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As CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a native Nebraskan, Jeff Raikes shared information about the foundation and its role and approach to fighting poverty with water, as well as his personal interest in the subject. Raikes intended his address to be provocative and to challenge the attendees to consider the actions that must be taken to address what he believes is a significant crisis but also a significant opportunity – the future of water for food.
Raikes’ personal interest in water and agriculture is rooted in his family’s history of farming in Nebraska since 1854. He described vivid memories of his father portraying the vast Ogallala aquifer as an incredible resource for agriculture, and his father’s absolute belief and commitment to agriculture. “As a teenager I came away thinking, wow, we have this endless supply of water. Endless is what I thought,” said Raikes, who grew up near Ashland, Neb.
During a recent conversation, Raikes learned that the water in his home area’s river basin will likely be considered fully appropriated (having no additional irrigation capacity) within the next 12 months. “Very stunning for me going from my discussion with my father as a teenager about this ‘endless supply of water’ to now recognizing what a challenge we have right here in my home state. So it’s both with an institutional interest and a personal interest that I come here today to be a part of this very exciting session,” Raikes said.
To frame the context for the Gates Foundation’s interest in the area of water for food, Raikes gave a brief overview of the foundation’s establishment and its work. The Gates Foundation was formed in 2000 with the guiding principle that all lives, no matter where they are lived, have equal value. The initial emphasis on global health was spurred by Bill Gates’ learning of the huge number of children who die in developing countries each year from diarrhea caused by the rotavirus – deaths that could be prevented by treating the child with Pedialyte, as is done in the U.S. The idea that technologies in the developed world could save lives if made available in the developing world symbolized to Bill and his wife, Melinda, that the world does not treat all lives as equal. They believed the foundation could make a difference by bringing technology and science to the developing world.