Africa’s ‘Green Revolution’ on Shaky Ground

Aiding unfamiliar communities in foreign countries is a thorny
business. Even for foundations with virtually unlimited resources,
such as those of Microsoft multibillionaire Bill Gates and the
famously loaded Rockefellers. Last fall these two titans of
philanthropy joined in undertaking a $150 million sub-Saharan
Africa project called Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa
(AGRA). According to AGRA’s website, the new ‘Green Revolution’ aims
to assuage poverty and hunger through agricultural development
focusing on small-scale farmers.

Though the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has received wide
acclaim for its aid efforts, Becky Brun of
Sustainable Industries (subscription only)
reports that its new African venture has critics raising pitchforks
in alarm. Consider, critics say, that the original,
Rockefeller-sponsored Green Revolution project in the 1940s, 50s,
and 60s introduced Latin America, Southeast Asia, and India to
industrial agricultural practices that are heavily reliant on
fertilizers, genetically modified seeds, and monocultures of a
handful of globally marketable crops, such as rice, corn, and
wheat. Rural farmers were unable to weather the high costs of this
technological farming and forced to give up their farms and
relocate to join the urban workforce. Though AGRA’s representatives
claim the ‘New Green Revolution’ will be nothing like the
Rockefellers’ original one, critics are concerned that the same
mistakes may be repeated, in a place where they can least afford
them: sub-Saharan Africa. The area is, as Brun notes, ‘the only
region in the world where per-capita food production worsens every
year.’

Bruce Dixon of
Black Agenda Report is highly skeptical
of the motives of these large philanthropic organizations and
considers the media support for the AGRA project an example of
‘poor-washing’ — a ‘public relations tactic of concealing
bitterly unfair and predatory trade policies… with clouds of
hypocritical noise about feeding the hungry and alleviating
poverty.’ Until AGRA’s ‘shiny PR campaign’ came along, writes
Dixon, Africa was able to fend off Western efforts to cash in on
the continent’s agriculture industry. The new campaign has made
inroads with the friendly faces of Bill Gates and Kofi Annan,
yet some organizations like the
ETC Group (the Action Group on Erosion,
Technology, and Concentration) consider it a risk that could
repeat the errors of the 20th century. In a press release, ETC
says the project, which it terms ‘Green Revolution 2.0,’ will
still be centered on ‘high-tech seeds’ and will seek
‘continental changes in market structure, intellectual property
laws, and seed regulation so that agribusiness suppliers can
profitably sell seeds, chemicals, and other inputs to
farmers.’ 

For their part, the foundations’ representatives, including Dr.
Rajiv Shah, director of agricultural development for the Gates
Foundation, proclaim their commitment to small farmers and stress
that ‘AGRA is led by Africans,’ writes Brun. Many remain wary,
however, especially in light of AGRA’s fall hiring of former
Monsanto executive Rob Horsch, followed by the recruitment of
Lawrence Kent, a director of international programs at the
Monsanto-funded Danforth Center, as noted by the
Organic Consumers Association. And if the
seventh annual World Social Forum gathering in Nairobi, Kenya, was
any indication, the ‘New Green Revolution’ will face African
opposition as well. As Brun reports, 70 organizations from 12
African countries attending the January event formally criticized
the aid initiatives of Gates and others, claiming they will
‘destroy the basis of biodiversity… at a time when it is needed
most.’

Go there >>
Burly Gates

Go there, too >>
Poor-Washing, the Gates Foundation and the
‘Green Revolution’ in Africa

And there >>
Food Sovereignty or Green Revolution
2.0?

And there >>
Monsanto’s Men Control Gates Foundation’s
Millions

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