If you had any doubts about where the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is really placing its bets, AGRA Watch's recent announcement of the Foundation's investment of $23.1 million in 500,000 shares of Monsanto stock should put them to rest. Genetic engineering: full speed ahead.
If you are one of those people who believes the axiom that Monsanto is the farmer's friend (and the corollary, that its climate-ready, bio-fortified GMOs can save the world from hunger) you will not be surprised, disappointed, or find any conflict of interest in this investment.
But if you are part of the growing population who gets their information about GMOs from scientists who are not beholden to corporate funding, has a problem with anti-trust issues, or is getting queasy about the increasing monopoly power of philanthropy capital... it's time to say the Emperor has no clothes.
Under the guise of "sustainability" the Foundation has been spearheading a multi-billion dollar effort to transform African into a GMO-friendly continent. The public relations flagship for this effort is the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), a massive Green Revolution project. Up to now AGRA spokespeople have been slippery, and frankly, contradictory about their stance on GMOs.
The first Director of AGRA was Gary Toenniessen, a career program officer for Rockefeller Foundation. He said AGRA was not ruling out GMOs and if and when they were introduced it would be with all the appropriate "safeguards." After AGRA was criticized for not having any Africans, Kofi Anan was named Chairman in 2007. He first said GMOs were out of the picture, the next day he recapitulated. Last Spring, Joe DeVries, who runs the AGRA seed program was asked by a Worldwatch blogger if they were engaging in genetic engineering. "Read our lips," said Joe DeVries. "We are not promoting or funding research for GMOs (genetically modified organisms)..." In fact, in Kenya alone AGRA has used funds from the Gates Foundation to write grants for research in genetically modified agriculture. Nearly 80% of Gates' funding in Kenya involves biotech and there have been over $100 million in grants to organizations connected to Monsanto. In 2008, some 30% of the Foundation's agricultural development funds went to promoting or developing genetically modified seeds (See Ending Africa's Hunger)..
More to the point is that--as Monsanto and Gates are fully aware--to establish a healthy GMO industry one first needs a strong conventional breeding program in place: labs, experiment stations, agronomists, extensionists, molecular biologists... and farmer's seeds. All of which Gates, Rockefeller, Monsanto and AGRA are actively lining up.
They also need the power of U.S. government funding. That is where the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Casey-Lugar come in. USAID is now headed up by former Gates employee Rajiv Shah. The Casey-Lugar Global Food Security act ties foreign aid to GMOs. When the Gates Foundation places a bet, they like to hold all the cards.
Africa's seeds are a potential windfall investment for Monsanto. Regardless of the philanthropic side of its intentions, cloaked in the sheep's clothing of AGRA, the Gates Foundation is moving stealthily opening African seed market to global corporations. When the research, extension, and U.S. foreign aid is all in place Monsanto will swoop in for the feast.