gates said, including in Kenya where the popular M-Pesa mobile banking system is improving financial access in rural areas.
“The Ethiopia government has an ambitious plan for the mobile networks” and their potential for facilitating financial services, Gates said. The country’s payment system is one of the areas that the government wants to tap in mobile banking technology. “They want to make all government payments effective,” he said.
Gates announced that his financial services team will visit Addis Ababa to talk to the government on how the foundation can best help in that area.
Gates also said his foundation is supporting a private entrepreneur in Ethiopia, EthioChicken, an innovative company that specializes in providing improved chicken breeds to local smallholder poultry farmers in the Tigray and Southern Regional areas.
EthioChicken started five years ago when two American entrepreneurs partnered with the government to make a local chicken breeding center efficient. EthioChicken specializes in supplying 1-day-old chickens to local organized youth groups and smallholder farmers engaged in poultry farming.
The EthioChicken breeding centre has expanded operations to two additional farms in Wolkita and Wolita Sodo and one feed mill in Burau, said CEO David Ellis.
“Generally, we work with a network of youth organized by the government and we supply a better breed of chicken to these youth at a price set by the regional governments,” Ellis told The Reporter. EthioChicken works closely with the agricultural extension program, contributing to rural welfare by helping create income. “It is not just a better breed of chicken that we supply to smallholder farmers but the whole package of chicken feed, vaccines and chicken breeds,” he said.
Gate’s grant will go to improving productivity and scale of operations in EthioChicken, according to Ellis. In 2015, the chicken farm supplied 3.7 million chickens to smallholder farmers and women in the rural community.
Gates said a lot of the agricultural investment made by his foundation is about improving seed and livestock to augment yield in developing countries — a controversial subject in the developing world due to genetic modification.
To date there are no cases of reported damage from GMO products in the world, but a number of African countries including Ethiopia are resistant to embrace GMOs in their agricultural sector and markets, Gates said. “Anyway, it is up to the country to take what they need,” Gates said.