On August 19th, Community Alliance for Global Justice / AGRA Watch and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa hosted a roundtable discussion to raise awareness about the powerful interests working to capture our global food systems. Watch the full recording here on CAGJ’s YouTube channel.
Speakers highlighted Bill Gates’ and the Gates Foundation’s roles in advancing harmful industrial agriculture models in Africa and around the world. This deeply flawed model of agricultural development is becoming increasingly dominant and edging out proven agroecological alternatives–including at the controversial and corporate-dominated UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), set to take place in New York on September 23, 2021.
In the webinar, shakara tyler (Black Dirt Farm Collective) connected Bill Gates’ ownership of farmland in the US and his outsized influence on African agriculture to broader patterns of global racial capitalism. She stated: “It’s not a coincidence that white farmers own 98% of land here [in the US]. … This is a very well thought out empirically driven system that is driven on exploitation and extraction of land and people and this very obscene system has been exported to other places around the world.”
|What is racial capitalism?
In his influential 1983 text, Black Marxism, Cedric Robinson argued that capitalism emerged from European feudal systems that were based on racialism–the division of groups of people into “races” and the use of those “races” to justify exploitation. Capitalism generates value by exploiting (and creating) inequality; race has been central to how these inequalities are produced, maintained, and legitimized.
Gates’ philanthropic investments have had an enormous impact on people’s lives. As Maina explained:In Africa, Gates has been less involved in directly controlling land, but instead has been primarily engaged in driving policies that facilitate the corporate capture of seeds, farming systems, and knowledge. Philanthropic foundations (like Gates’ own), development agencies, and corporations have directed funding toward research institutions that are developing genetically-modified staple crops. By developing “improved” varieties of these important staples, corporations attempt to create new markets for their products among African farmers. Describing this process, Anne Maina (BIBA-Kenya and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa) stated: “Once you control the seed, you control the food system.”
“It’s important that we look at all these issues in a holistic manner to understand the dynamics. When Gates puts money in Monsanto, now Bayer, when he puts money into geoengineering, when he puts money into the push for 5g, there are always implications for what we eat, and it’s about the money. It’s about profit.”
Gates’ priorities also sway public policies and private sector innovation toward tech-driven, rather than people-driven, solutions to hunger, poverty, and climate change. When Bill Gates presented the annual MacDougall lecture at the 2021 Food and Agriculture Organization conference, he argued that we have to focus on data and technological innovation, if we are to meet the second Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger by 2030. He stated:
“We need additional commitments from donors, governments, and the private sector … to support innovation, better use of data, and other efforts to get new tools in the farmers’ fields. … By working together, using data to find effective interventions and encouraging innovation, I’m confident we can tackle climate change and help farmers adapt.”
Yet speakers in the webinar highlighted that Gates’ approach to tech-driven climate solutions will reproduce many of the same problems that have contributed to the climate crisis in the first place. As Jim Thomas (ETC Group) explained, climate change represents a “business opportunity” for investors. And as shakara tyler suggested, Gates and other “climate conscious” billionaires “are justifying their land grabs in the name of green capitalism,” while “Black, Indigenous, and people of color continue to be exploited in the name of climate mitigation.”
Corporate control does not stop with land, seeds, resources, and climate solutions. It also extends to governance, especially through the UNFSS. As Stefano Prato (Society for International Development and the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism) argued in the webinar, “What is particularly concerning [about UNFSS] is the capture of governance.” The Summit has sidelined existing civil society mechanisms, scientific panels, and publicly accountable institutions, in favor of a model of “multi-stakeholderism” that primarily benefits wealthy corporations. It has also established task forces, action committees, and meetings that, in Prato’s words, are “completely by-passing governmental decision-making.” (You can listen to this section of the webinar featured on the August 27 episode of “A Rude Awakening” on KPFA.)
What can we do?
Many of the speakers advocated for agroecology, as well as that of what the Black Dirt Farm Collective refer to as “Afroecology.” These agricultural production systems include organic and ecologically-sound practices, but also require broader political and ideological shifts, including reparations, the redistribution of land, and the valorization of Black and Indigenous agricultural knowledge. As tyler explained, “Farming isn’t just technical, it’s a cultural act and a political act.” It is also critical to involve young people and generate new interest in farming and food production, as Anne Maina explained.
However, these locally-grounded approaches also need to be accompanied by larger-scale efforts to reclaim governance and demand accountability from public institutions. As Stefano Prato compellingly argued, in spite of global institutions’ complicity in racial and colonial systems, “‘We do need upstream regulation; we need to reclaim global institutions, to rectify and redirect their current pattern of hyper-globalization.”
THURS Sept 23
Join “People’s Kitchen Counter-Mobilization: Food System Take-Back”
CAGJ/AGRA Watch is joining National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), North Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA) and friends to host a counter-event to the UNFSS, highlighting the hijacking of UN processes resulting in policies that marginalize our food producers, turn food into a weapon, and devastate our land and waters.
Register here and sign up for CAGJ’s Monthly E-newsletter to stay updated on the event. Keep updated on other mobilizations here.
SUN Sept 26
Documentary Screening and Q&A with Raj Patel (virtual)
Attend our free screening of Raj Patel’s new film, The Ants & the Grasshopper, followed by a Q&A discussion with Raj. Register here: https://bit.ly/3yjxs8E
SAT Oct 9
Join CAGJ’s Strengthening Local Economies Everywhere (SLEE) Virtual Gala
Keynote: Raj Patel, “Is this What Democracy Looks Like? A Tale of Two Seattles”
Become a Table Captain! Learn all about it on our website, including cost, how to buy a table, and find sample emails to your guests. Tickets now live at https://tinyurl.com/SLEE2021tickets!
CAGJ is celebrating its 20th year with this year’s keynote speaker, Raj Patel! A seasoned trade and food activist, academic, and author, Patel delivers ever-salient and inspiring perspectives on food systems transformation. From working for the WTO to protesting the WTO, to authoring award-winning books, to directing his new documentary The Ant and the Grasshopper, Patel disrupts the status quo so that we can all plant seeds for a just food revolution. Learn more about his work.