I have never had faith in what lay behind the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s charitable works in Africa. The disclosure that the Foundation has directly invested up to $21 million in the GM Biotechnology agricultural giant, Monsanto is confirmation to me that all was never well with this pair of billionaires. While I am not so naive to imagine that such wealth is built without sullying the waters of ethics, there is a choice and they chose to make a bad one. So what’s wrong with Monsanto – everything and more.
“The Foundation’s direct investment in Monsanto is problematic on two primary levels,” said Dr. Phil Bereano, University of Washington Professor Emeritus and recognized expert on genetic engineering. “First, Monsanto has a history of blatant disregard for the interests and well- being of small farmers around the world, as well as an appalling environmental track record. The strong connections to Monsanto cast serious doubt on the Foundation’s heavy funding of agricultural development in Africa and purported goal of alleviating poverty and hunger among small-scale farmers. Second, this investment represents an enormous conflict of interests.”
I cannot help but think this is not accidental but part of a long term plan. At what point in this plan did the Gates Foundation decide to make the connection between their funding of agridevelopment and investment in Monsanto? For someone with so much business astuteness I find it hard to believe that this was not thought of at the beginning. After all biotechnology is not new in Africa. In 2005 Nnimmo Bassey of Friends of the Earth Nigeria, wrote a piece titled “Conned with Corn” in which he describes the “onslaught of the biotech industry” in Africa as a modern day “scramble for Africa”.
Genetically engineered food has been presented as the ultimate weapon against hunger in Africa and the world. This is also seriously suggested in the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), meaning that this may be the direction efforts will be concentrated in the years to come. African leaders have largely been co-opted into thinking this way because they are warned that since the so-called Green Revolution train left Africa standing at the station they should not miss the gene train. It has been noted that the Green Revolution required extensive chemical and equipment inputs and although food production increased in some areas, small scale farmers were marginalised, the environment took a beating and on the aggregate hunger was boosted in the world.
Zambia is one African country that has refused to accept GM foods or crops. The case as Bassey states demonstrated that “every country has the sovereign right to determine what type of food to eat irrespective of whether it is purchased in the market or donated as aid”. (GM foods were banned in 2002 ) In 2005 there were reports claiming that Zambia faced a drought and needed 200,000 tones of maize immediately and the US tried putting pressure on Zambia to import GM foods. The ban followed research by Zambian scientists and economists conducted in South Africa, Europe and the US as well as consultations took place with local farmers, women’s groups, politicians, church leaders and NGOs — sounds very democratic!
The Pushers: Monsanto and USAID (the same people behind the push to market cassava in Nigeria [the country’s main staple food) as an export crop. For example — Monsanto’s genetically engineered cotton called Bt Cotton has been planted in India and South Africa. According to Monsanto this has been a great success but there have been many reports of farmers recording low yields and going into debt. Monsanto and US Aid are now pushing Bt Cotton on Tanzania which will join Tunisia, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso and Kenya in conducting field trials.
The food and crops: Apart from Bt cotton, GM food is being sent to Africa, Asia and Latin America via food aid. Example — “In 2003 Nigeria received 11,000 metric tons of soy meal as food aid from the US under the title “Food for Progress”. Taking into account that around 60% of soybeans in the US is GM it is quite likely that Nigeria has been receiving GM food through the back door so to speak. Another example Bassey gives is in Latin America where corn varieties not authorised for human consumption have been found in food aid sent in 2002 and in 2005.
More recently and one that cannot have been missed by Bill and Melinda Gates happened in Haiti in May this year. 5 months after the earthquake that killed up to 250,000 people and hundreds of thousands more left homeless, Monsanto in one of it’s most despicable acts sent 475 tons of seeds in an aid package to Haitian farmers. They clearly thought that hungry people will accept any food even food that will kill them and their future. But the Haitians refused. The seeds are patented to Monsanto. They cannot be reused meaning farmers become forever dependent on Monsanto. A bit like Microsoft, at least in the early days, when it had a monopoly on operating systems and software for all IBM clone machines. So one could say this kind of consumer lock-in is familiar to the Gates.