not GM crops, needed for Africa
piece argues that Bill Gates' support of GM crops for Africa is the
wrong approach, and that what is needed instead is agro-ecological farming.
The latter has far greater potential for fighting hunger, particularly
during economic and climatically uncertain times.
Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister,
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Gates' support of GM crops is wrong approach for Africa
The Seattle Times, 27 February 2012
*Guest columnist Glenn Ashton argues that Bill Gates' support of genetically
modified crops conflicts with scientific research funded by the World
Bank and the United Nations, and with grass-roots agronomic movements,
on what is best for Africa.
Bill Gates' support of genetically modified (GM) crops as a solution
for world hunger is of concern to those of us involved in promoting
sustainable, equitable and effective agricultural policies in Africa.
There are two primary shortcomings to Gates' approach.
First, his technocratic ideology runs counter to the best informed science.
The World Bank and United Nations funded 900 scientists over three years
in order to create an International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge,
Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). Its conclusions were
diametrically opposed, at both philosophical and practical levels, to
those espoused by Gates and clearly state that the use of GM crops is
not a meaningful solution to the complex situation of world hunger.
The IAASTD suggests that rather than pursuing industrial farming models,
"agro-ecological" methods provide the most viable means to
enhance global food security, especially in light of climate change.
These include implementing practical scientific research based on traditional
seed varieties and local farming practices adapted to the local ecology
Agro-ecology has consistently proven capable of sustainably increasing
productivity. Conversely, the present GM crops generally have not increased
yields over the long run, despite their increased costs and dependence
on agricultural chemicals, as highlighted in the 2009 Union of Concerned
Scientists report, "Failure to Yield."
For example, experimental "drought-resistant" corn, supported
by Gates and Monsanto, is far less robust than natural maize varieties
and farming methods requiring less water. Thus, Gates' GM "solutions"
depend on higher-cost inputs — such as fertilizers, pest controls and
the special seeds themselves — distracting attention from proven, lower-cost
Secondly, Gates sponsors compliant African organizations whose work
with multinational agricultural corporations like Monsanto undermines
existing grass-roots efforts to improve local production methods. He
has become a stalking horse for corporate proponents of industrial agriculture
which perceive African hunger simply as a business opportunity. His
Gates Foundation has referred to the world's poor as the "BOP"
(bottom of pyramid), presenting " ... a fast growing consumer market."
Olivier De Shutter, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on the right to food,
reinforces the IAASTD research. He, too, concludes that agro-ecological
farming has far greater potential for fighting hunger, particularly
during economic and climatically uncertain times.
Poverty is the result of a dominant global economic system that considers
traditional farmers, who produce mainly for local consumption, not export,
as not contributing to the gross domestic product. To force these "BOPs"
into the industrial agriculture system ignores their requirements. Gates'
philanthropy is undemocratic at both ideological and practical levels.
It ignores democratically derived African solutions to our food security
problems. Further, it runs counter to the traditional methodology of
bi- and multilateral foreign aid, which is obliged to consider local
policies and sensitivities.
Africa suffers from well-intended but poorly considered agricultural
policies imposed by external "experts." For one of the world's
wealthiest men to presume he can provide all of the solutions is arrogant.
His "near-religious faith in technology" (as described in
a recent business journal) conflicts with the practical work of the
IAASTD, De Shutter and grass-roots democratic agronomic movements.
While successful in his chosen field, Gates has no expertise in the
farm field. This is not to say that he and his fellow philanthropists
cannot contribute — they certainly can. However, some circumspection
and humility would go a long way to heal the rifts they have opened.
Beating Africans with the big stick of high-input proprietary technology
has never been requested; it will perpetuate neo-imperialism and repetition
of foreign-imposed African "failure." Africans urge Bill Gates
to engage with us in a more-broadly consultative, agro-ecological approach.
*Glenn Ashton is a South African agricultural consultant and researcher
who has worked with grass-roots organizations across a broad range of
social interests in the region. He may be reached at email@example.com
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