Food sovereignty activists are shining a light on a closed-door meeting between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which are meeting in London on Monday with representatives of the biotechnology industry to discuss how to privatize the seed and agricultural markets of Africa.
Early Monday, MArch 23rd 2015, protesters picketed outside the Gates Foundation's London offices holding signs that called on the foundation to "free the seeds." Some demonstrators handed out packets of open-pollinated seeds, which served as symbol of the "alternative to the corporate model promoted by USAID and BMGF." Others smashed a piñata, which they said represented the "commercial control of seed systems;" thousands of the seeds which filled the pinata spilled across the office steps. A similar protest is expected later Monday in Seattle, Washington, where BMGF is headquartered.
The meeting was convened to discuss a report put forth by Monitor-Deloitte, which was commissioned by BMGF and USAID to develop models for the commercialization of seed production in Africa, especially "early generation seed," and to identify ways in which the African governmental sectors could facilitate private involvement in African seed systems. The study was conducted in Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia on maize, rice, sorghum, cowpea, common beans, cassava and sweet potato.
However, food sovereignty activists are sounding the alarm over the secret meeting. Heidi Chow, food sovereignty campaigner with Global Justice Now, which organized Monday's protest, warned that the agenda being promoted by these stakeholders will only increase corporate control over seeds.
"This is not 'aid' - it's another form of colonialism," said Chow. "We need to ensure that the control of seeds and other agricultural resources stay firmly in the hands of small farmers who feed the majority of the population in Africa, rather than allowing big agribusiness to dominate even more aspects of the food system."
In a blog post, Chow further explained:
For generations, small farmers have been able to save and swap seeds. This vital practice enables farmers to keep a wide range of seeds which helps maintain biodiversity and helps them to adapt to climate change and protect from plant disease. However, this system of seed saving is under threat by corporations who want to take more control over seeds. Big seed companies are keen to grow their market share of commercial seeds in Africa and alongside philanthropic organizations like the Gates Foundation and aid donors, they are discussing new ways to increase their market penetration of commercial seeds and displacing farmers own seed systems.
Corporate-produced hybrid seeds often produce higher yields when first planted, but the second generation seeds will produce low yields and unpredictable crop traits, making them unsuitable for saving and storing. This means that instead of saving seeds from their own crops, farmers who use hybrid seeds become completely dependent on the seed companies that sell them.
Further, many of the seeds produced by these biotechnology giants are sold alongside chemical fertilizer and pesticides, manufactured by the very same companies, the use of which often leads to widespread environmental destruction and other health problems.
As others noted, while the meeting attendees included representatives from the World Bank and Syngenta, the world’s third biggest seed and biotechnology company, no farmers or farming organizations were represented at the talks.
"Seeds are vital for our food system and our small farmers have always been able to save and swap seeds freely," Ali-Masmadi Jehu-Appiah, chair of Food Sovereignty Ghana, said in a press statement.
"Now our seed systems are increasingly under threat by corporations who are looking to take more control over seeds in their pursuit of profit. This meeting will push this corporate agenda to hand more control away from our small farmers and into the hands of big seed companies."
Reporting on the Monitor-Deloitte study, Ian Fitzpatrick, a food sovereignty researcher for Global Justice Now, said that documents circulated ahead of the meeting revealed a neo-liberal agenda "laid bare."
The report recommends that in countries where demand for patented seeds is weaker (i.e. where farmers are using their own seed saving networks), public-private partnerships should be developed so that private companies are protected from ‘investment risk’. It also recommends that that NGOs and aid donors should encourage governments to introduce intellectual property rights for seed breeders and help to persuade farmers to buy commercial, patented seeds rather than relying on their own traditional varieties.
Finally, in line with the broader neoliberal agenda of agribusiness companies across the world, the report suggests that governments should remove regulations (like export restrictions) so that the seed sector is opened up to the global market.
"This neoliberal agenda of deregulation and privatization, currently promoted in almost every sphere of human activity—from food production to health and education—poses a serious threat to food sovereignty and the ability of food producers and consumers to define their own food systems and policies," Fitzpatrick adds.
AGRA Watch, a program of the grassroots group Community Alliance for Social Justice, notes that the BMGF-USAID commercial seed agenda further "extends U.S. foreign policy into Africa on behalf of corporate interests."
Phil Bereano, food sovereignty campaigner with AGRA Watch and an Emeritus Professor at the University of Washington added: "This is an extension of what the Gates Foundation has been doing for several years—working with the US government and agribusiness giants like Monsanto to corporatize Africa’s genetic riches for the benefit of outsiders. Don’t Bill and Melinda realize that such colonialism is no longer in fashion? It’s time to support African farmers’ self-determination."
This article was first seen at COMMONDREAMS.ORG
Kinshasa (AFP) - The Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa vowed Friday to step up work on a massive new hydroelectric dam on the Congo River that could provide power to the entire continent. DR Congo President Joseph Kabila and his South African counterpart Jacob Zuma welcomed progress so far on the multi-billion dollar Inga 3 dam project, a statement said, after their talks in Kinshasa. But the leaders also urged authorities in their two countries to "speed up the process with a view to resolving all the outstanding issues... in order to clear the way for carrying out this pan-African project", Congolese Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda said reading from the statement. The Congo is Africa's most powerful river and already a major producer of hydroelectric power, but the Inga 3 would be unprecedented. The Inga 3 Basse Chute project near Matadi would divert Congo River waters into a 12-kilometre (7.5-mile) channel and then pass them through a 100-metre-high (330-foot) hydropower dam in the Bundi Valley before releasing the water back into the river. The intake would be above the existing Inga 1 and Inga 2 dams, and the outflow downstream from both. The dam is expected to generate 4,800 megawatts of power, equivalent to the output of three third-generation nuclear reactors, and boost power supplies to a region starved of electricity. The estimated 12-billion-dollar Inga 3 project first got off the ground more than a decade ago. After languishing for years it was revitalized by a 2013 promise by South Africa -- which has endured years of rolling blackouts caused by power shortages -- to buy more than a half of the power produced there, effectively ensuring its financial viability. Despite being financially supported by the World Bank and African Development Bank, the dam has faced delays.
In April, the World Bank said building would not begin until 2017 at the earliest. In west Africa, Guinea last month inaugurated a $500-million hydro-power plant in a bid to boost its power-starved national grid.
Europeans have rejected GMOs. According to the EU representative in DC. Europeans are listening to their consumers who flatly reject GMOs. Why then, dump them in Africa? GMO imperialism: Bill Gates and biotech industry are forcing unwilling African countries to accept costly, untested GMOs.
Who gave them the right to impose this on our people? isn't Africa a free continent? Anyone cares about Africa being used as Guinea pig--test field for these GMO products? Since when did Bill Gates and his wife start caring about Africans? Where are the hospitals, schools, R&D centers that they have built?
We Africans, must not let any corrupt and/or ignorant government official mesmerized by the billionaires, sell off our continent.
Africans have fed themselves for centuries why now let greedy people control our food supply chain? High time for Africans to get it. No one is going to fix our problems except us.
We want the Gates out of Africa.
Based on their records on the continent, they are no good for our people.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is sponsoring the Guardian's Global development site is being heavily criticised in Africa and the US for getting into bed not just with notorious GM company Monsanto, but also with agribusiness commodity giant Cargill.
Trouble began when a US financial website published the foundation's annual investment portfolio, which showed it had bought 500,000 Monsanto shares worth around $23m. This was a substantial increase in the last six months and while it is just small change for Bill and Melinda, it has been enough to let loose their fiercest critics.
Seattle-based Agra Watch - a project of the Community Alliance for Global Justice - was outraged. "Monsanto has a history of blatant disregard for the interests and well being of small farmers around the world… [This] casts serious doubt on the foundation's heavy funding of agricultural development in Africa," it thundered.
But it got worse. South Africa-based watchdog the African Centre for Biosafety then found that the foundation was teaming up with Cargill in a $10m project to "develop the soya value chain" in Mozambique and elsewhere. Who knows what this corporate-speak really means, but in all probability it heralds the big time introduction of GM soya in southern Africa.
The two incidents raise a host of questions for the foundation. Few people doubt that GM has a place in Africa, but is Gates being hopelessly naive by backing two of the world's most aggressive agri-giants? There is, after all, genuine concern at governmental and community level that the United State's model of extensive hi-tech farming is inappropriate for most of Africa and should not be foist on the poorest farmers in the name of "feeding the world".
The fact is that Cargill is a faceless agri-giant that controls most of the world's food commodities and Monsanto has been blundering around poor Asian countries for a decade giving itself and the US a lousy name for corporate bullying. Does Gates know it is in danger of being caught up in their reputations, or does the foundation actually share their corporate vision of farming and intend to work with them more in future? The foundation has never been upfront about its vision for agriculture in the world's poorest countries, nor the role of controversial technologies like GM. But perhaps it could start the debate here? In the meantime, it could tell us how many of its senior agricultural staff used to work for Monsanto or Cargill?
Pan-Africanism is not just a movement but a way of life for all African descents. This is why we at the Partnership League for Africa's Development - PLAD are committed to achieving a peaceful and prosperous future for All Africans.
With the help of our partners and friends of Africa, we are extremely confident that the destiny of the future (which are the youths of Africa) will indeed rise above the challenges ravaging our peoples and instill positivity into the hearts and minds of Young Pan-African Leaders in African and in the Global Community.