15 October 2009

Gates Gives $300 million - but with a Catch

It's becoming increasingly evident that Bill Gates' philanthropy is not simple and disinterested, but has woven into it a complex agenda that has to do with his love of intellectual monopolies - and power. Here's the latest instalment:

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is donating another $120 million to boosting agriculture in the developing world, will focus on self-help aid for poor farmers to sustain and grow production, a top adviser to the world's leading charitable foundation said.

Sounds good, no? Here are more details:

The Gates Foundation, with a $30 billion endowment to improve health and reduce poverty in developing countries, began investing in agricultural projects three years ago. The latest grants bring its farm sector awards to $1.4 billion.

One of its first investments was in African seeds through the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). The group is expected to introduce more than 1,000 new seed varieties of at least 10 crops to improve African production by 2016.

"Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa" also sounds good; here's a little background on that organisation:

It has not gone unnoticed that AGRA falls under the direct supervision of the Global Development Program, whose senior programme officer is Dr. Robert Horsch, who worked for Monsanto for 25 years before he joined the Gates Foundation. Horsch was part of the scientific team in the company that developed Monsanto’s YieldGard, BollGard and RoundUp Ready technologies. Horsch’s task at the Gates Foundation is to apply biotechnology toward improving crop yields in regions including sub-Saharan Africa. Lutz Goedde another senior program officer of the Global Development Program, is also a recruit from the biotech industry as he used to head Alta Genetics, the world's largest privately owned cattle genetics improvement and artificial insemination Company, worth US$100 million.

That is, AGRA not only has close links with the Gates Foundation, but also with Monsanto - the Microsoft of the seed world.

If you read the rest of the document from which the above information was taken, you'll see that the AGRA programme is essentially promoting approaches using seeds that are genetically modified and patented. Here's the conclusion:

Sub-Saharan Africa represents an extremely lucrative market for seed companies. The development interventions by AGRA appear on the face of it, to benevolent. However, not only will AGRA facilitate the change to a market based agricultural sector in Africa replacing traditional agriculture, but it will also go a long way towards laying the groundwork for the entry of private fertilizer and agrochemical companies and seed companies, and more particularly, GM seed companies.

So Gates' donations are ultimately promoting an agriculture based on intellectual monopolies - just as Microsoft does in the software field. The latest $300 million doesn't sound quite so generous now, does it?

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Unknown said...

Bill Gates, and everything he stands for, is despicable.

Glyn Moody said...

It's really sad: I thought that he was going to redeem his past with his future. Instead, it turns out that the future is just the past, recycled...

Anonymous said...

Great logical thread, except for the fact that AGRA has never spent a dime on GMOs. And even if they did, who cares?

How many farms have you worked on in your life? Me...two of them. As a laborer. Sure, organics are a great pet cause for trust fund elitists who have never actually worked a day in their lives and need to feel "connected" to the Earth, but for a woman farmer in Africa who is dying of Aids, has no husband, and an entire house of kids to look after...go spread your purity message to her and talk HER into labor-intensive composting practices. Perhaps go there when it hasn't rained for a month and tell her drought-tolerant GM seeds represent a paternialistic, neo-imperialism from the global north.

Good luck. Maybe you should actually go to Africa or spend a few years working on a farm before repeating a cliche argument from the echoe chamber you live in.

You people disguist me...human life isn't worth a damn to you.

Glyn Moody said...

@anonymous: I'm sure you know much more about the realities of farming than I do: I don't claim anything in this regard.

But replacing traditional agriculture that has been developed over thousands of years precisely for those regions with new varieties that have been developed largely for shareholders' benefit, not the farmers', eliminating Africa's seeds commons and making the farmers dependent upon patented technology doesn't seem a good way to help them.

It's not about romantic notions of being "connected" to the earth, but pragmatic ones of what is best for the people themselves.

Unknown said...

Did you every read "Confessions of an Economic Hitman" by John Perkins, Mr/Ms Anonymous? If not, you should.

I'm not sure how your post gainsays what we've talked about. I'm all for resilient crops, and I'm all for people getting fed. However, doing it in such a way as to get desperate people committed to growing crops over which they *legally* have no control, and cannot even plant them without paying for the privilege, is pretty diabolical.

Not sure how many colonial societies you've lived in. I live in one now. You see how entire diverse local cultures were replaced by monocultures like growing tobacco, coffee, tea, sugarcane, etc. and those cultures now live or die based on the commodities markets.

If you're growing hybridised crops that's one thing. If you're pushing patented hybridised crops at the expense of everything else a culture produces like locally hybridised crops, then you're creating a ticking timebomb and you're selling out entire cultures.

That, in my opinion, sucks. Talk to India - where a staggering number of honest local farmers kill themselves because they'll never get out of debt to the multinational corporates selling them seeds. If you disagree, well, you're welcome to it. But subsistence is only the first level of existence. Freedom to control one's own destiny follows closely behind, and I'd say is ultimately more important, as would any number of anonymous soldiers over the eons (Give me liberty or give me death).

Glyn Moody said...

@lightweight: thanks for those comments, and for reminding me about the terrible human cost of industrial seeds and fertiliser in India, which I wrote about a few months back:


Anonymous said...

hello to all of you, specially to mr Glyn Moody.

just to remind an interesting article on the global research site about this issues.

"Doomsday Seed Vault" in the Arctic
Bill Gates, Rockefeller and the GMO giants know something we don’t
by F. William Engdahl




Anonymous said...

.... i forget to mention the article on The Independent...

"Exposed: the great GM crops myth

Major new study shows that modified soya produces 10 per cent less food than its conventional equivalent"

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor

Glyn Moody said...

@ovigia: thanks for those

Thierry said...

Thanks for the information. I've written about it (in French) and mentioned you as the alert about it.

Glyn Moody said...

@thierry: yes, I saw thanks.

Seen the follow-up?


Unknown said...

@ Anonymous...

Actually I happen to witness the change in lifestyle that occurs with the introduction of GMO's into "developing" nations. I've been on small Indian farms, and have seen the tight-rope they walk. In fact, my family owns one!

These poor folks now have to borrow money to purchase the "special" and "improved" GM Seeds because they cost nearly 4 times as much as open seeds. When the "hyped" properties of these GMO's fail, as often does, these poor farmers are left with a load of debt that was used to purchase these seeds. Now what do they doe? They can't possibly pay back the debt, and they don't want to sell their little specs of land because it has been a family heirloom. The result? 200,000 small farmers committed suicide in India over the last few years.

Stating "human life isn't worth a damn to you" relays poor knowledge of the workings of the economies and complexities of "developing" nations. Such perspectives are born from a strictly monocultural lens that blinds you from the recognition of causes versus symptoms.

I guess "creating" plants that resist pesticides [that were created by the same company] is the solution proposed. Instead, the pesticides should either be supplanted or removed all-together.
Then you wouldn't need GMO seeds/plants.

Being duped into purchasing something that promises significantly more than it delivers is by no means helping the poor. It also doesn't help when a foreign company decides to patent a plant that has been used freely for thousands of years, so that they no longer have the option of using anything other than GMO crops.

teacherpeter said...

You really shouldn't post this sort of negative anti-Bill propaganda to satisfy your own blind hate of the man. The reason that they need to use genetically engineered seeds is because normal breeds of seed contribute greatly to the desertification of Africa. Not only that, but they can no longer stand the climate. The seeds that Bill is starting to produce are specifically designed to grow in extreme African climates and do minimal damage to the soil.
To assume that Bill is doing this somehow for his own private gain is absurd. This is not a moneymaking venture for him, this is him SPENDING money to nurture a region that has been ignored by the likes of you and our government for more than a decade now.
You people make me sad.

Sassinak said...

This clinches it for me:

"Sub-Saharan Africa represents an extremely lucrative market for seed companies. The development interventions by AGRA appear on the face of it, to benevolent. However, not only will AGRA facilitate the change to a market based agricultural sector in Africa replacing traditional agriculture, but it will also go a long way towards laying the groundwork for the entry of private fertilizer and agrochemical companies and seed companies, and more particularly, GM seed companies."

Why not lease them tractor-dependent crops as long as they're at it....
Enough with the new-improved! seeds already...get these people some water!

@Peter J. S-T. Are you sure you understand what you read? Have you thought of how to market new-improved baby-formula in Africa? Better than mother's milk!

Unknown said...

Wow, @Peter J Singer-Towns... you've got a very rosy view of humanity, particularly Mr. Gates. Sadly, I'm afraid that the history books make you look painfully naive.

On what basis do you think that non-GMO seeds contribute to "desertification"? I think you'll find that much of that is just as likely to be marketing bluster from people who have seeds to sell.

How could it possibly be "generous" to provide farmers seeds that might grow better than non-engineered crops, but only for this season but are "engineered" to displace any traditional crops they might grow. Next season, the farmers aren't allowed to plant the seeds from the previous harvest! They have to pay a "license fee" for the next lot. Sound familiar? A little bit like all Microsoft software perhaps? Old habits die hard.

Look again at previous posts regarding this same process as it's played out in India... huge numbers of farmer suicides due to the impossible situation they've been wound up in thanks to "help" like what the Gates foundation is offering Africa. Doesn't sound like generosity to me.

Glyn Moody said...

@sassinak: nice example, thanks