5 questions Gates Foundation should answer about its agriculture projects in Africa

Print Email Share Tweet LinkedIn WhatsApp Reddit Telegram

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s annual live-streamed Goalkeepers2030 event convenes this week as world leaders gather for the 78th UN General Assembly. Pre-event press promises inspirational news for “thinkers and doers” who want to “save” dying mothers and nurture hope for a brighter world.

If past Goalkeepers are a guide, the PR event is likely to generate laudatory press coverage that ignores the global chorus of criticisms about the foundation’s agricultural development work in Africa. Reporters who plan to cover Goalkeepers 2023 should inquire about these recent newsworthy developments.

Why is the Gates Foundation ignoring critiques from Africa-based groups?

In the wake of two important African food summits, a long list of food security and biodiversity experts; Africa-based farming, faith and seed sovereignty groups; and civil society groups around the world have documented the problems and failings of the Gates Foundation’s “green revolution” for Africa. The foundation has largely ignored them all.

The Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi and African Food Systems Summit in Tanzania (known as the African Green Revolution Forum before a recent rebranding) aimed to address the climate emergency and hunger crisis that has hit Africa hard. The outcome? “False solutions and empty promises,” reports Million Belay of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa. The two summits “suffered from the same flaws – doubling down on failed policies, excluding farmers and civil society, and endorsing the talking points flown in from rich-county boardrooms.” You can hear from these groups directly in this press conference and recent wave of critical press coverage in Africa.

Where’s the data to justify continuing the green revolution approach?

The Gates Foundation’s own evaluations underpin these critiques. As we reported last fall, the first major (publicly released) evaluation of AGRA suggests that the 15-year effort to expand capital-intensive, high-input agriculture has failed to achieve its goals of improving food security in Africa. An earlier evaluation commissioned by the Gates Foundation in 2016 (and never publicly released; a summary is here) notes a lack of clarity, ambiguous identity, unrealistic goals, poor metrics and other shortcomings of the billion-dollar AGRA effort.

Independent assessments by Tufts Global Development and Environment Institute and African and German groups in 2020 provide further evidence, based on national level data, that AGRA has not delivered significant yield or income gains for small farmers. The data shows that hunger grew by 30% across AGRA’s target countries during the AGRA years.

AGRA has disagreed with the Tufts research but has not provided data to rebut the findings. Also worth noting: From the start, food policy experts predicted the green revolution for Africa would not solve hunger and poverty, and could make these problems even worse, because it ignored structural inequalities and the harsh lessons of the first green revolution in India.

How involved is Gates Foundation in pushing laws that criminalize seed saving?

An exposé just out in The Nation by Alexander Zaitchik documents the effort by philanthropists and agribusiness companies to implement policies in Africa that criminalize seed saving. “This past summer, the global trade regime finalized details for a revolution in African agriculture … Based on draft laws written more than three decades ago in Geneva by Western seed companies, the new generation of agricultural reforms seeks to institute legal and financial penalties throughout the African Union for farmers who fail to adopt foreign-engineered seeds protected by patents, including genetically modified versions of native seeds. The resulting seed economy would transform African farming into a bonanza for global agribusiness, promote export-oriented monocultures, and undermine resilience during a time of deepening climate disruption.”

The most direct beneficiaries of this plan, Zaitchik wrote, are “four-company oligopoly that controls half the global seed market and 75 percent of the global agrichemicals market: Bayer (formerly Monsanto), Corteva (formerly DowDuPont), BASF, and Syngenta, a subsidiary of ChemChina.” The article provides important historical context about the Gates Foundation’s role in the “new seed economy.”

Why is the Gates Foundation supporting writers that spread misinformation?

In a new peer-reviewed paper, molecular geneticist Michael Antoniou and colleagues analyzed a paper written by authors affiliated with the Gates Foundation-funded Alliance for Science, in which the authors try to equate critics of agricultural genetically engineered seeds and crops with people who make false claims about climate change, COVID-19, and vaccines. The Antoniou study identified eight critical flaws in the paper – including inaccurate and potentially libelous accusations, misrepresentations of the science on GMOs and pesticides, an inaccurate definition of ‘misinformation’ and more falsehoods – showing that the Alliance for Science paper about misinformation is itself misinformation.

Multiple scientists, food policy experts and food groups have taken time over the years to analyze the writings of Lynas and the Alliance for Science, and they have documented many inaccuracies and misleading tactics the group and its lead writer have used in their efforts to promote GMOs and pesticides in Africa, with support from the Gates Foundation.

Where is the accountability?

The misinformation coming from a Gates-funded group is ironic because the foundation is trying to position itself as an arbiter of misinformation. As I reported in 2020, BMGF donated $10 million to the Alliance for Science specifically “to counter conspiracy theories and disinformation campaigns that hinder progress in climate change, synthetic biology, agricultural innovations.” That they are doing so with documented misinformation is newsworthy.

The Gates Foundation has sidestepped accountability, avoided a reckoning with race and power, given to the rich while claiming to help the poor and evaded serious scrutiny for a long time, as Timothy Schwab has documented in a series of articles in The Nation (and a new book out soon).

Reporters should consider asking the hard questions in their coverage of #Goalkeepers2030.

To top