College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Easter Bush event celebrates innovations in agriculture

Bill Gates and Government Minister Penny Mordaunt visited the Easter Bush campus to showcase how communities worldwide are being helped by agricultural research.

Bill Gates and Minister Penny Mordaunt at Easter Bush
Bill Gates and Minister Penny Mordaunt at the Hospital for Small Animals, Easter Bush.

Easter Bush campus’s new Centre Building was a hive of activity on Friday 26 January, with the arrival of two high-profile VIPs: former Microsoft CEO turned philanthropist Bill Gates, and UK International Development Secretary, Penny Mordaunt.

The event shone a spotlight on how Edinburgh-based projects are improving the health and productivity of people and farm animals, both at home and abroad.

The day’s busy itinerary began with Bill Gates paying a visit to Easter Howgate Farm to film a piece for BBC’s Countryfile. Here he met scientists from the Edinburgh-based charity Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed), which recently received $40 million of funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

A charity with close ties to the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, GALVmed works to improve the accessibility and affordability of livestock vaccines, medicines and diagnostics in developing countries.


Meeting with scientists

The Supporting Evidence-Based Interventions (SEBI) team
The Supporting Evidence-Based Interventions (SEBI) team.

The focus then shifted to the Easter Bush campus where both Bill Gates and Penny Mordaunt each held a closed meeting with Edinburgh-based agri-science organisations.

Scientists from the University’s Supporting Evidence Based Interventions (SEBI) and the Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health (CTLGH) took part in a session with Gates on scientific progress and developments in Gates Foundation funded projects.

Karen Smyth, deputy director of SEBI, was one of the participants.

As a project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, SEBI is spearheading a global effort to collate and catalogue data on livestock health and productivity in developing countries, making it more accessible, discoverable and digestible,” she says.

“We provided Bill with an update on what SEBI has achieved, including our community of practice, LD4D, which is very much about bringing the international livestock and data community together to address shared challenges.  The meeting was very much an endorsement of our team’s work thus far- so it’s full steam ahead for SEBI in 2018.”


Global Academy

Later that afternoon, there was a public meeting and reception for an invited audience of over 200, with some scientists travelling from as far as Australia and Kenya to participate.

Here, Bill Gates and Penny Mordaunt unveiled a plaque to formally launch the University’s Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security, a £35 million research and teaching initiative which focuses on safeguarding the future of the world’s food supplies. 

Speaking at the event was the Academy’s director Geoff Simm, who said: “We are going to be doing research that’s hopefully making a difference about global food security, engaging with partners right across the university, externally, in the UK, Europe, and really importantly, in the gobal south, in countries that are most acutely affected by food insecurity”.

“We’ll also be teaching. We’ve launched several new undergraduate programmes; we’re also launching online distance masters programmes. We hope these programmes will educate the leaders of tomorrow and make a real difference to those challenges.”


Transforming lives

The Secretary of State also unveiled a package of investments in research to improve the resilience of farmers’ crops and livestock to natural disasters and protect them from diseases. This included £4 million for CTLGH, which uses tools such as genomic selection developed for the Scottish livestock systems to help Africa breed more productive cattle and poultry.

During his speech, Bill Gates paid tribute to Scottish agricultural science, which is helping hundreds of millions of the poorest people in the world transform their lives.

He said: “In the United States, I take every opportunity to make the case that foreign aid is both the right and the smart thing to do... UK aid is good for Britain and good for the world. I wish more people in your country and mine could see this.”

Rounding off the afternoon, Penny Mordaunt and Bill Gates then paid a short visit to the Hospital for Small Animals, meeting students and academics who have worked with farmers in Africa and India.

You can watch a recording of the event on the University of Edinburgh’s Facebook page.


Related links

Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health

Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed)

Global Academy for Agriculture and Food Security

Livestock: a pathway out of poverty (SEBI feature)