updated March 4
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foundation’s agricultural development strategies — based on the “green revolution” model of industrial expansion — are outdated, harmful and impeding the transformative changes necessary to feed the world and fix the climate.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 and the patented seeds proponents say are necessary to provide farmers with choices and boost food production.
A better model, the food movements say, can be found in ecological agriculture projects that are increasing productivity with lower costs and higher incomes for farmers. A high level panel of experts for the United Nations has called for a paradigm shift away from unsustainable industrial agriculture and toward agroecological practices they say can produce a diversity of food crops while also building climate resilience.
The debate is heading for a showdown at the 2021 UN World Food Summit. Rather than following the advice of their own expert panel, the UN appears to be organizing a corporate agribusiness power play led by the Gates and Rockefeller foundations and the World Economic Forum (WEF). Over 500 civil society groups are protesting the Summit’s direction and the appointment of Agnes Kailibata, president of Gates-funded Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), as Special Envoy in charge of strategic direction. These groups want the UN to withdraw from the UN-WEF partnership they say is “helping to establish ‘stakeholder capitalism’ as a governance model for the entire planet.”
In a pointed letter to UN Secretary General António Guterres last February, 176 organizations from 83 countries demanded he revoke Kalibata’s appointment and abandon the “green revolution” model of industrial agribusiness expansion. AGRA’s finance-intensive, fossil-fuel based agricultural strategies, they said, are “not sustainable beyond constant subsidy.” Here is an excerpt from the letter:
In March, the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism – a coalition of more than 500 civil society groups with more than 300 million members – told The Guardian they would boycott the summit and set up a parallel meeting. “We cannot jump on a train that is heading in the wrong direction. We are questioning the summit’s legitimacy. We sent a letter last year to the secretary general about our concerns. It was not answered. We sent another last month, which has also not been answered,” said Sofía Monsalve Suárez, head of Fian International. “The summit appears extremely biased in favor of the same actors who have been responsible for the food crisis.”
In January, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Michael Fakhri, a law professor at the University of Oregon, wrote an appeal to AGRA’s Kalibata describing his serious concerns about the Summit’s direction.
Fakhri explained his frustration in two video interviews: “It’s that civil society and human rights was at first excluded and then brought in and marginalized,” Fakri said. “It took us a good almost year just to get human rights on the agenda. For the Food Systems Summit that’s coming out of the UN Secretary General’s office, it took us a year to explain, educate and convince the Summit leadership that human rights matters.”
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.
In a series of articles starting today, U.S. Right to Know will examine 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 the largest owner of farmland in the United States. He is also one of the world’s leading investors in biotechnology companies that patent life and food. The Gates Foundation is exerting major influence over how food systems develop in the Global South, and over global political negotiations and research agendas that impact what food we grow and eat.
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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.