In August, the African Centre for Biodiversity released a report titled N2Africa, The Gates Foundation and legume commercialization in Africa, as a result of a 3 year research program. This report focuses on the N2Africa program, which claims to be an initiative for the development and distribution of new legume varieties, as well as promotion of the use of inoculants and synthetic fertilizers, in order to develop a commercial legume market for smallholders. The program is backed by a conglomerate of organizations, including the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), public research institutions, farmer associations, and universities. The majority of funding, however, comes directly from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with smaller donations from its affiliate, the Howard G. Warren Foundation.
Legumes have a long history as a food source in Africa due to their high nutritional value. Although the development of new legume varieties offers possibilities for nutritional and ecological benefits for smallholders and the African population, the program follows the pattern of other Green Revolution initiatives – resulting in problems such as economic instability, land holding risks, and misplaced objectives. This report outlines the problematic potentials of the N2Africa Program as well as projected outcomes. The report points out the parameters that should be recognized as the primary goals of the initiative (the nutritional and ecological benefits) and how these parameters are actually thrown into a secondary category of developmental goals, behind international commercial market development.
CAGJ and Community to Community are co-hosting the 2016 Food Sovereignty Prize, working closely with US Food Sovereignty Alliance members across the country, including WhyHunger, whose co-founder authored this piece on the fundamental differences between the World Food Prize, and the Food Sovereignty Prize.
Below is an excerpt from Bill Ayres’ article. It was originally published on The Huffington Post.
Food And Hunger: Which Prize Takes The Prize?
By Bill Ayres, WhyHunger Co-founder and Ambassador
“Doctor Norman Borlaug the Father of the Green Revolution founded the World Food Prize in 1986 to promote the work of scientists and agricultural organizations that promote the production of food through technology. Over the years the prize has been given to dozens of top agricultural scientists and organizations which have pioneered biotechnological solutions for increasing food production, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Yet the solutions and science honored at these ceremonies aren’t solving the hunger problem in our world.
The Food Sovereignty Prize begun in 2009 to champion social movements, activists and community-based organizations around the world working to ensure that all people have access to fresh, nutritious food produced in harmony with the planet. Food Sovereignty means that people should be able to grow, eat and sell their own food in the manner they choose. Members believe that increased dependence on technology, as heralded in the World Food Prize honorees, in the form of pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, and GMO seeds is not the answer to hunger and food production. Control of the food system by large corporations is not the way to protect the environment and decrease hunger and poverty. Access to land, clean water, native seeds and fair markets as well as protection from land grabs and state-sponsored violence are what small farmers need. Millions of small farmers have embraced agroecology, a method of growing food sustainably that combines the best of traditional agriculture with many of the best new agricultural breakthroughs that are affordable and safe for the environment, the food and the farmers. It is a way of life in which whole communities come together to share resources and learn from one another.”
The on-going debates regarding whether or not GM food is safe for human consumption involve GM proponents relying on short-term research studies which do not allow for sufficient data collection to gauge the long-term and multigenerational effects of GM food consumption. Because some other studies have indicated that there are likely to be adverse health effects after long-term GM consumption AGRA Watch believes that independent scientific long-term research studies must be performed in order to enlighten the GM debate.
In a recently published article titled, “The State of Science“, Dr. Stuart Newman highlights the proliferation of GM crops despite the absence of long-term studies analyzing the effects of these crops on human health. According to Dr. Newman’s analysis, proponents of genetically modified foods are quick to dismiss opponents’ “reservations about the massive introduction of GM food into the food chain” as “scientifically ignorant, economically suicidal, and cruel to the world’s hungry.” Consequently, the biotech industry has relied upon lax regulations and superficial “scientific” studies to achieve lucrative profits from the transformation of traditional US crops to GM crops. Dr. Newman succinctly summarizes the issue and states, “To protect its investment against a skeptical public, the biotech food industry has depended on compliant regulators, on its proponents’ ridicule of biotech industry critics’ supposed scientific ignorance, and on expensive campaigns against labeling of prepared foods that would draw undue attention to the presence of GM components.”
Mark Lynas, claiming to be an early GM opponent, is now the biotech industry’s darling as he recants the errors of his ways.
In a speech given at the Oxford Farming Conference, Lynas apologized for having “spent several years ripping up GM crops… [and for helping] to start the anti-GM movement back in the 1990s…”
The Gates Foundation has picked up the industry spin and in a blog posted by Sam Dryden, the Gates Foundation’s director of agricultural development, Dryden discusses how “refreshing” it was to hear Lynas apologize for the “myths” he spread about GMOs during his time as a self-proclaimed anti-GMO activist.
AGRA Watch urges readers to visit Johnathan Matthews’ articles for GMWatch, The Repentant Environmentalist: Part one and Part two, in which Matthews debunks Lynas’ claims and discusses whether Lynas’ speech isn’t “best understood as a PR narrative.”
Additionally, the Bioscience Resource Project has compiled a list of recent articles from experts putting the Lynas scientific misrepresentation into perpective.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has granted the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines $1.3 million to help develop Golden Rice, a genetically modified strain of rice containing beta-carotene which the body may be able to convert to vitamin A.
In recent weeks, two news stories broke hyping up the expectations of Golden Rice.
In a response to the exaggerated news stories, the International Rice Research Institute issued a clarifying statement.
Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union, has also discussed the hype regarding Golden Rice’s claim to combat vitamin A deficiency. According to Hansen, there have been three versions of the genetically modified rice varieties to date. The first version (GR1) had low levels of beta-carotene– a precursor to vitamin A–so low in fact, that a report by Greenpeace exposed that an individual would have to consume TEN pounds of the rice in order to get the desired levels of beta-carotene. Although the second version (GR2) had higher levels of beta-carotene, the real issue, Hansen states, was that because the genes were easier to insert in japonica varieties of rice, people in South Asia (who were accustomed to indica rice) would not eat the new variety. “It wasn’t until 2010 that they had been able to cross GR2 with local indica varieties and get plants out into the field to test. We still don’t know the levels of beta-carotene in the GR indica varieties. In addition, they still haven’t done the proper safety testing…” says Hansen.
Furthermore, according to Vandana Shiva, in one village she is familiar with, over 350 varieties of plants grow (dismissed as “weeds”) which are dietary sources of vitamin A. It is also likely that without other nutrients in a balanced diet, the child’s body may not be able to manufacture vitamin A from the precursors.
Regrettably, if an adequately nutritious and safe to consume variety of Golden Rice is ever developed, it would be foolish to assume that this technology would be made available to those who need in most, without prioritizing corporate interest. In a piece posted on GM-Free Cymru, Dr. Brian John writes, “The idea that Golden Rice is being ‘given to the world’ as a grand humanitarian gesture, with the high-profile support of the Rockefeller and Gates Foundations, is a scam — as realised by many observers even in the early days of the project. Syngenta owns the patents and the commercial rights in Golden Rice. It is not ‘giving away’ the technology but sub-licensing it with very specific conditions…So Syngenta keeps ownership, spreads the financial risk, accepts no liability, undermines the regulatory system, puts moral pressure on those who stand in the way of its ambitions, and still stands to make a killing if anybody (other than a small farmer) grows any Golden Rice hybrid in the future.”
Last week the Supreme Court heard the case of farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman vs. Monsanto regarding the legal question of whether the sale of a patented seed falls under the general doctrine of “exhaution” of the patent monopoly (that the sale of a patented item ends the patentee’s control over its uses), or if a seed should be treated differntedly from a manufactured artifact.
To ensure farmers will buy new seeds each season, Monsanto requires that farmers only plant the company’s genetically engineered seeds for one season. Bowman planted Monsanto’s GE soybean seeds from a local elevator and consequently violated Monsanto’s restrictions. He appealed the decision to pay the seed giant company $84,000 to the Supreme Court.
The questioning of the lawyers by the Justices during the hearing indicated that the Court will probably conclude that patent control of seeds extends past their sale (ie, that “exhaustion” does not apply to “self-replicating” patented items).
Groups such as Save our Seeds (SOS) and the Center for Food Safety (CFS) submitted briefs to support Bowman and challenge Monsanto’s restrictive policies. CFS Executive Director, Andrew Kimbrell, states, “Mr. Bowman’s case represents a systemic crisis in U.S. agriculture. Through a patenting system that favors the rights of corporations over the rights of farmers and citizens, our food and farming system is being held hostage by a handful of companies. Nothing less than the future of food is at stake.”
In a statement put forth by Bill Gates, the new facilities are perceived to ensure “CIMMYT’s continued leadership in developing high-yielding maize and wheat varieties equipped to tolerate the stresses of climate change… [as well as the] ability to develop and deliver resource-conserving farming practices…enabling poor farming families to increase their productivity and income.” Please see http://www.thegatesnotes.com/Topics/Development/Mexico-Will-Lead-Innovation-in-Agricultural-Development-for-the-World [www.thegatesnotes.com]
Although the two articles referenced above, and in particular the latter article by Gates, suggest that CIMMYT promotes “sustainable” solutions to world hunger, AGRA Watch’s research shows projects previously funded by the Gates Foundation do not promote sustainable or agroecological approaches to farming. So skeptisism here appears warranted.
For more information, please review Phil Bereano’s correspondence with the Gates Foundations Roy Steiner on AGRA Watch’s September 27th blog, “AGRA Watch Challenges Gates Foundation’s Claims to Support Agroecology”
Nnimmo Bassey, Executive Director of Environmental Rights/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, has authored a paper detailing the myths and propaganda behind the promotion of GMOs in Nigeria. Bassey debunks several myths pertaining to GMOs and states that the fictitious information persists due to the biotech industries’ seizures of policy institutions and regulatory agencies. The paper also challenges claims suggesting that genetically modified foods are substantially equivalent to conventional crops and therefore pose no serious harm to the environment, biodiversity or human health. In this regard, the author asks nations to exercise the Precautionary Principle (please see https://www.cbd.int/doc/articles/2008/A-00637.pdf [www.cbd.int])
Bassey contends that food security for Nigeria will not be achieved through corporate control of food but rather through ecological agriculture, a view AGRA Watch also holds.
Supporters of the biotech industry argue that GE crops will be the solution to alleviating hunger. However, many others claim that scientific, philosophical and common-sense reasoning all link GE crops to hurting food security and perpetuating hunger worldwide.
The biotech industry has been quick to promote the opinions of any GE critics who change their views, and last week, Mark Lynas, once a steadfast critic of genetically engineered crops, announced that a viable solution to the issue of world hunger is through the use of GE crops
Contrary to Lynas’ assertions, numerous recent studies indicate that agroecological approaches to farming, NOT the use of GE crops, are the solution to alleviating hunger in a significant and sustainable way. A compelling and extensive research study funded in part by the US Department of Agriculture National Research Initiative revealed that conventional farming methods prioritizing crop rotation not only resulted in higher yields but also required fewer hazardous chemical inputs (See: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0047149 More case studies of successful agroecological studies can be found at http://ag-transition.org/?subject=agroecology-2)
Kenya’s Public Health Minister, Beth Mugo, recently announced the country’s decision to ban importation of all GMO foods due to inadequate scientific evidence proving the safety of the foods. Mugo noted that:
“Consequently, the government has decided that until such an informed policy decision is made, all GMO food imports are completely banned. All relevant government agencies have according been instructed to immediately comply with this directive and enforce the ban on importation of all GMO foods.”
Public Health officials and government regulators are now enforcing the ban at all of the country’s ports of entry, and Mugo has threatened legal action against those who do not comply.