Corporate hydra, we don’t need your self serving charity

The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) program  was launched in 2008 with a $47 million grant from mega-rich philanthropists Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. The program is supposed to help farmers in several African countries increase their yields with drought- and heat-tolerant corn varieties, but a report released last month by the African Centre for Biosafety claims WEMA is threatening Africa’s food sovereignty and opening new markets for agribusiness giants like Monsanto. Gates spent $27.6 million on 500,000 shares of Monsanto stock between April and June 2010, raising a serious conflict of interest issue, writes Mike Ludwig.

Monsanto and Gates Foundation Push Genetically Engineered Crops on Africa

By Mike Ludwig
Global Research

Skimming the Agricultural Development section of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation web site[5] is a feel-good experience: African farmers smile in a bright slide show of images amid descriptions of the foundation’s fight against poverty and hunger. But biosafety activists in South Africa are calling a program funded by the Gates Foundation a “Trojan horse” to open the door for private agribusiness and genetically engineered (GE) seeds, including a drought-resistant corn that Monsanto hopes to have approved in the United States and abroad.The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) program [6]  was launched in 2008 with a $47 million grant from mega-rich philanthropists Warren Buffet [7] and Bill Gates. The program is supposed to help farmers in several African countries increase their yields with drought- and heat-tolerant corn varieties, but a report released last month by the African Centre for Biosafety [8] claims WEMA is threatening Africa’s food sovereignty and opening new markets for agribusiness giants like Monsanto.

The Gates Foundation claims that biotechnology, GE crops and Western agricultural methods are needed to feed the world’s growing population and programs like WEMA will help end poverty and hunger in the developing world. Critics say the foundation is using its billions to shape the global food agenda and the motivations behind WEMA were recently called into question when activists discovered [9] the Gates foundation had spent $27.6 million on 500,000 shares of Monsanto stock between April and June 2010.

Water shortages in parts of Africa and beyond have created a market for “climate ready” crops worth an estimated $2.7 billion. Leading biotech companies like Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow are currently racing to develop crops that will grow in drought conditions caused by climate change, and by participating in the WEMA program, Monsanto is gaining a leg up by establishing new markets and regulatory approvals for its patented transgenes in five Sub-Saharan African countries, according to the Centre’s report.

Monsanto teamed up with BASF, another industrial giant, to donate technology and transgenes to WEMA and its partner organizations. Seed companies and researchers will receive the GE seed for free and small-scale farmers can plant the corn without making the royalty payments that Monsanto usually demands from farmers each season.

Monsanto is donating the seeds for now, but the company has a reputation for aggressively defending its patents. In the past, Monsanto has sued [10] farmers for growing crops that cross-pollinated with Monsanto crops and became contaminated with the company’s patented genetic codes.

In 2009, Monsanto and BASF discovered a gene in a bacterium that is believed to help plants like corn survive on less water and soon the companies developed a corn seed know as MON 87460. It remains unclear if MON 87460 will out-compete conventional drought-tolerant hybrids, but the United States Department of Agriculture could approve [11] the corn for commercial use in the US as soon as July 11. Monsanto plans to make the seed available to American farmers by next year.

GE crops like MON 87460 can only be tested and sold in countries that, like the US, are friendly toward biotech agriculture. WEMA’s target areas could add five countries to that list: South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Mozambique. The Biosafety Centre reports that WEMA’s massive funding opportunities pressure politicians to pass weak biosafety laws and welcome GE crops and the agrichemical drenched growing systems that come with them. Field trials of MON 87460 and other drought-tolerant varieties are already underway in South Africa, where Monsanto already has considerable political influence [12]. Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda are expected to begin field trials of WEMA corn varieties in 2011.

The agency that is implementing WEMA is the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), a pro-biotechnology group funded completely by the US government’s USAID program, the United Kingdom and the Buffet and Gates foundations. The AATF is a nonprofit charity that lobbies African governments and promotes partnerships between public groups and private companies to make agricultural technology available in Africa. The Biosafety Centre accuses the AATF of essentially being a front group for the US government, allowing USAID to “meddle” in African politics by promoting [14] weak biosafety regulation that makes it easier for American corporations to export biotechnology to African countries.

WEMA and AATF swim in a myriad alphabet soup [15] of NGOs and nonprofits propped up by Western nations and wealthy philanthropists that promote everything from fertilizer to food crops with enhanced nutritional content as solutions to world hunger. Together, these groups are promoting a Second Green Revolution [16] and sparking a worldwide debate over the future of food production. The Gates Foundation alone has committed $1.7 billion to the effort to date.

There was nothing “green” about the first Green Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s. As population skyrocketed during the last century, multinationals pushed Western agriculture’s fertilizers, irrigation, oil-thirsty machinery and pesticides on farmers in the developing world. Historians often point out [17] that promoting industrial agriculture to keep developing countries well fed was crucial to the US effort to stop the spread of Soviet Communism.

The Second Green Revolution, which is focused on Africa, seeks to solve hunger problems with education, biotechnology, high-tech breeding, and other industrial agricultural methods popular in countries like the US, Brazil and Mexico.

Africa has landed in the center of a global food debate over a central question: with the world’s growing population expected to reach nine billion by 2045, how will farmers feed everyone, especially those in developing countries? The lines of the debate are drawn. The Second Green Revolutionaries are now facing off with activists and researchers who doubt the West’s petroleum and technology-based agricultural systems can sustainably feed the world.

The African Centre for Biosafety and its allies often point to a report recently released by IAASTD, a research group supported by the United Nations (UN), the World Health Organization, and others. IAASTD found that industrial agriculture has been successful in its goal of increasing crop yields worldwide, but has caused environmental degradation and deforestation that disproportionately affects small farmers and poorer nations. Widespread use of pesticides and fertilizer, for instance, cause dead zones in coastal areas. Massive irrigation projects now account for 70 percent of water withdrawal globally and approximately 1.6 billion people live in water-scarce basins.

Increasing crop yields is the bottom line for groups like the Gates Foundation, but the IAASTD recommends that sustainability should be the goal. The report does not rule out biotechnology, but suggests high-tech agriculture is just one tool in the toolbox. The report promotes “agroecology [18],” which seeks to replace the chemical and biochemical inputs of industrial agriculture with resources found in the natural environment.

In March, a UN expert released a report showing that small-scale farmers could double their food production in a decade with the simple agroecological methods. The report flies in the face of the Second Green Revolutionaries.

“Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production where the hungry live – especially in unfavorable environments,” said Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food and author of the report. “Malawi, a country that launched a massive chemical fertilizer subsidy program a few years ago, is now implementing agroecology, benefiting more than 1.3 million of the poorest people, with maize yields increasing from 1 ton per hectare to 2 to 3 tons per hectare.”

De Schutter said private companies like Monsanto will not invest in agroecology because it does not open new markets for agrichemicals or GE seeds, so it’s up to governments and the public to support the switch to more sustainable agriculture. But with more than a billion dollars already spent, the Second Green Revolutionaries are determined to have a say in how the world grows its food, and agroecology is not on their agenda. To them, sustainability means bringing private innovation to the developing world. The Gates Foundation can donate billions to the fight against hunger, but when private companies like Monsanto stand to benefit, it makes feeding the world look like a for-profit scheme.



7 responses to “Corporate hydra, we don’t need your self serving charity

  1. On one hand you have starvation on the other genetically altered crops.
    This is a conundrum with no easy way out.

  2. Yes there is a easy way out. Stop the NAFTA agreements which unfairly favour US exports over locally produced crops and other food stuffs in the countries that are hogtied to these agreements.
    That is one cause of farming loss and starvation caused by food price spikes. The people have no home grown food security to fall back on because the crafty people in US government and the US corporations know exactly how to undermine and take over a nation via its dependence on hand outs.
    Second way to stop this GM pollution. Agroecology firmly in the hands of the indigenous people so they can maintain food security and retain food sovereignty. No biotech corporation should be allowed to steal the peoples food sources.
    Ban all patents on biological substances that are used to produce foodin part or whole. By doing this you will enable the people to maintain control over their own seeds without fear of exploitation by the biotech corporations.
    Ban all chemical agriculture worldwide. It has to be done before we end up running out of the fossil fuel materials that we use to make them.
    Also ban all artificial fertilisers. A sustainable farming landscape does not need atrtificial fertilisers.
    Introduce permaculture as a means to produce food and sustain the natural ecosystems. It can be done. I have seen it.
    Take out Monsanto and the other biotech/agrichemical corporations ad outlaw biotechnology altogether. I know this will be unpopular with some people but it must be done to protect the last vestiges of natural ecosystems before they become completely overwhelmed withbiological contamination that should never have even been combined in the laboratory let alone used in agriculture.

  3. I would be willing to bet that Warren Buffet and Bill Gates do not eat GMOs,
    AKA: frankenfoods. I cannot help but believe that these efforts to subvert and/or neglect natural methods and instead making farmers dependent on big Ag will backfire and result in less food security for these developing nations. Big Ag is based on raping and pillaging the land, the get way, until the land is exhausted. Then drought and famine is inevitable. Instead, what is needed is sustainable agriculture, respecting the land and not abusing it, in other words the give way. Big Ag is geared toward monoculture which is so short sighted and leaves food production vulnerable. 500,000 shares of Monsanto stock speaks volumes.

  4. I like that term… self serving charity… it’s what it is.

    They named themselves philantropists, always had put me in mind of philanderers.

  5. What is sad is that you people, for the most part, have been sitting around, supporting it all. I am 55 years old and became of small family farmer, trying to milk a tiny herd of 20 cows. I used my own methods from the start, precisely because of my understanding of what was happening. I always endeavored to keep my use of technology low and the obscene deviations from traditonal proven-through-the-centuries, to an utter minimum. In every case, I was accosted for this and belittled, forced to compromise again and again and again, just to survive. I always felt my ties were with the tribes, the indigenous peoples who were wise, not ruthlessly arrogant like today’s pseudo-scientific industrialist capitalist murderers and rapist thieves. I reached the end of my rope, shall we say, when Organic Valley, an outfit I initially supported and modestly believed in, behaved EXACTLY like any other, rich invester oriented wealth machine functioning exclusively for the techno-fascists.

    Like the murdered and genocided, former tribes of the earth, I don’t see any light in our present situation. It is all black and cancerous and will remain that way until these monsters go away.


  6. Ned, I am a city, suburban dweller… Chicago area, and I knew nothing about this stuff until about 2 years ago.. It just isnt mainstream and most people having to work and raise families rarely venture past mainstream.

    The only reason I found out about the mess was because I had been feeling like crap for almost 10 years and couldnt figure out why since every test ever given to me was always a clean bill of health.

    so anyhow, I now do not use any herbicides/pesticides on my lawn. I buy organic grass fed meat from Trader joes and I grow my own little garden and buy from the farmers market next to my house.

    I am saving (albeit at a snails pace) to have my own little piece of land perhaps farmette, where I can do more of this and raise chickens and goats or something

  7. Well, Lisa, my heart goes out to you. People have been manipulated so as to be unaware. Generally speaking, it is not the people’s fault until they gain access to real facts and then still choose to do nothing. Growing a garden, on whatever space you have, is the absolute best start you can
    make! 🙂

    This is a good site to read and Rady does
    an outstanding job.

    When I was a just a small child, I too lived near Chicago. So I was not born into a farm environment, I chose the small life as a means of resistance. I was actually urged, expected you might say, to be one of those corporate wheels, either a research ‘scientist’ or some other type of educated big-wig. I rejected it all. I never went to any college.

    And I continue my resistance to this day.

    Good luck to you, Lisa.

    your friend,

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