In a series of posts, U.S. Right to Know examines Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation’s plans to remake our food system. Why are we focusing on Bill Gates? Gates has an extraordinary amount of power over our food systems and he is using it. Gates is one of the world’s leading investors in biotechnology companies that patent food. He is the largest owner of farmland in the United States. His $50 billion tax-exempt private foundation exerts major influence over political negotiations and research agendas that guide how food systems develop in the Global South, and what food we all grow and eat.
Controversial agriculture agenda in Africa
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has spent over $5 billion on its efforts to transform food systems in Africa, with investments that are “intended to help millions of small farmers lift themselves out of hunger and poverty.” A growing chorus of critics say the foundation’s agricultural development strategies — based on the “green revolution” model of industrial expansion — are outdated, harmful and impeding the transformative changes necessary to feed the world and fix the climate.
The battle has been brewing for more than a decade as food sovereignty movements in Africa have resisted the push for chemical-intensive agriculture, patented seeds and monocrops. A better model, the food movements say, can be found in agroecological projects that are increasing productivity with lower costs and higher incomes for farmers, while also building climate resiliency. In 2019, a high level UN panel of experts on food security and nutrition called for a paradigm shift away from industrial agriculture and toward agroecological solutions they say can provide more abundant and nutritious foods, protect biodiversity and address the structural inequalities at the heart of the hunger crises.
- Fact sheet: Critiques of Gates Foundation’s agricultural interventions in Africa
- Overview article: Bill Gates radical plans for changing food systems: What’s on the menu?
UN Food Systems Summit showdown
The debate is now headed for a showdown at the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit. Rather than following the advice of their own expert panel, the UN has allowed what critics describe as an agribusiness takeover of the food summit, led by the Gates and Rockefeller foundations and the World Economic Forum (WEF). These groups want to ramp up industrial agricultural development models that critics say are harming the climate and failing to feed the hungry.
Hundreds of civil society groups are denouncing the Summit and its leadership by Agnes Kailibata, president of the Gates-funded Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). The Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism for relations with the UN Committee on World Food Security — a group representing 550 civil society organizations with more than 300 million members — said in March it would boycott the summit and set up a parallel meeting.
Three UN Special Rapporteurs on the right to food are also speaking out about the summit’s deep deficiencies. In an open letter to Kalibata in January, the current Special Rapporteur Michael Fakhri described how the summit is heavily skewed in favor of financiers and market-based solutions that cannot meet today’s food system challenges. Fakhri’s report on the Summit provides many details on the structural problems and concerns at the center of the summit debate. The stakes are high with billions of dollars in investments and government policies that will determine how food systems develop in the years ahead to deal with the multiple converging crises of hunger, climate change and pandemic conditions.
“There will be no real solutions if we focus on science and technology, profits and markets, without also addressing fundamental questions of equality, accountability, and governance,” Fakhri said.
Excerpt from letter from 176 organizations from 83 countries asking UN Secretary General António Guterres to revoke the Special Envoy appointment of Agnes Kalibata, president of AGRA:
Statements opposing the corporate agenda of the UNFSS
- USRTK is tracking current news here, along with statements from food movement leaders, and critiques of the Gates Foundation’s role.
- Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, African Civil Society Refuses To Engage With UNFSS Without Radical Change (5.3.21)
- Civil Society and Indiginous Peoples’ Mechanism for relations with the UN Committee on World Food Security, CSM Letter to the CFS Chair on Food Systems Summit (3.23.21)
- IPES-Food tweet thread, How the resetting of corporate control of food systems is already well under way (6.3.21)
- Scientists Boycott the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit, Agroecology Research-Action Collective and letter in Spanish (4.15.21)
- Open letter to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation from the SAFCEI and faith community representatives from the African continent. (9.20)
- Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2021 UN Food Systems Summit sounds like a good thing, but… (2.10.21)
- Open letter by the UN Food Rapporteur to Agnes Kalibata Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General, by Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food. (1.13.21)
- La Via Campesina, Via Campesina denounces UN Special Envoy for the UN Food Systems Summit for diminishing peasants and their rights (2.26.20)
- Oakland Institute and 175 organizations, Call to Revoke AGRA’s Agnes Kalibata as Special Envoy to 2021 UN Food Systems Summit (2.10.20)
- Community Alliance for Global Justice report, The Man Behind the Curtain: The Gates Foundation’s influence on the UN Food Systems Summit (8.20)
- Farmers and rights groups boycott food summit over big business links, The Guardian (3.4.21)
- UN Food Systems Summit: How Not to Respond to the Urgency of Reform, by Michael Fakri, Hilal Elver, Olivier De Schutter, IPS News (3.22.21)
- Faiths institute asks Gates Foundation to change tactics in Africa, Catholic News Service (2.22.21)
- We Should All Be Worried About The United Nations Food Systems Summit, by A Growing Culture, Medium (5.1.21)
- The world needs a food movement based on agroecology and equity (commentary), by Pat Mooney, Mongabay (4.21.21)
- UN Rapporteur to Agnes Kalibata: Food Systems Summit needs human rights at its core, by Lise Colyer, Quota (1.14.21)
Hear Professor Michael Fakhri explain what’s at stake at the UN World Food Summit and why food systems are a major problem and also key solution for climate change.
Related USRTK posts:
- African groups want Gates Foundation, USAID to shift agricultural funding as hunger crisis worsens, (9.8.21)
- New hunger report spotlights controversial UN Food Systems Summit, (7.14.21)
- Bill Gates’ radical menu for food systems: ultra-processed foods, patents and monocrops, (3.26.21)
- The next neocolonial gold rush? African food systems are the ‘new oil,’ UN documents say (3.9.21)
- Gates Foundation’s plans to remake food systems will harm the climate (2.25.21)
- Gates Foundation doubles down on misinformation campaign at Cornell as African leaders call for agroecology (9.30.20)
- Cornell Alliance for Science fact sheet
- Gates Foundation’s Failing ‘Green Revolution’ in Africa: New Report (7.29.20)
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U.S. Right to Know is a nonprofit investigative research group focused on promoting transparency for public health. We are working globally to expose corporate wrongdoing and government failures that threaten the integrity of our food system, our environment and our health.