Controlling the First Link in the Food-Chain

In March 2009, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed its Global Food Security Act (SB 384). The legislation, known as the Lugar-Casey Act, aims to focus on longer-term agricultural development, and restructure aid agencies to better respond to crises. Funding for agricultural development – some US$7.7 billion worth – would be directed in large part to genetically modified crop research.[1] In other words, food aid policy for the first time mandates the use of genetic modification technologies. Engineered crops will need engineered seeds – seeds that are no longer a result of natural cross-pollination.

The Lugar-Casey Act represents the biggest project in agriculture since the original Green Revolution in the 1950s and 1960s. Fifty years ago, developing countries had yearly agricultural trade surpluses of over US$1 billion. Today the Southern food deficit has grown to over US$11 billion per year,[2] helping create dependency on the volatile international markets that led to the 2008 food crisis.[3] The first Green Revolution increased global food production by 11 per cent in a very short time, but per capita hunger also increased equally as much.[4] How could this be? Green Revolution technologies are expensive. The fertilisers, seeds, pesticides, and machinery needed to cash in on productive gains put the technology out of reach of most small farmers, increasing the divide between rich and poor in the developing world. Poor farmers were driven out of business and into poverty-stricken urban slums. The new Green Revolution highlighted in the Lugar-Casey Bill suffers from all these same problems. This time, however, the genetically-engineered seeds will be under patent and privately owned by the biotechnology corporations that monopolise the seed industry, and farmers will have to buy new seed each year.[5]

R&D dollars in the millions go to engineered climate-smart seeds as a solution to food security under climate stress. DuPont, Monsanto, Syngenta and Limagrain control 29 per cent of the world market in seeds, with Monsanto controlling almost all of the genetically engineered seed. The Gates and Rockefeller foundations’ partnership with Monsanto to bring an Asian-type Green Revolution to the African continent will invest US$150 million into the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). On its website, the Alliance describes itself as a ‘dynamic partnership working across the continent to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families lift themselves out of poverty and hunger … focusing on key aspects of African agriculture: from seeds, soil health and water to markets, agricultural education and policy’.

The Gates/Monsanto bond is very strong. An August 2010 report in The Wall Street Journal reported that Monsanto was among the Foundation’s portfolio investments.[6] Figure 2 illustrates the institutional links and affiliations with AGRA that both the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Monsanto Corporation fund. It also shows the direct link between Rob Horsch, VP for International Development of Monsanto for 25 years, and current senior program officer for the Gates Foundation.[7]

Increased support for biotechnology is hidden in these developments. A 2009 report, has as one of its main recommendations: ‘…international agricultural research projects with substantial payoffs for a large number of beneficiaries should be given investment priority, particularly genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that offer major potential for boosting agricultural yields and “climate proofing” crops’.[8] The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa puts the costs of developing 200 crop varieties better adapted to local environments at US$43 million. The development of bioengineered maize by Monsanto is said to have cost US$10-25 million. At some point, there will have to be a return on this investment – in Argentina Monsanto claimed this back retroactively. In 2008, the number of farmers using GM crops worldwide increased by 1.3 million from 1996 to 13.3 million – and the number of countries growing these crops increased from six in 1996 to 25 in 2008.[9] More than 90 per cent of farmers using GM crops in developing countries are small and resource poor.

The testing ground for modified seeds is spreading across African fields. In South Africa in 2009, Monsanto’s genetically modified maize failed to produce kernels and hundreds of farmers were devastated. According to Mariam Mayet, environmental attorney and director of the Africa Centre for Biosafety in Johannesburg, some farmers suffered up to an 80 per cent crop failure. While Monsanto compensated the large-scale farmers to whom it directly sold the seed, it gave nothing to the numerous small-scale farmers who had been handed out free sachets of seeds. ‘When the economic power of Gates is coupled with the irresponsibility of Monsanto, the outlook for African smallholders is not very promising,’ said Mayet. Monsanto’s aggressive patenting practices have also monopolised control over seed in ways that deny farmers control over their own harvest, going so far as to sue-and bankrupt- farmers for ‘patent infringement.’

An additional feature of new crop technology, especially GM crops, is that they are patent protected. The Royal Society’s report Reaping the Benefits states: ‘The use of patents has mixed consequences. In some instances – this strategy has stimulated the commercial development of products and their application. However, intellectual property restrictions have major impacts on the access to new technologies, especially for the poor. The potential for patent protection has engendered mistrust of the technology because it may restrict the options of farmers and force those with no other options into restrictive and expensive commercial relationships’.[10]

Josphat Ngonyo, with the Africa Network for Animal Welfare, compares the workings of the Alliance with that of Monsanto. In his view, ‘The way that the Gates and Rockefeller foundations have set up AGRA resembles a well known Monsanto format. AGRA purports to finance and train small and medium sized agro-chemical dealerships, up to the village level, to make sure ‘improved seeds’ have a smooth channel to flow to all farmers across the continent. But Monsanto must police its technology contracts, so its transfer from Monsanto’s labs to farmers is best controlled if the financier has a hand on the seed supply chain in Africa’. In short, this leads to corporate control of the seed supply from the lab to the village farm, whether or not it is genetically engineered.

On 8 July 2010, Soyatech LLC[12] announced that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation were launching their new Southern Africa Soy Value Chain Development Program at the Soy Innovation Africa 2010 conference in Cape Town. With a grant of US$8 million from the Gates Foundation, NGOs (CLUSA & AGRA), private companies (Cargill) and government (the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute) are planning to develop a soy value chain. The project will run for four years, commencing initially in Mozambique and Zambia where it is aimed at 37,000 small-scale farmers. The model will be replicated in other regions over time. According to the Soyatech website, the program is designed to provide entrepreneurs and industry leaders in emerging economies with the tools to produce process and utilise soybeans efficiently. The Soy Innovation Africa program will also offer broad understanding of the world soybean market, new technologies and strategic insights from international leaders in crop production, soyfoods, biofuels and animal feed.

Cargill is the biggest global player in the production and trade in soya, with heavy investments in Latin America. Drawing from the experience in Latin America, we can anticipate that African farmers will have no choice than to accept GM seeds under the Gates project. Mozambique has already opened the door to GM soya commodities, accepting a shipment of 35,000 MT of GM soya beans from South Africa in 2010.

The Gates/Monsanto bond is very strong. An August 2010 report in The Wall Street Journal reported that Monsanto was among the Foundation’s portfolio investments.[6] Figure 2 illustrates the institutional links and affiliations with AGRA that both the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Monsanto Corporation fund. It also shows the direct link between Rob Horsch, VP for International Development of Monsanto for 25 years, and current senior program officer for the Gates Foundation.[7]

Increased support for biotechnology is hidden in these developments. A 2009 report, has as one of its main recommendations: ‘…international agricultural research projects with substantial payoffs for a large number of beneficiaries should be given investment priority, particularly genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that offer major potential for boosting agricultural yields and “climate proofing” crops’.[8] The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa puts the costs of developing 200 crop varieties better adapted to local environments at US$43 million. The development of bioengineered maize by Monsanto is said to have cost US$10-25 million. At some point, there will have to be a return on this investment – in Argentina Monsanto claimed this back retroactively. In 2008, the number of farmers using GM crops worldwide increased by 1.3 million from 1996 to 13.3 million – and the number of countries growing these crops increased from six in 1996 to 25 in 2008.[9] More than 90 per cent of farmers using GM crops in developing countries are small and resource poor.

The testing ground for modified seeds is spreading across African fields. In South Africa in 2009, Monsanto’s genetically modified maize failed to produce kernels and hundreds of farmers were devastated. According to Mariam Mayet, environmental attorney and director of the Africa Centre for Biosafety in Johannesburg, some farmers suffered up to an 80 per cent crop failure. While Monsanto compensated the large-scale farmers to whom it directly sold the seed, it gave nothing to the numerous small-scale farmers who had been handed out free sachets of seeds. ‘When the economic power of Gates is coupled with the irresponsibility of Monsanto, the outlook for African smallholders is not very promising,’ said Mayet. Monsanto’s aggressive patenting practices have also monopolised control over seed in ways that deny farmers control over their own harvest, going so far as to sue-and bankrupt- farmers for ‘patent infringement.’

Josphat Ngonyo, with the Africa Network for Animal Welfare, compares the workings of the Alliance with that of Monsanto. In his view, ‘The way that the Gates and Rockefeller foundations have set up AGRA resembles a well known Monsanto format. AGRA purports to finance and train small and medium sized agro-chemical dealerships, up to the village level, to make sure ‘improved seeds’ have a smooth channel to flow to all farmers across the continent. But Monsanto must police its technology contracts, so its transfer from Monsanto’s labs to farmers is best controlled if the financier has a hand on the seed supply chain in Africa’. In short, this leads to corporate control of the seed supply from the lab to the village farm, whether or not it is genetically engineered.

On 8 July 2010, Soyatech LLC[12] announced that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation were launching their new Southern Africa Soy Value Chain Development Program at the Soy Innovation Africa 2010 conference in Cape Town. With a grant of US$8 million from the Gates Foundation, NGOs (CLUSA & AGRA), private companies (Cargill) and government (the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute) are planning to develop a soy value chain. The project will run for four years, commencing initially in Mozambique and Zambia where it is aimed at 37,000 small-scale farmers. The model will be replicated in other regions over time. According to the Soyatech website, the program is designed to provide entrepreneurs and industry leaders in emerging economies with the tools to produce process and utilise soybeans efficiently. The Soy Innovation Africa program will also offer broad understanding of the world soybean market, new technologies and strategic insights from international leaders in crop production, soyfoods, biofuels and animal feed.

Cargill is the biggest global player in the production and trade in soya, with heavy investments in Latin America. Drawing from the experience in Latin America, we can anticipate that African farmers will have no choice than to accept GM seeds under the Gates project. Mozambique has already opened the door to GM soya commodities, accepting a shipment of 35,000 MT of GM soya beans from South Africa in 2010.

Source:- All Africa.com – Nov 10 2011