“Stop the Spread of Transgenes”

Image courtesy of ETC Group

While momentum against GMOs builds throughout the global North, the Gates Foundation, profit driven multinational corporations like Monsanto, and a number of governments are setting the stage for the widespread adoption of industrial agriculture and the use of GMO seeds in different parts of Africa. As AGRA Watch and its partners are aware, commercial agricultural biotechnology and GMO seeds will have detrimental effects to smallholder famers and biodiversity.

In response to these pressures, an international coalition of NGOs recently called for the parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Cartagena Protocol to implement binding regulations that would stop the spread of genetically engineered seeds. A primary concern for the coalition of NGOs, and the rest of the anti-GMO movement, is transgene flow and its effects on native crop varieties. In affecting the dynamics of wild and native varieties, transgene flow will have detrimental effects on smallholder farmers, who rely on their understanding of these dynamics to sustainably produce healthy and culturally appropriate food.

Learn more about the beginnings of an international call to stop the spread of genetically engineered organisms, and find contact information of activists who can help your organization join in this effort at stop-the-spread-of-trangenes.org.


“The Importance of Criticizing Philanthropy”

AGRA Watch and its African partners are concerned about the Gates Foundation’s use of private wealth to support public policies which promote the values of late capitalism and benefit multinational corporations at the expense of other groups. Behind the benevolent philanthropist façade used by the Gates Foundation exists the familiar capitalist ambitions that contribute to income inequality, and actually perpetuate the poverty that the philanthropy claims to alleviate. The recent work of Gates and other mega-donors around the country has triggered widespread concern regarding current philanthropic practices. The importance of understanding the nature of philanthropy and the power that great private wealth has over public policy is discussed in a recent article in The Atlantic, written by Benjamin Soskis.

The article notes that throughout the history of philanthropy, there has been a direct relationship between the scale of philanthropy and the questioning of philanthropists’ ambitions. Historically, questioning has come from both sides of the political spectrum; the left has traditionally been concerned about philanthropy’s threat to the federal government, while the right has worried about the threat to small business and American capitalism. Recently, critical analysis has emerged as a result of the increased philanthropic activity and its clear effects on public policy.

Although Soskis focuses on how philanthropists affect domestic policies, AW and its supporters are well aware that the Gates Foundation’s power affects less-wealthy people all over the world. The broad reach of The Gates Foundation certainly heightens the need for the debate that Soskis calls for.


Big Food’s Most Recent Attempt to Keep Consumers in the Dark

ImageBig food’s most recent attempt to keep consumers in the dark, a bill that would prevent states from adopting Genetically Engineered food labeling laws, has been analyzed in a new report by the Center for Food Safety.

Because of legislation in the states, such as the recent Vermont law that would require the labeling of genetically engineered foods, the Grocery Manufacturers Association has introduced a bill that would block all states from enacting their own GE food labeling laws. If passed, this bill would make “voluntary labeling” the law of the land. The same voluntary labeling policy has been in place for 13 years, and unsurprisingly, it does not appear that a single company has volunteered to label their GE foods. It is clear that the continuation of this policy would not produce the labeling that the vast majority of consumers demand.

Please read the Center for Food Safety’s report to understand why CFS encourages Americans to urge Congress to drop this bill.


AGRA Watch holds successful action at Gates Foundation “Food for Good” event

good for whomOn April 5th, the Gates Foundation held a family-friendly event at the Visitor Center of the Foundation’s headquarters, called “Food for Good,” to which they invited several Seattle-based local food justice organizations, such as Lettuce Link, Seattle Tilth, Beacon Hill Food Forest and Fare Start, as well as international groups, including Heifer International and the ONE Campaign. Given the contradictions of the Gates Foundation promoting the idea of “food for good” when they are promoting high-tech solutions dependent on corporate control, CAGJ’s AGRA Watch campaign decided to carry out an action with several components.

First, we carried out a social media campaign, responding to their Twitter messaging based on the event’s name – #Food4GoodSEA – with our challenge to the foundation, asking “good for whom” (#Good4Who)? In addition to regular posts with both hashtags on Facebook and Twitter, we distributed a logo for the campaign (at the bottom of page), directing viewers to also “like” our AGRA Watch page. We were very successful! (If you have not already, please like our page now). Both hashtags were used, #Food4GoodSEA and #Good4Who, on the AGRA Watch page so that when people looked for the event, they also saw our critical or questioning posts, along with the events’ happenings.

Second, before the event we reached out to every organization that was going to table there, to propose a meeting to tell them about our campaign.  Out of the organizations that we contacted, Lettuce Link and Beacon Food Forest have given us a positive response. Several groups told us they were torn about whether to participate, but decided it was worthwhile to connect to kids and to educate about their work.

Third, in order to alert the Foundation to our concerns, we distributed an online petition pressuring the Gates Foundation to support African-initiated programs rooted in indigenous farming practices, social equity and food sovereignty. Over 70 people signed the petition.

Finally, on the day of the event, we leafleted, sharing information with hundreds of participants. Flyers were generally well-received, with a few very positive conversations with people who were very concerned and supportive.

Overall, it was a great way to get information out to the public. Big thanks to all those who participated!


Gates Foundation hosts event to promote “FOOD FOR GOOD.” Find out how you can get involved to ask the Foundation, “GOOD FOR WHOM?”

The Gates Foundation claims to be promoting food for good (#Food4GoodSEA) at their Visitor Center event this Saturday April 5. Members of AGRA Watch are asking the question: good for whom? (#Good4who)
Through the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and other programs, the Gates Foundation promotes industrial farming, inappropriate technologies, and pro-corporate policies that will make things worse for the hungry and small-scale farmers, consumer health, and the environment in Africa. For more info visit the AGRA Watch website.
Here are 3 ways to take action on this campaign:
1. Join us on SAT April 5th, 11-1 PM. We will be leafletting at the Gates Foundation’s Visitor Center ‘Food for Good’ event to educate folks about the Gates Foundation’s involvement in Africa. To RSVP or for more information contact: agrawatch@seattleglobaljustice.org or 206-405-4600.
2.  Sign this petition to show your support and then share widely!
 
3. Participate in the Social Media campaign. Here’s how:
Important: Use both hashtags (#Food4GoodSEA and #Good4Who) when posting about the campaign so the Gates Foundation will take note.
  • Like Agra Watch (AW) on Facebook and Twitter
  • Repost and retweet on Facebook and Twitter
  • Read analysis from the AGRA Watch blog, (also posted on AGRA Facebook wall), and tell us what you think
  • Tell us your experiences with “good food” on Facebook and Twitter, or shoot us an email – What does good food mean to you? How can food produce change and good in our world?
  • Remember: Use both hashtags (#Food4GoodSEA and #Good4Who) when posting about the campaign.
Thanks for participating! Questions? Contact agrawatch@seattleglobaljustice.org or 206-405-4600.

Seattle Times Guest Writer Points Out Gates’ Flawed Approach to End Poverty

ImageIn an article published in the Seattle Times, economics professor, William Easterly, writes that the end of global poverty will not come through technology but through ensuring poor people’s rights instead. “Gates believes poverty will end by identifying technical solutions. My research shoes that the first step is not identifying technical solutions, but enduring people’s rights,” states Easterly. The article continues to explain that true democracies, which allow people to freely vote and protest against harmful autocracies, are where an end to poverty can begin, not through technological fixes.

AGRA Watch also contends the Gates Foundation’s relentless support for biotechnology, although financially advantageous for shareholders, will prove to be futile in terms of ending global hunger and poverty. As research has shown, the answer does not lie solely with technological approaches like genetically engineered seeds, but rather non-technical methods which promote farmer knowledge, cooperation and ensure farmer’s rights to freely plant, harvest and save seeds.

To read the entirety of Professor Easterly’s column, please visit the Seattle Times.

United Nations Special Rapporteur Publishes Final Report and Urges Nations to Democratically Redesign Food Systems

ImageAfter a six-year term as Special Rapporteur to the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, recently published his final report to the UN Human Rights Council supporting the need that the world’s food systems need to be “radically and democratically redesigned.” On a local level, De Schutter advised regions to build their agricultural systems around smallholder farmers and called on cities to also reconnect with local food producers. “Attempts by developing countries to improve their food security will only be successful if there are parallel reforms in the global north. Wealthy countries must restrain their expanding claims on global farmland by reigning in the demand for animal feed and agrofuels and by reducing food waste,” stated the Special Rapporteur.

Furthermore, as in the press release, “In addition to his report, the expert presented a summary of recommendations issued over the course of his mandate as Special Rapporteur (2008-2014), covering food price volatility, trade and investment in agriculture, regulating agribusiness, agrofuels, food aid and development cooperation, nutrition, social protection, women’s rights, Human Rights Impact Assessments, national strategies, agricultural workers, contract farming, small-holder farmers, agroecology, and the reinvestment in agriculture.”

To read the full report, visit here.


G8: New Alliance to Improve Food Security or Recolonize Africa?

ImageAlthough in theory the G8 Alliance is designed to reduce poverty through investment and increased capital, a new article published by the Guardian discusses how, in actuality, the Alliance paves the way for agribusiness and leaves smallholder farmers behind instead.

Dubbed as a new form of colonialism by critics, the G8 has opened African markets to commercial farm contracts, changes in seed, land and tax laws to favor private investors.  While easing of export controls and taxlaws make it easier for companies to do business in Africa, farmers, who have largely been excluded from the G8 negotiations, will be pushed to rely more and more on imports.

While supporters contend that the G8 Initiative would increase agricultural growth and farmers’ incomes, which in turn would reduce poverty and increase food security, skeptics argue that negotiations which favor agribusiness to the detriment of smallholder farmers will undoubtedly fail.

To read the Guardian’s full article, “G8 New Alliance Condemned as New Wave of Colonialism in Africa,” please visit www.theguardian.com


AGRA Watch Educational on March 20th: Biopiracy and Seed Sovereignty

Biopiracy and Seed Sovereignty: AGRA Watch Educational
THURS, March 20, 6:30 – 9pm
Location: Rochdale Room, Central Co-op Admin Office Building, 1900 E Madison Street
(3 blocks East of Co-op store)
All are welcome!  Event is free, and refreshments will be provided thanks to Central Co-op!
RSVP’s appreciated but not required.
International law is facilitating the appropriation of Africa’s genetic wealth, and the Gates Foundation is helping to pave the way.  African farmers who are resisting the “new green revolution” call for Seed Sovereignty - their right to save, use, exchange, and sell their own seeds.
AGRA Watch is pleased to have one of its members, activist scholar Carol Thompson of Northern Arizona University, in town to lead a discussion on this topic. Carol has partnered with a Southern African farmers’ organization for decades; recently they revealed how these international policies may be more threatening to smallholder farmers than even climate change. She is co-author with Andrew Mushita of Biopiracy of Biodiversity – Global Exchange as Enclosure.
For more information, contact AGRA Watch, or call 206.405.4600.

African Centre for Biosafety Critiques Implementation of AGRA

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The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), a non-profit organization based in South Africa that provides information, research, and policy analysis regarding social justice, genetic engineering and ecological sustainability, recently published a critique of AGRA’s “African Agricultural Status Report 2013,” entitled, “Giving With One Hand and Taking With Two.”  In their critique, they summarize and analyze AGRA’s report in an attempt to answer important questions regarding AGRA’s plan to increase circulation of private capital in order to increase agricultural production on the continent.

ACB investigates the proposed use of public funds, the distribution of benefits resulting from increased circulation of private capital, and AGRA’s basic assumption that increased agricultural production benefits all.  They note that AGRA proposes the channeling of public resources toward projects and policies that will lead to profitability, indicating a benefit for commercial farmers who use high-input farming methods at the expense of farmers who are not in the position to produce as businesses.  In addressing the distribution of benefits, ACB notes that with the injection of private capital, which is the basis of AGRA’s plan, the farmer will always have to give up a portion of their revenue or product to the owner of said capital.  ACB emphasizes the importance of finding ways to increase productivity where the value created can stay with the producers and not go to investors. Further indicating an unfavorable distribution of benefits, ACB notes that some of AGRA’s interventions, most notably their push for seed harmonization, will have direct negative impacts on small-scale farmers because of new regulatory and legal obstacles that would inhibit these farmers’ current practices.

According to ACB, AGRA’s assumption that everyone benefits from increased production is erroneous. AGRA’s strategy is not only an inappropriate intervention for African agriculture but their focus on industrial agriculture ignores the importance of diversity in ecological agriculture, and the facts that farmers’ practices are time tested and have adapted to fit into local socio-ecological contexts for thousands of years. ACB suggests working with farmers to strengthen current practices instead of starting from scratch with AGRA’s industrial agricultural plan.

AGRA Watch’s newest intern, Tyler White, provided this analysis. To find out more about ACB’s report, please visit http://www.acbio.org.za


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