SEATTLE — Kristen Macnaughtan, program officer of the agricultural development program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, explained the program’s vision at the 2020 Global Food Safety Initiative conference.

“We envision a world in which everyone can live a healthy life,” she said.

Food safety is one of the challenges in the emerging markets that the program is aimed at helping, areas that include sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Macnaughtan stressed the need for basic supplies in these places.

“We need clean water in these areas.” She explained that without clean water safe food handling habits, like washing hands are not possible. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is working toward getting the basics in place so good food safety can become possible.

Another thing Macnaughtan pointed to is how malnutrition impacts the body’s ability to fight pathogens, including foodborne bacteria, viruses and parasites. She explained that one of the best ways to fight foodborne illness is to be well fed and healthy. Malnutrition puts the body at a large disadvantage.

She explained that when she travels to work in these countries, she almost always gets sick from the food she eats.

“I have antibiotics,” she said, something many people fighting foodborne illness do not. “A lot of people who have high exposure can develop asymptomatic diseases. Your body is still fighting it, but you’re no longer showing it.”

She said that this is a reason you often do not see people in emerging markets with the typical signs of food poisoning, is because they have become asymptomatic, but their bodies are still fighting the pathogens and they can be contagious.

Some of the challenges that are faced when trying to help these emerging markets:

  • Low agricultural productivity made worse by climate change.
  • Low profitability from agriculture
  • Government systems and policies that fail to meet farmers needs
  • Lack of opportunity for women
  • Food systems that don’t provide for nutrition diets

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation looks to impact these emerging markets in three ways:

  • Develop products, tools, technologies, systems, and approaches that advance agricultural transformation.
  • Support country agricultural strategies and help drive systems innovations through country, private sector and other in-country partnerships.
  • Support scaling partners to achieve impact for smallholder farmers.

For more information on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Agricultural Development Program, you can visit their website.

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