April 20, 2009

Gates Official Named To U.S. Department of Agriculture

Rajiv J. Shah, director of agricultural development for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has been nominated to lead the Obama administration’s agriculture research and education efforts.

If approved by the Senate, Mr. Shah would serve as an under secretary for research, education, and economics, in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This would not be the first time Mr. Shah has been involved in government. Before joining the foundation, Mr. Shah was a health-care adviser to former Vice President Al Gore during his 2000 bid for the presidency and was a transition aide on health for Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania.

According to his biography on the foundation’s Web site and a press release from the White house, Mr. Shah joined the Gates foundation in 2001 and was director of strategic opportunities and deputy director of policy and finance for global health. In these roles, he helped create an immunization effort that raised more than $5-billion to immunize children around the world.

As head of agricultural efforts for Gates, Mr. Shah has focused on helping small farmers in developing nations increase how much food they produce and increase their ability to sell their crops in world markets.

In February, for example, Gates awarded $48-million to help poor cocoa and cashew farmers in Africa develop farmer associations, new low-cost harvesting methods, and community centers where farmers can buy fertilizer and equipment.

The grant maker’s agricultural work has also drawn fire from some who argue the foundation works too closely with corporations and is not public enough about its operations.