martes, julio 31, 2007

Philanthropy Gates Style

The world’s biggest philanthropic foundation is reaping huge profits investing in companies responsible for causing the problems it tries to solve; its grant-giving is also doing more harm than good in undermining health and agricultural systems, distorting national and global priorities, and preventing the necessary paradigm change that could help secure the future of the planet.



The Gates Foundation funding policy for sustainable agriculture in Africa is equally misguided.

Towards the end of 2006, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) was created with an initial budget of $150 million, $100 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and $50 million from the Rockefeller Foundation [11]. AGRA was a response to the call of African leaders for a new path to prosperity by spurring the continent’s agricultural development, and it would also firm up the vision laid out in the African Union Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which seeks a 6 percent annual growth in food production by 2015 through increased use of new technology and inputs such as fertiliser [12].

AGRA intends to help small-scale farmers and their families in Africa get out of poverty and hunger through sustainable growth in farm productivity and incomes. To do that, it will breed new seeds, get small farmers to use them with more fertiliser and pesticide input, train more African crop scientists, and develop an agri-business, a network of African agro-dealers as conduits of “seeds, fertilizers, chemical and knowledge” to smallholder farmers.

The announcement brought strong criticisms from many civil society organisations and commentators. GRAIN - an international NGO for sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity – was swift in its condemnation [13]: It is incredible that this simplistic line of thinking is still followed after so many years of Green Revolution debate. The whole question of the tremendous environmental damage caused by the Green Revolution model of agricultural development relying on the lavish use of water, fertilizer and pesticides is completely ignored and pushed aside. The soil erosion and degradation caused by the use of chemical fertilizer and pesticides, and the resulting destruction of agricultural productivity in Africa are not even mentioned. Instead, the old mantra of new seed and more fertilizer is repeated. The explosive question of genetically engineered crops is cleverly avoided in the propaganda which doesn’t mean that it’s not there: both the Gates and Rockefeller foundations are amongst the most active supporters of genetic engineering in Africa.”

The threat of genetic engineering may have receded somewhat as Kofi Annan, former UN secretary general now chair of AGRA, was reported to have said in July 2007 [12]: “We in the alliance will not incorporate GMOs in our programmes. We shall work with farmer using traditional seeds known to them.” But all the signs are that Bill Gates is a real enthusiast for genetic engineering biotechnology, and has invested heavily in it since the early 1990s (see Box ).

GRAIN also criticised AGRA for totally ignoring the central role of local communities, their traditional seed systems and indigenous knowledge, and rather than building on local knowledge and biological diversity, it has decided to replace it with “improved varieties” [13].

The failure of the Green Revolution is precisely that technological advances in crop genetics for seeds that respond to external inputs go hand in hand with increased socio-economic inequality and greater food insecurity; which has been growing more dramatic recently.

Under pressure from international and bilateral trade instruments, especially under the World Trade Organization and the impending Economic Partnership Agreements with the European Union, African governments are increasingly opening up their markets to competition against the heavily subsidised food and other agricultural produce dumped into their countries by the US and the EU. Earlier structural adjustment programmes imposed by the world's financial institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, had already forced African governments to dismantle public agricultural research and extension programmes and to drop all protection and incentives for their small farmers. The same African governments are then forced by the same agencies to devote their most fertile land to the growing crops for export to the North, thus pushing small farmers off their land and food production altogether.

Many of the measures now destroying African farming are being supported, if not instigated, by the very corporations whose charity foundations are now coming to Africa’s rescue with further technology programmes of the Green Revolution, and possibly worse: the reliance on the private sector as the main vehicle to deliver the goods and control the process. A substantial part of the funding for AGRA is earmarked for seed companies and agro-dealers to get the seeds and the chemicals to the farmer. This approach fits well with Rockefeller’s agricultural programmes in Africa, a major element of which is the development of private seed companies. And Bill Gates’ vision for Africa follows the same line.


Gates and biotechnology

Bill Gates has publicly declared himself “very excited” in biotechnology as an area to invest in, and has done so at least since the early 1990s, beginning with the recruitment of Leroy Hood, developer of automatic gene sequencing machines, from Caltech to the University of Washington, Seattle, in 1991 with a gift of $12 million to the University to create a new department in its medical school [14]. This was followed by a combination of not-for-profit programmes and for profit investments in biotechnology.

Not-for-profit projects include the Bill and Melinda Gates Children’s Vaccine Program focusing on vaccines that protect children against respiratory, diarrhoea and liver disease, the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), an institution dedicated to improving the health of women and children throughout the world, with 19 offices in 14 countries, and designated as a Collaborating Centre for the World Health Organisation in three areas: research in human reproduction, AIDS, and hepatitis B vaccination, and GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, established in 2000 with an initial grant of £750 million by the Gates Foundation, and a further $750 million in 2005 [15]

For profit investments made by Bill Gates include $50 million in Corixa Corporation in 1995, GlaxoSmithKline acquired the company in 2005, and Gates received a payout of $300 million. Darwin Molecular Corporation was established by Gates and others in 1992, and acquired by Chiroscience R&D/Celltech in 1996. ICOS Corporation was founded in 1990 with Gates as one of the largest shareholders. Rosetta Inpharmatics, inc., established in 1996 by Gates and others, and was acquired by Merck in 2004 for $540 million.

GlaxoSmithKline and Merck are major vaccine developers, dovetailing nicely with Gates’ not-for-profit programmes promoting vaccines.

According to the African Centre for Biosafety [16], the Gates Foundation is currently supporting at least eight genetic engineering projects relevant to Africa totalling US$75 million, involving academics or companies in USA, UK, Germany or Australia, and only one of which has explicitly named collaborators in African countries. The funding is equally split between four projects aimed at genetic engineering insect vectors that transmit malaria, Trypanosomiasis and Dengue, and four aimed at producing “nutritionally enhanced” crop plants using a combination of selective breeding and genetic modification.

ISIS has warned of the dangers of transgenic mosquitoes and other insects since 2001 [17-19] (Two Takes on Malaria, ISIS News 11/12; Stop Release of GM Insects! ISIS News, 9/10; Terminator insects unleash genome invaders with wings, ISIS Report), pointing out that simple cost-effective measures against malaria such as insecticide-treated bed nets have been neglected [20]. Professor Chris Curtis from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the UK has expressed similar views regarding the recent announcement of the creation of a transgenic mosquito that resist infection by the malaria parasite [21].

We have also warned against GM crops for food and feed in general [22] (GM Food Nightmare Unfolding in the Regulatory Sham, ISIS scientific publication), and those enhanced in single nutrients are additionally hazardous because many of the nutrients are known to be toxic in overdose [23] (GM Crops and Microbes for Health or Public Health Hazards? SiS 32).

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