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Bill and Melinda Gates Do African Agriculture

“We have to get away from the romantic anachronism that developing countries should strive for self-sufficiency in food.”

John Block, former U.S. secretary of Agriculture, 1986.

“If multinational companies are successful in creating a truly global agricultural system in which they control prices and movement of commodities, the right of each country to establish its own farm policies will have to be destroyed.”

Jorge Calderon, Professor of Economics at the University of Mexico and one-time member of the Mexican federal Parliament.

“Transnational corporations are not there to feed people, they are not there to provide jobs, they are there to make a profit. Period! That’s all! So one should not expect them to be feeding people who cannot pay.”

Susan George, Feeding the Few.

For all their good intentions (and their billions in wealth) Bill and Melinda Gates are embarking on an agricultural “revolution” — with their recently announced Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) — that like its predecessor, the Rockefeller-sponsored “Green Revolution,” proves once again that simply throwing money into a project without carefully studying its causes and consequences only exacerbates the problem.

The essential problem is hunger and while Melinda Gates is correct in believing that so many of the world’s health problems has to do with the quality, quantity and availability of the food they eat the other part of the equation that seems to have escaped the Gates’ purview is what chef Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse Restaurant and director of the Chez Panisse Foundation in Berkeley, California recently pointed out in a Nation essay.

It turns out that Jean Anthèlme Brillat-Savarin was right in 1825 when he wrote in his magnum opus, The Physiology of Taste, that “the destiny of nations depends on the manner in which they are fed.” If you think this aphorism exaggerates the importance of food, consider that today almost four billion people worldwide depend on the agricultural sector for their livelihood.

Food is destiny, all right; every decision we make about food has personal and global repercussions. By now it is generally conceded that the food we eat could actually be making us sick, but we still haven’t acknowledged the full consequences — environmental, political, cultural, social and ethical — of our national diet.

Further suspicion regarding the Gates latest venture is occasioned by the fact that Gates has been investing an undetermined portion of his personal wealth into genetically engineered food research and ethanol processing corporations, forerunners of what many believe will be the hallmark of 21st agriculture.

But by following a failed “Green Revolution” which encouraged family farmers worldwide to use more fertilizers, more chemicals poisons and bigger machinery the world saw ever-increasing numbers of indigenous family farmers either forced off their land and into already over-crowded urban centers or saw it fall into the hands of vertically-integrated cash cropping multi-national monoliths.

Rather, what we need in the 21st century throughout the less-developed and underdeveloped world is a well-thoughtout plan to encourage family farming, utilizing self-sustaining environmentally friendly methods that are already available assisted by institutions of higher learning given over to research that underscores such methods and governments committed to policies that make family farming agriculture the lynchpin of their food economy.

However, the background of the Gates’ AGRA suggests that they are destined to once again bear witness to the lesson John F. Kennedy frequently spoke to when he reminded us that those who fail to learn from history are bound to repeat its same mistakes.

AL KREBS is the editor of The Agribusiness Examiner “Monitoring corporate agribusiness from a public interest perspective“. He can be reached at avkrebs@comcast.net

 

 

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