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Articles distort Bill Gates's comments on farming, technology

Articles allege Bill Gates has urged authorities to replace farmers with artificial intelligence (AI). This is false; the claims distort 2024 blog posts from the billionaire philanthropist in which he discusses how smart technology is helping farmers in India keep their crops safe from natural disasters and pests.

"Bill Gates Calls for Farmers to Be Replaced with 'Smart Farming' AI Technology," says the headline of a March 9, 2024 article from Slay News, a website that AFP has previously fact-checked for spreading false claims.

An article from The People's Voice, another website AFP has previously fact-checked, later published a similar claim about Gates urging governments to replace farmers with bots.

<span>Screenshot of a SlayNews article taken March 28, 2024</span>
Screenshot of a SlayNews article taken March 28, 2024
<span>Screenshot of a People's Voice article taken March 28, 2024</span>
Screenshot of a People's Voice article taken March 28, 2024

Gates is frequently the target of conspiracy theories about land and food systems in the United States due to his investments in the sector.

But AFP found no evidence that the Microsoft co-founder has advocated for replacing farmers with AI -- and the Gates Foundation told AFP on March 27 that the claims circulating online "are false."

In a March 5 blog post (archived here), Gates discusses how technology can help farmers.

The entry does not mention replacing people with AI. Instead, it focuses on Gates's recent trip to India and briefly mentions digital public infrastructure (DPI) in the city of Bhubaneswar.

"I got to see India's DPI in action when I toured an agricultural monitoring center in Bhubaneswar," he says in the blog post. "At this facility, government agriculture experts send advice and real-time updates to 6.5 million farmers via phone."

Several local media outlets have covered the center Gates visited during his trip to India (archived here, here and here).

Gates previously mentioned the subject in a blog post published February 25, prior to his trip (archived here).

In it, he describes a program that provides "real-time guidance" for farmers in India -- including via "a chatbot that makes it easy for farmers to get the latest information about their crops, using AI to tailor content to their particular needs and in their local language."

"This service's pest-management program now reaches more than four million farmers, and since it began in 2018, the volume of crops that participating farmers lose to pests every year has dropped by 90 percent," Gates says in the entry.

The program, aimed at increasing farmers' productivity and income, is a partnership between the Gates Foundation, the state of Odisha's agriculture department and tech company Samagra (archived here). Some of the firm's projects include the AI-driven chatbot mentioned in Gates's February blog post (archived here).

AFP contacted Samagra for comment, but a response was not forthcoming.