This is a report on the side event that CAGJ/AGRA Watch organized at the UN Conference on Biodiversity COP13 Negotiations on the Convention on Biological Diversity in Cancun, Mexico. The event, Biodiversity Under Threat: The Gates Foundation, Philanthrocapitalism and the Capture of African Agricultural Biodiversity, was sponsored by African Centre for Biodiversity, CAGJ/AGRA Watch, and ENSSER. It was hosted by Washington Biotechnology Council, the organization that officially registered for CAGJ/AGRA Watch at the UN Conference. Read the full description of the side event here. We will be posting our own report-back on the side event soon!
This report was initially published in the Earth Negotiations Bulletin on the Side (ENBOTS), a special publication of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). The Friday December 9, 2016 issue of ENBOTS was written by Tallash Kantai, Vijay Krishnan Kolinjivadi, Ph.D., Dorothy Wanja Nyingi, Ph.D., and Cleo Verkuijl.
Biodiversity Under Threat: The Gates Foundation, Philanthrocapitalism and the Capture of African Agricultural Biodiversity
Presented by the Washington Biotechnology Action Council (WashBAC), the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER), the African Centre for Biodiversity and the Kenya Food Alliance
This event, moderated by Heather Day, Executive Director, Community Alliance for Global Justice (CAGJ), discussed the AGRA Watch campaign of CACJ, and the “worrying” expansion of new markets for large-scale industrial agriculture through the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (the Gates Foundation) at the expense of small-scale farmers, food sovereignty and biodiversity.
Philip Bereano, WashBAC, noted that the activities of the Gates Foundation are what is coming to be called “philanthropocapitalism,” which attempts to equate philanthropy with market processes that are “ill-suited for social ends” and instead become “engines” for profit and corporate control, rather than for charity. He lamented that the Foundation programmes follow a “top-down, technocratic approach” and that small-scale farmers are “unlikely to have an open access online dashboard in their fields.”
Mariam Mayet, Executive Director, African Centre for Biodiversity, underscored that the Gates Foundation-funded projects have supported the African Green Revolution Alliance (AGRA), which provides the “technical nucleus for the expansion of profit-making ventures in African agriculture” that are geared towards certified, genetically-modified (GM) seeds and synthetic fertilizers. She stressed that the Gates Foundation-funded green revolution agenda is aimed at harmonizing legal and policy frameworks towards private ownership of land and germplasm and criminalizing the distribution and sale of farmer-variety seeds.
Angelika Hilbeck, ENSSER, said Monsanto’s claims of drought tolerance of GM crops based on the csp-transgene are unproven. Therefore, she noted, that the Water Efficient Maize for Africa variety that combines this gene with the cry1AB gene is deceptive, adding that the latter gene exhibits “end of shelf traits” currently being phased out in South Africa due to a lack of resistance to the Striga pathogen.
Daniel Maingi, Growth Partners Africa, reported that the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) is funded by biotech companies to “push” GMO uptake in Africa, organizing, among other things, “seeing is believing tours” to chosen sanitized GMO projects. He added that ISAAA is also supporting voices of “shills,” who are persons paid to give credibility to GMO ventures without disclosing their vested interests in order to convince policymakers.
In the ensuing discussion, participants discussed, inter alia: whether industrial agriculture reduces burdens for women; issues of power, control, authority and dignity for farmers in ensuring food sovereignty; and the risk of conflict associated with farmers being “emptied out of the countryside” unless small-scale farmers are supported.