Visakhapatnam: Agricultural production must increase to improve the lives of small and marginal farmers in the country, Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates said on Friday. Addressing delegates at the Agtech summit in Visakhapatnam, Gates also praised the Andhra Pradesh government for utilizing technology to help farmers in the state.

“AP is taking bold steps. I expect we will be accelerating it (technology usage). More than half of India’s population in engaged in agriculture, and three-fourths of rural women are engaged in agriculture. Apart from gender equality, research has shown that having more women also increases production by 20 to 30%," Gates said at the valedictory session of the event.

Gates also said that innovation must go from the lab to the field, and lauded India for “becoming a leader" in digital financial inclusion. “We have to be sure that this platform helps (to deal with) challenges that small farmers face," he said.

He further added that the direct transfer of subsidies (to accounts) will help the government in tackling leakages.

The Microsoft co-founder, who is also the co-chair and trustee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), said it was important for farmers to have information about things like soil health and other things.

AP chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, who also addressed delegates at the event, said he was interested in working on agriculture, nutrition and sanitation under the guidance of Gates. “I want to constitute a committee (to work together). I will be its chairman and you (Gates) will be the honorary chairman," he added.

Naidu also informed that his government had received 259 innovative ideas during the three-day Agtech summit in Visakhapatnam from participants. “Sixty one countries have participated in the summit, and so many youngsters have come with ideas," he said.

“India faces challenges of population, malnutrition and climate change. In AP, you have a great believer (Naidu) in smart technology. It is a pivotal moment for the state, and agricultural transformation here can be a model for India," said Gates.

In the valedictory session, both Naidu and Gates recalled their meeting about 20 years ago to discuss issues pertaining to the information technology industry. Naidu remembered how what was to be a 15-minute meeting with the Microsoft co-founder had extended to 45 minutes. “I told him that Microsoft should start in Hyderabad. And today, not only is it there, but its CEO (Satya Nadella) is also from Hyderabad," said Naidu.

The chief minister, while praising Gates for his philanthropic work around the world, also said AP government will concentrate more on developing horticulture production in the future. “As of today, 14 lakh acres of land are covered under horticulture. It will be 50% of agriculture (in the coming days)," said Naidu, and added that AP’s growth rate has been over 10% in the last two years.

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