Saturday, June 4, 2011
Protests greet opening of new Gates Foundation campus
June 04, 2011
Seattle, WA – On the public opening day of the new Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation campus in Seattle, local activists called attention to the negative aspects of the Foundation’s agricultural development efforts in Africa. Although farmers, activists, and civil society organizations throughout Africa and the US have pointed to fundamental problems with the programs of the Foundation and its subsidiary, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the Foundation has been non-responsive to these concerns.
The majority of the projects funded by Gates promote high-tech industrial agricultural methods and market-driven development – privatizing seed, lobbying for genetically modified crops, increasing farmer debt alongside corporate profits, and encouraging land consolidation. The Foundation’s “theory of change” acknowledges that this approach will ultimately push many small-scale African farmers off of their land, driving them into the cities to swell the numbers of unemployed and marginalized – but seems unperturbed by such consequences. Thus, the agricultural development agenda on the continent is being determined from Seattle instead of locally, and control over African food systems is being transferred from farmers to transnational corporations.
Local activists emphasize that they support drawing on traditional and indigenous agricultural knowledge, as well as incorporating new technologies into African farming; however, those technologies need to be small-scale, not dependent upon foreign capital, and environmentally and socially sustainable – in other words, agroecological. “To feed 9 billion people in 2050, we urgently need to adopt the most efficient farming techniques available,” says Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food and author of a report issued two months ago. “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.” De Schutter goes on to stress that agroecology is not anti-technology: “Agroecology is a knowledge-intensive approach. It requires public policies supporting agricultural research and participative extension services.”
This echoes the earlier findings of a 2008 study sponsored by the World Bank and the UN. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) is the most comprehensive scientific assessment of world agriculture to date, relying on the expertise of more than 400 international scientists and endorsed by fifty-eight countries in the global North and South (though not the United States, Canada or Australia). The IAASTD found that small-scale sustainable agriculture, locally adapted seed and ecological farming better address the complexities of climate change, hunger, poverty and productive demands on agriculture in the developing world than industrial agriculture and high-tech fixes like genetic engineering.
Unfortunately, the Foundation’s outdated approach remains to be harmonized with the growing body of scientific literature in support of agroecological farming. Instead, as observed by Kenyan farmer and director of the Grow Biointensive Agricultural Center of Kenya (G-BIACK), Samuel Nderitu, “The technologies that are promoted by the Gates Foundation in Africa are not farmer-friendly or environmentally friendly. Some of them have not been tested fully to determine their effects on the environment and consumers. African farmers are seeking food sovereignty, not imposed unhealthy foods and GMOs!”
These and other concerns being raised by the communities who will be most affected by the Gates Foundation’s work have yet to be meaningfully addressed. Most recently, a petition with over 1500 signatures and a sign-on letter to the Foundation, co-authored by AGRA Watch and La Via Campesina North America and endorsed by over 100 organizations, academics, and scientists from around the world, have been similarly ignored. This lack of engagement calls into question the Foundation’s claims of transparency and accountability. “As citizens of the US and Seattle,” notes University of Washington Professor Emeritus Phil Bereano, “we give the Foundation many benefits – tax breaks, closing off streets for this campus – and we are entitled to know exactly what it is doing in its efforts to change the world. Great wealth brings great responsibilities, as Bill Gates Senior has often noted.”