MICROSOFT billionaire Bill Gates has praised Scottish innovation in an address at the University of Edinburgh, where he announced $40 million (£28m) of funding to fight the spread of livestock diseases in developing nations and in the UK.

The beneficiary is the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed), a public-private partnership on the University’s Easter Bush Campus which develops livestock vaccines, medicines and diagnostics to help millions of the poorest farmers across Africa and South Asia.

Gates, who announced the award from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told his audience he always enjoyed visiting Edinburgh.

“I feel like I’m at the intersection of two vital historical trends,” he said. “The first is Scottish innovation.

“Your impact on modern life is way out of proportion to your size.

“It was a Scot who founded the field of economics, a Scot who identified the noble gases, a Scot who discovered penicillin.

“The father of tropical medicine, Sir Patrick Manson, was born in Aberdeen.”

He said the second “vital trend” was generosity: “Since I’ve been involved in health and development, the UK has maintained its commitment to helping people in low-income countries.

“Not only that, but you have set the standard for being strategic about how you help. You are innovative and rigorous about getting the highest possible return on your aid investment.

”When you put these trends together, innovation and generosity, you get world-class Scottish agricultural science helping hundreds of millions of the poorest people in the world transform their lives.”

Gates added that productivity gains from decades of animal breeding and selection were stunning and were making a vital difference for farmers in developing countries.

He said: “For example, we are working with partners in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Nigeria to help poor rural women get access to chicken breeds such as Kuroiler and Sasso that grow faster, survive in harsh environments, and lay three times as many eggs as indigenous breeds.

“Women raising these chickens in African villages have increased their income by more than 300 percent.

”The Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health here at the University of Edinburgh is at the forefront of this work, applying brand new tools like genomic selection developed for Scottish livestock systems to help Africa breed more productive chickens and cows.”

As The National reported yesterday, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt announced £90m of funding over the next five years for research at Edinburgh into developing genetically-modified crops that are more nutritious and flood and drought-resistant.

Millions of farmers in Africa depend on agriculture to support their families, but they struggle to grow enough crops to do that because of natural disasters such as drought and flooding.

The Edinburgh team are working to identify specific genes that help the crops become more nutritious, grow faster and withstand disease and extreme weather.

Edinburgh Principal, Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, also announced the establishment of the  university’s fifth global academy.

“Feeding the world’s growing population well while protecting the natural systems on which we all depend is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity,” he said.

“In addition to world-class research, our Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security will equip future leaders with the knowledge and expertise to tackle this challenge and safeguard the future of the world’s food supplies for generations to come.”

Professor Geoff Simm, who will head the new body, added: “Feeding the world’s growing population well while protecting the natural systems on which we all depend is one of the greatest challenges facing the humanity.

“Around a third of the global population is affected by one or more forms of malnutrition… with the world population expected to reach 11 billion by the end of this century and demands on natural resources at an all-time high, it’s essential that we find new ways to feed this growing population well, without destroying the planet.”

Gates later met First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at St Andrew's House to hear a presentation about work being carried out as part of the NHS Global Citizen Programme.