Gates addressed the World Food Prize symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, the Quad City Times reported. He said he wanted to build on the work of Norman Borlaug, an Iowa native credited with creating the Green Revolution. Borlaug died last month.
"He not only showed humanity how to get more food from the earth, he proved that farming has the power to lift up the lives of the poor," Gates said.
Gates said that since he and his wife founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he has learned three-quarters of the poorest people in the world are farmers on small plots. The foundation will set aside the $120 million for grants to develop varieties of sorghum, millet and sweet potatoes with high yields and resistance to pests.
"Melinda and I believe that helping the poorest small-holder farmers grow more crops and get them to market is the world's single most powerful lever for reducing hunger and poverty," Gates said.
Borlaug's development of better strains of wheat helped farmers in Asia and South America, Gates said. But he said now many of the poorest farmers are in Africa.