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Tycoons Slim, Gates open Mexico agricultural research center

Mexican businessman Carlos Slim (R), Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates (2nd L), Governor of the State of Mexico Eruviel Avila
Mexican businessman Carlos Slim (R), Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates (2nd L), Governor of the State of Mexico Eruviel Avila

By David Alire Garcia

TEXCOCO (Reuters) - Carlos Slim and Bill Gates, the two richest men on the planet, inaugurated a new agricultural research center outside Mexico's capital, touting the millions they have donated to bolster global food security.

The two tycoons participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for new laboratories at the headquarters of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, known by its Spanish acronym CIMMYT.

The new complex will double the center's capacity to develop better seeds and more productive farmers in the developing world, officials said.

"These laboratories will help attract the best talent in the world to come and work here," said Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Slim's charitable foundation donated $25 million to build the new complex, while the Gates foundation has given more than $90 million for ongoing CIMMYT projects, including an $18 million grant also announced Wednesday to help boost small-farm yields in South Asia.

"We have climate change but we also have significant volatility in raw materials, and that makes improved efficiency and farm productivity indispensable," said Slim, who controls a business empire that includes Latin America's biggest telecommunications company, America Movil.

Mexico's agriculture minister, Enrique Martinez, told the assembled dignitaries that new advances in seeds developed by CIMMYT will help Mexico lessen its reliance on imported grains, especially corn.

Mexico currently imports about a third of the corn it needs each year.

More than two years ago, Mexico's government began pumping resources into CIMMYT's sustainable agriculture program known as MasAgro - $49 million since 2011, and another $138 million pledged over the next decade, according to data from the agriculture ministry.

The government says MasAgro, which has won plaudits from the G-20, boosts farmer profits by a third and yields by half.

Slim and Gates are worth a combined $130 billion according to the ranking maintained by Forbes magazine.

(Additional reporting by Armando Tovar; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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