The drive by corporate
players and certain philanthropic foundations for a 'Green Revolution
THE 'New Green Revolution in Africa', touted since the 1990s, was given renewed impetus two and a half years ago, when the Rockefeller and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations launched the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).1 Although AGRA itself does not incorporate genetically modified (GM) crops in its projects, the ominous presence of GM companies and GM technologies hovers over the Green Revolution push like a bad dream.
Millions of dollars
have been poured into the coffers of a host of carefully selected role
players, to lay the groundwork for the industrialisation of African
agriculture and creation of markets for agribusiness giants. These
It is also becoming
extremely important to link the huge amounts of cash flowing into 'Green
Revolution' coffers, to the enormous cash injections flowing from the
Gates Foundation into biosafety projects in
money pouring into
The African Green Revolution discourse defines rural poverty in terms of insufficient productivity, which a technological 'fix' comprised of high-yielding varieties (HYVs), genetically engineered seeds and large-scale application of chemicals will resuscitate.2 Thus, the Green Revolution in Africa is motivated by the desire to transform agriculture into a dynamic sector with an emphasis on export crops and the integration of peasant and small producers into the global economy.3
This ideology has
received the endorsement of the African Union, and is propagated through
the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) via the Comprehensive
The Chairperson of
AGRA is former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan.
The considerable financial
and political clout housed within
Nevertheless, it is worth noting that on 16 January 2009, AGRA signed a five-year agreement with Jeffrey Sachs' Earth Institute at Columbia University aimed at delivering the best science, technologies and policies to sustainably improve agriculture for Africa's small-scale farmers.13 Sachs is an ardent supporter of the use of GM crops in developing countries, and believes that these hold great promise for subsistence farmers in developing countries because the technology is delivered in the seed.14
The main focus of AGRA is on crop breeding, in respect of which an ambitious five-year target has been set to develop 100 new varieties from core crops such as maize, cassava, sorghum and millet; however, it is really AGRA's Agro-Dealer Development Programme that is of huge significance and deserving of scrutiny. Briefly, the programme provides training, capital and credit for the establishment of small agro-dealers who comprise the primary conduit of seeds, fertilisers, chemicals and knowledge to smallholder farmers. This is done on the pretext of increasing farm productivity and farmer incomes. AGRA boasts that it is working hard to put in place a special grassroots-based delivery system, where a farmer could 'walk to a shop or kiosk in his rural back yard and readily access high-quality certified seeds'.15 However, the reality is the establishment of an entire value chain - from 'inputs to markets'- that will pave the way for the emergence of a new rural private sector, agro-processors and exporters who contract small farmers to produce crops for them.
As a first step towards
putting its agro-dealers scheme in place to sell 'improved' seeds, pesticides
and fertilisers to poor farmers in Africa, AGRA awarded more than $15
million to US NGO, CNFA, to lay the groundwork.16 CNFA is led by John
Costello, who has a long and successful track record of promoting US
corporate interests around the world. For instance, during 2000, Costello
led a 15-member mission to
Commenting on the agro-dealers programme during November 2008, Costello said 'By building a commercial, enterprise-based network that can deliver inputs and technology to thousands of rural farmers, the CNFA/AGRA partnership will begin to build a rural economic infrastructure, resulting, over time, in expanding rural incomes through improved linkages to essential inputs, technologies and markets'18 True to his word, in October 2008, Costello's CNFA joined forces with the Croplife Foundation and announced that they would utilise the AGRA-funded agro-dealers network, comprising 1,500 agro-dealers in Kenya and Malawi, to demonstrate the potential of agro-chemicals.19 CNFA has brought in financial and technical support for the project from Syngenta Crop Protection, Dow AgroSciences, Bayer CropScience, Du Pont Crop Protection and Monsanto.
It is clear that AGRA's agro-dealer scheme is nothing more than a well-oiled machinery to enable large agro-chemical companies, which just so happen to also produce GM seeds, to gain a firm foothold in Africa's agriculture systems.
The Gates Foundation
employs a number of people from the GM industry. For instance, the Senior
Programme Officer of its Global Development Programme, which supervises
The Gates Foundation
is heavily involved in funding GM research and development involving
African crop plants. Its most famous and strategic project is the African
Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) Project for which it has paid a cool $16.9
million. The ABS is spearheaded by Kenyan scientist Florence Wambugu,
best remembered for the spectacular Monsanto-funded GM sweet potato
flop. Wambugu has teamed up with DuPont Crop Genetics Research, Pioneer
HiBred International and
It has been reported that the Gates Foundation has hired Harvard academic and pro-GM supporter, Robert Paarlberg, to undertake a study of regional policy harmonisation toward biotechnology in eastern and southern Africa, for the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) on the politics of accepting biofortified food crops.24 At the time of writing, this document was not available for scrutiny and comment.
The Foundation is also bankrolling the Monsanto-backed Danforth Centre to pave the way for the regulatory approval of GM crops on the pretext that Danforth will provide technical biosafety capacity.25
Another major coup for the GM lobby is the Buffett and Gates Foundations' hefty $47 million donation to a project called Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA). WEMA is being co-ordinated by the industry-financed African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF). The AATF intends to develop GM and non-GM drought-tolerant maize, and much fuss is also made of the fact that Monsanto will donate the technology free of charge to WEMA.
No doubt, this money
will be used to massively roll out field trials throughout
GM drought-tolerant and biofortified crops represent powerful PR tools in the arsenal of the biotech machinery in their campaign to promote the acceptance of GM crops, expand existing markets and develop new markets. WEMA, and the roll-out of GM field trials in Africa involving Monsanto's 'free GMOs', are designed to win enormous amounts of credibility for Monsanto. Monsanto will likely try to claim that it is supporting GM crops that are adapted to the needs of poor African farmers. Already Monsanto is making controversial claims that drought-tolerant technology would lead to yield insurance, yield enhancement and cost savings on irrigated land.28
One of the main corporate
beneficiaries from the Green Revolution push in
The CGIAR, established in 1971, is a strategic partnership consisting of 64 members including '21 developing and 26 industrialised countries, four co-sponsors as well as 13 other international organisations'.30 One of these members is the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, funded by Syngenta, which joined the CGIAR in 2002.31 The CGIAR's 25-year investment of between $150 and $200 million in Africa to promote Green Revolution-type projects - mainly crop and livestock research - has not delivered anything meaningful. Its work in Africa has been aptly summed up by a Kenyan journalist as follows: 'One can safely say that the biggest portion of its work in Africa has revolved around token projects.initiated at the whims of its scientists and bureaucrats and funded on the basis of goals that have little to do with a genuine desire to fight poverty or improve food security.'32
CGIAR - especially its African centres such as the International Institute
for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in
The imposition of
technology and technological solutions to what are inherently social,
political, historical and economic crises within African agriculture
will drastically transform African rural economies, social relationships,
agrarian policies and generally, the rural development trajectory in
What about the farmers?: Early warnings from the NERICA experience
As stated above, AGRA board member, Monty Jones, won the World Food Prize in 2004 for his key role in the research and development of the 'New Rice for Africa', NERICA.33
The African Development Bank has launched a $35 million project to support the dissemination of NERICA in seven West African countries. The effort is being co-ordinated by the African Rice Initiative (ARI) hosted by the Africa Rice Centre (WARDA).34 ARI is mandated to facilitate the dissemination of NERICA across Africa as a contribution towards achieving food security and improving the livelihoods of poor farmers through a community-based seed production system.35 NERICA is also reported to be performing spectacularly in other parts of Africa.
by international NGO, GRAIN, paints a different and bleak picture.36
GRAIN found that NERICA is associated with the explosion of private
investment in African rice production, which threatens to displace
The massive investments made by the Gates Foundation discussed above, threaten and undermine the richness of African traditional agriculture. Its projects arrogantly dismiss - and indeed undermine - the many successful African alternatives in organic agriculture, sustainable agriculture, agro-forestry, pastoralism, integrated pest management, farmer-led plant breeding, sustainable watershed management and many other agroecological approaches.
It is tragic that the 2008 report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), compiled by 400 scientists over a five-year period, remains largely ignored in the current discourse. The report suggests that food security, sovereignty and sound environmental practices for current and future generations are inextricably tied to ecological agricultural as well as traditional and local knowledge systems.
Mariam Mayet is the founder and director of the African Centre for Biosafety.
1 The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) is a Seattle-based charity founded in 2000, through the merger between the Gates Learning Foundation and the William H. Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation is the biggest charity foundation in the world. http://www.gatesfoundation.org/about/Pages/foundation-timeline.aspx
2 Suliman, M.
(1999). Ecology, Politics and Violent Conflict.
H. (n.d.). 'Agrarian Reform' after Developmentalism? Conference on Agrarian
Reform and Rural Development: Taking Stock.
4 NEPAD (July
5 For example, see Njini, F. (11 February 2009). African ministers adopt Green Revolution strategy. Panapress. http://www.panapress.com/freenews.asp
2%2F2009 (accessed 28 February 2009).
8 Bage, L. (June 2006). Statement by Lennart B†ge, IFAD President, to the Heads of State Session, Africa Fertilizer Summit held in Abuja, Nigeria from 9-13 June 2006. http://www.ifad.org/events/op/2006/fertilizer.htm (accessed 20 February 2009).
of understanding between FAO, IFAD, WFP and the
12 Moola, S &
Munnik, V. (2007). GMOs in
13 Ooko, D. (16 January 2009). AGRA, Earth Institute sign deal to advance African green revolution. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-01/16/content_10669838.htm (accessed 20 February 2009).
14 Monsanto Company. (2006). Conversations about Plant Biotech. Jeffrey Sachs supports expanded use of genetically modified crops in developing countries. http://www.monsanto.com/biotech-gmo/asp/experts.asp?id=JeffreySachs. (accessed 20 February 2009).
15 Odhimabo, A.
(2 October 2007).
17 Fletcher, P.
(12 January 2000). Ex Reagan cabinet official backs trade with
19 Croplife Foundation media release. (14 October 2008). Croplife Foundation to Demonstrate Value of Crop Protection Technology in Improving African Agriculture at World Food Prize Event. http://www.croplifefoundation.org/Africa/CLF_CNFA_Press_Release.
pdf (accessed 20 February 2009).
Potash Institute. Maize Intensification in
21 Monsanto Company. (31 October 2006). Reflections of a science pioneer. http://www.monsanto.com/monsanto_
asp (accessed 28 February 2009).
22 Heim, K. (17
October 2006). Want to work for the Gates Foundation?
gateshires17.html (accessed 28 February 2009).
23 See African
Centre for Biosafety. (10 January 2007). Objections to the Application
made by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in respect
of contained use of genetically modified sorghum to the national Department
25 Binns,.E. (19
December 2008). Danforth Centre teams up with Gates.
26 African Agricultural
Technology Foundation. (19 March 2008). Water Efficient Maize for
27 African Centre
for Biosafety. (2007). Monsanto's GM Drought Tolerant Maize in
28 African Centre
for Biosafety. (2007). Monsanto's GM Drought Tolerant Maize in
29 African Union special summit of the heads of state and government. (13 June 2006). Abuja Declaration on fertiliser for the Green Revolution. http://www.africafertilizersummit.org/Abuja%20Fertilizer%20Declaration%
20in%20English.pdf (accessed 28 February 2009).
30 Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. http://www.cgiar.org/who/index.html (accessed July 2008).
31 Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. http://www.cgiar.org/who/members/syngentafoundation.html (accessed July 2008).
32 Mbaria, J. (30 October 2007). Doubts emerge about Green Revolution. The East African. http://www.afrika.no/Detailed/15358.html (accessed 28 February 2009).
33 Seed Quest. (29 January 2007). Nerica rice among the top agricultural breakthroughs of the last 30 years. http://www.seedquest.com/News/releases/2007/january/18233.htm (accessed 28 February 2009).
34 Mohapatra, S. (31 March 2007). In Search of New Seeds. Rice Today. International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). http://beta.irri.org/news/index.php/200811115474/rice-today/Africa/In-search-of-new-seeds.html (accessed 28 February 2009).
35 African Rice Initiative (ARI). http://www.warda.cgiar.org/ARI/consortium.asp (accessed 20 February 2009).
36 GRAIN. (January
2009). Nerica another trap for small farmers in
*Third World Resurgence No. 223, March 2009, pp 12-17