21 September 2009

Microsoft, Monsanto and Intellectual Monopolies

Here's a brilliant, must-read feature exposing some of the hidden agendas of the Green Revolution and the dark side of the Gates Foundation's work in Africa. In particular, it makes explicit the symmetry of Microsoft and Monsanto in their use of intellectual monopolies to make their users increasingly powerless:

The preference for private sector contributions to agriculture shapes the Gates Foundation's funding priorities. In a number of grants, for instance, one corporation appears repeatedly--Monsanto. To some extent, this simply reflects Monsanto's domination of industrial agricultural research. There are, however, notable synergies between Gates and Monsanto: both are corporate titans that have made millions through technology, in particular through the aggressive defense of proprietary intellectual property. Both organizations are suffused by a culture of expertise, and there's some overlap between them. Robert Horsch, a former senior vice president at Monsanto, is, for instance, now interim director of Gates's agricultural development program and head of the science and technology team. Travis English and Paige Miller, researchers with the Seattle-based Community Alliance for Global Justice, have uncovered some striking trends in Gates Foundation funding. By following the money, English told us that "AGRA used funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to write twenty-three grants for projects in Kenya. Twelve of those recipients are involved in research in genetically modified agriculture, development or advocacy. About 79 percent of funding in Kenya involves biotech in one way or another." And, English says, "so far, we have found over $100 million in grants to organizations connected to Monsanto."

This isn't surprising in light of the fact that Monsanto and Gates both embrace a model of agriculture that sees farmers suffering a deficit of knowledge--in which seeds, like little tiny beads of software, can be programmed to transmit that knowledge for commercial purposes. This assumes that Green Revolution technologies--including those that substitute for farmers' knowledge--are not only desirable but neutral. Knowledge is never neutral, however: it inevitably carries and influences relations of power.

I fear that with hindsight we will see that contrary to the almost universal view that Gates is redeeming his bad boy years at Microsoft with the good boy promises of his Foundation, Gates will actually do even more damage in the realm of agriculture than he has in the world of computing. (Via Roy Schestowitz.)

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Unknown said...

Great post, Glyn
And the linked article was a great read too.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the richest philanthropic organization in the world, but what a lot of people don't notice is that it actually makes more money by investing in companies like Monsanto than it gives away as 'charity'.

Personally I believe the huge amounts of money it does give away aren't really 'charity' or even a PR exercise. It's just an extreme form of lobbying- the foundation will fund this project in your country, provided you allow some concessions to this company we're interested in(like Monsanto or Eni).

Doesn't anyone remember this article in the LA Times?

Glyn Moody said...

Yes, I think you're right that people have forgotten about that article which was one of the first to show the darker side of the Foundation.

Unknown said...

Sounds like generosity, but in reality, it's calculated, deceptive, disgustingly self-serving.

This reminds me (in a disturbing way) of John Perkins' book "Confessions of an Economic Hitman". http://www.amazon.com/Confessions-Economic-Hit-John-Perkins/dp/1576753018

It's a good read for anyone wanting insight into how these sorts of "good" that these dark forces work. The kind of good the world would be better off without.