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Bill Gates' new project: Farming

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  • Economic woes took a back seat at the World Economic Forum
  • Bill Gates leads corporate responsibility drive with $306M grants
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By Barry Neild
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DAVOS, Switzerland (CNN) -- Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates announced a new direction Friday as he pledged $306 million in grants to develop farming in poor countries, leading the charge for corporate responsibility at a major meeting of business chiefs.

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Bill Gates, Bono and Michael Dell from Dell computers.

The announcement by Gates, who is to step down from the computer giant later this year, drew attention from the financial woes that have dominated the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Gates received a standing ovation for his announcement at the suggestion of U2 frontman Bono.

The move, the first foray into agriculture by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will help boost efforts by the annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland to shake off its image as a billionaire's talking shop that does little to solve the problems it discusses.Watch Bono, Bill Gates and Michael Dell talk about charity project Video

"If we are serious about ending extreme hunger and poverty around the world, we must be serious about transforming agriculture for small farmers, most of whom are women," Gates said.

"The challenge here is to design a system including profit and recognition to do more for the poor," he said, calling for a new form of "creative capitalism."

Bono, returning to add showbiz sparkle to the Forum for a second year, and UN chief Ban Ki-moon pushed the debate towards issues such as malaria eradication, poverty alleviation and climate change.

In his first appearance at Davos 2008, which gathers more than 2,500 world business figures and government leaders, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for the World Bank to take on an environmental role to fight climate change.

Despite the fresh financial shockwaves generated by the $7.2 billion fraud at French bank Societe Generale, there were easing concerns that the global economy was heading towards recession.

A CNN straw poll of business leaders attending the Davos meeting voted in favor of an economic slowdown.See CNN's Recession-o-meter

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John Thaine, CEO of Merrill Lynch told CNN that he believed the U.S. Federal Reserve's decision to 0.75 rate cut would help avoid long-term turmoil.Video See Thain talk about economy »

"I think that the steps that the Fed is taking, the steps that the administration is taking, are the right steps, they will help, but the economy is still going to slow," he told CNN. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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