Bill Gates should stop telling Africans what kind of agriculture Africans need
Africans have long been told that our agriculture is backward and must be abandoned for a 21st century version of the Green Revolution that allowed India to feed itself. Western science and technology, in the form of science and technology-modified seeds, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, petroleum-powered machinery, and artificial irrigation have been the key to this miracle, we are told, and we too must follow this path.
One of the main proponents of this point of view is the Cornell Alliance for Science (CAS), founded in 2014 to “Depolarize the charged debate” around genetically modified (GM) seeds. With $ 22 million in funding to date from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, CAS has in fact consistently defends GM seeds, arguing that they are healthy, productive and environmentally friendly, while attack agroecology as economically and socially regressive.
On the other hand, the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), which represents more than 200 million farmers, fishermen, pastoralists, indigenous peoples, women, consumers and others in all but five African countries, believes agroecology is what our continent needs. Small-scale and environmentally friendly cultivation methods using indigenous knowledge and inputs and cutting-edge science increase the variety, nutritional value and quantity of food produced on farms while stabilizing rural economies, promoting gender equality and protecting biodiversity.
This mission put our alliance, the largest social movement in Africa, at odds with the CAS and by extension the Gates Foundation. And they win. On June 17, 2021, GRAIN, a small non-profit organization based in Barcelona, Spain, follows the foundation’s grant from 2003 to 2020, reported this, the foundation granted 6 billion USD, of which 5 billion was supposed to serve Africa. More worrying, the CAS, which characterizes the interpretation of agroecology by AFSA as “restrictiveAnd worse, has succeeded in undermining support for the paradigm among African scientists and political leaders. Those of us at AFSA, on the other hand, see our version of agroecology as liberating – based on the right of farmers to choose seeds and cultivation methods, and free from corporate interference and control.
Thanks to his Global Leadership Fellowship Program, the CAS trained 112 To date, almost two-thirds have been recruited from Africa and many of them from countries where the biotech industry has sought regulatory approvals for GMOs: Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Ghana. In these critical countries on the battlefield, CAS graduates work in media and government to advocate that African governments should institute investment-friendly policies to help import technologies that will save the continent’s farmers from their anachronistic traditions.
Hunger in Africa stems from a single factor, say CAS fellows: crop yields are relatively low. The reason is, first, that the seeds selected and shared by farmers are unproductive, in their opinion; these should be replaced by GMOs. Second, African farmers are not using enough agrochemicals, a deficit that also needs to be corrected. And third, African farmers cultivate a multitude of crops to feed their families; if they instead focus on growing staple foods for pan-African and global markets, they will achieve much better yields while addressing their nutrition and health concerns.
Fortified by connections with another organization funded by the Gates Foundation, the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), CAS fellows end up restricting the democratic space for discussion of food systems in African countries. Opposing views are irrational, unscientific and harmful, they often insist. OFAB is a branching out of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, born in 2001 from negotiations to promote GM seeds in Africa between the Rockefeller Foundation and companies such as Monsanto, Dupont, Pioneer and Syngenta. In our eyes, these and other connections suggest that the resources of the Gates Foundation help promote the interests of multinational corporations interested in opening our markets for agrochemicals, synthetic fertilizers and genetically modified seeds rather than helping farmers.
In Uganda, for example, CAS recruited journalists and key people in government working on agriculture, science and technology to promote the promotion of GM seeds. Fellows write derogatory articles on agroecology, describing it as “dead end,” and promote biotechnology-based solutions in its stead. In Nigeria, Alliance Fellows work closely with the Nigerian Section of OFAB, the National Biotechnology Development Agency, the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations and the Nigerian Institute of Management to advocate for biotechnology, often characterizing it as the only scientific option.
The truth is, India’s Green Revolution was never the runaway success it was heralded, as the ongoing protests from the country’s farmers underscore. And in Africa too, promises of prosperity through resource-intensive commercial agriculture have failed to materialize, according to data from the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) compiled by the Tufts Global Development and Environment Institute. AGRA was launched in 2006 by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Gates Foundation with the stated goal of increasing investments in Africa to reduce poverty and hunger. A AGRA data analysis by African and German civil society groups noted that after 14 years of existence and over $ 1 billion in investment, there is no evidence of increased income for small producers and no significant improvement in productivity in countries served by AGRA. Instead, the number of undernourished people has increased by 31 percent, negative environmental impacts appear to be significant, and crop diversity has declined.
These civil society groups called on donors and African governments to instead direct their support to programs that help small-scale food producers develop climate-resilient and ecologically sustainable agricultural practices. Likewise, a September 2020 Report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recommends “promoting local food production and short supply chains and a greater degree of self-sufficiency” in order to make food systems more resilient during the pandemic of COVID-19.
We welcome investments in agriculture on our continent, but we seek them in a form democratic and responsive people at the heart of agriculture, not as a top-down force that ends up concentrating power and profits in the hands of a few multinational corporations. While describing how GM seeds and other technologies would solve hunger in African countries, Bill Gates claims that “it is a sovereign decision. Nobody does that for them. But the massive resources of the Gates Foundation, which he co-chairs, have had a disproportionate influence on African scientists and policymakers, with the result that food systems on our continent are increasingly market-oriented and consumer-controlled. companies.
This transformation has immense negative implications for the nutrition, health, environment, culture and the right to food of Africans. We call on Gates to let food producers and consumers on the continent chart their own path towards sustainable and healthy farming practices and diets.
This is an opinion and analysis article; the views expressed by the author (s) are not necessarily those of American scientist