Africans have long been told that our agriculture is backward and should be abandoned for a version of the 21st century Green Revolution that will allow 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 were key to this miracle, we know, and we must go that route too.
A major proponent of this view is the Cornell Alliance for Science (CAS), which was founded in 2014 to depolarize “the charged debate” over genetically modified (GM) seeds. Indeed, with $ 22 million in funding to date from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, CAS has consistently defended GM seeds, arguing that they are healthy, productive, and environmentally friendly, while attacking agroecology as economically and socially retrograde.
In contrast, The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), which represents more than 200 million farmers, fishermen, herders, indigenous peoples, women, consumers and others in all but five African countries, believes that agroecology is what our continent needs . Small-scale, environmentally friendly cultivation methods with indigenous knowledge and input as well as state-of-the-art science increase the diversity, the nutritional value and the amount of food produced on the farms, stabilize the rural economy, promote gender equality and protect biodiversity.
This mission brought our alliance, the largest social movement in Africa, into conflict with the CAS and thus also with the Gates Foundation. And they win. On June 17, 2021, GRAIN, a small non-profit based in Barcelona, Spain that tracked the Foundation’s grants from 2003 to 2020, reported that the Foundation had allocated $ 6 billion, of which 5 billion were to serve Africa . More worryingly, the CAS, which describes the AFSA’s interpretation of agroecology as “restrictive” and worse, has successfully undermined support for the paradigm among Africa’s scholars and political leaders. Those of us at AFSA, on the other hand, see our version of agroecology as liberating – based on farmers’ right to choose seeds and cultivation methods, and free from corporate interference and control.
Through its Global Leadership Fellows program, The CAS has so far trained 112 scholarship holders, almost two thirds of them from Africa and many of them from countries where the biotech industry has applied for regulatory approvals for GMOs: Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Ghana. In these critical battlefields, CAS graduates are working in the media and government to argue that African governments should take investment-friendly measures to help import the technologies that will save the continent’s farmers from their anachronistic traditions.
CAS scholars argue that hunger in Africa stems from one single factor: the crop yields are relatively low. The reason for this is, first, that the seeds that farmers raise and share are, in their opinion, unproductive; these should be replaced by GMOs. Second, African farmers are under-using agrochemicals, a deficit that also needs to be addressed. Third, African farmers grow a variety of crops to support their families; If they instead focus on growing crops for pan-African and global markets, they will get far better yields while taking their nutritional and health issues into account.
Empowered by ties with another Gates Foundation-funded organization, the Open Forum on Agriculture Biotechnology (OFAB), CAS scholars eventually narrow the democratic space for discussion about food systems in African countries. Opposing viewpoints are irrational, unscientific, and harmful, they often insist. OFAB is an offshoot of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, which emerged in 2001 from negotiations to promote GM seeds in Africa between the Rockefeller Foundation and companies like Monsanto, Dupont, Pioneer and Syngenta. We believe that these and other links suggest that the Gates Foundation’s resources are more likely to serve the interests of multinational corporations seeking to open up our markets to agrochemicals, synthetic fertilizers, and genetically modified seeds, rather than helping farmers.
In Uganda, for example, the CAS has recruited journalists and key government officials working in agriculture, science and technology to promote GM seeds. Fellows write derogatory articles on agroecology, describing them as a “dead end” and promoting biotechnology-based solutions instead. In Nigeria, Alliance Fellows work closely with the Nigeria Chapter of OFAB, the National Biotechnology Development Agency, the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, and the Nigerian Institute of Management to advocate biotechnology, often referring to it as the only scientific option.
The truth is that India’s Green Revolution was never the sweeping success it was advertised for, as evidenced by the country’s ongoing protests by peasants. And in Africa, too, the promises of prosperity through resource-intensive, commercialized agriculture have failed, according to the data from the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) of the Tufts Global Development and Environment Institute. AGRA was established in 2006 by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Gates Foundation with the stated aim of increasing investment in Africa in order to reduce poverty and hunger. An analysis of the AGRA data by African and German civil society groups showed that after 14 years of existence and investments of over one billion US dollars, there were no signs of an increase in the income of small producers and no significant increase in productivity in the countries that AGRA serves. Instead, the number of undernourished people has increased by 31 percent, the negative environmental impact appears to be significant, and plant diversity has declined.
These civil society groups called on donors and African governments to shift their support instead to programs that help small food producers develop climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable farming methods. Similarly, a September 2020 report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization recommends “promoting local food production and short supply chains and greater levels of self-sufficiency” in order to make food systems more resilient during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We welcome investment in agriculture on our continent, but we strive for it in a form that is democratic and responsive to the people at the heart of agriculture, rather than as a top-down force that ends up in power and profit in the hands of a small number of multinationals. While Bill Gates described how GM seeds and other technologies would solve hunger in African countries, Bill Gates claimed that “it is a sovereign choice. Nobody does it for them. ”But the vast resources of the Gates Foundation, of which he is co-chair, have had an overwhelming impact on African scholars and politicians, with the result that the continent’s food systems are becoming increasingly market-oriented and company-controlled.
This change has immensely negative effects on nutrition, health, the environment, culture and the right to food of Africans. We ask Gates that the continent’s food producers and consumers show our own path to sustainable and healthy growing practices and diets.
This is an opinion and analysis article; the views expressed by the author or authors are not necessarily those of Scientific American