African Faith Leaders to Gates Foundation: Drop ‘African Green Revolution’

By Cecelia Heffron, the media coordinator at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Originally published at CommonDreams

In August 2021, an alliance of African faith leaders delivered a powerful message to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: Stop promoting failing and harmful high-input Green Revolution programs, such as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

At a virtual press conference, the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) released its public letter to the Gates Foundation, which it sent two months ago with 500 signatures from African faith and farming communities. They have received neither an acknowledgment nor a response from the Foundation.

“Faith leaders are witnessing the negative impact of industrialized farming to the land and in their communities and have come together in this letter to say to the Gates Foundation: please re-think your approach to farming in Africa,” says SAFCEI Executive Director Francesca de Gasparis. Farmers and faith leaders speaking at the press conference urged donors to shift their funding to more effective and sustainable approaches such as agroecology.

Crucial Challenge at a Critical Time

Their call comes at a critical time. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 66 percent of people (724 million) now suffer moderate to severe food insecurity, up from 51 percent in 2014, according to the State of Food Insecurity report recently released by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. As food insecurity increases — intensified by the ongoing crises of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic — the United Nations is convening a Food Systems Summit in September to address global failures to reduce hunger in line with commitments made in the Sustainable Development goals. The summit, which is led by AGRA President Agnes Kalibata, is mired in controversy, accused by farmer groups of promoting the same kinds of industrialized agricultural development that have failed to address the hunger crisis.

The letter to the Gates Foundation detailed the negative impacts that industrialized agriculture has had on the land and in the communities of faith leaders from around the continent. At the press conference, presenters emphasized the need for the Gates Foundation and other donors to break with the current agriculture agenda and instead invest in more regenerative, agroecological approaches.

“Farmers have become wary of programs that promote monoculture and chemical-intensive farming. They have lost control of their seeds. Now, they say they are being held hostage on their own farms,” says Celestine Otieno, a permaculture farmer from Kenya. “Is this food security or food slavery?”

South African agroecology farmer Busisiwe Mgangxela reiterated that farmers practicing agroecology “do not feed the soil with chemicals, we feed it with organic matter and fertility from other companion plants.” As the letter details, input-intensive monoculture agriculture damages ecosystems, threatens local livelihoods, increases climate vulnerabilities and undermines smallholder farmers engaged in more sustainable methods of production.

Fletcher Harper, director of GreenFaith, an international network, was direct: “The plan of displacing millions of small holding farmers, using an industrial monoculture approach to farming, lacing the soil and water supplies with toxic chemicals and concentrating ownership of the means of production and land ownership in a small elite is an immoral and dangerous vision that must be stopped.”

AGRA in the Crosshairs

Anne Maina, national coordinator of the Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya (BIBA), highlights the negative impacts and lack of accountability of AGRA. Launched in 2006 by the Gates Foundation in partnership the Rockefeller Foundation, AGRA set goals of doubling crop productivity and incomes for 30 million small-scale farming households while halving food insecurity in 20 focus countries by 2020. As IATP’s Timothy A. Wise documented in a report last year, the deadline has passed, and productivity has improved only marginally, poverty remains high and the number of “undernourished” people in AGRA’s 13 focus countries had increased 30 percent by 2018.

BIBA and other groups engaged with AGRA demanding evidence to counter these findings, but Maina says they received no substantive answers. Even AGRA’s own 2020 Annual Report offers little convincing evidence of success.

According to SAFCEI, another insidious aspect of the Gates Foundation’s efforts in Africa is the foundation’s attempt to influence and restructure seed laws. “80% of non-certified seeds come from millions of smallholder farmers who recycle and exchange seeds each year,” SAFCEI reports in its press statement at the event, “building an ‘open-source knowledge bank’ of seeds that cost little to nothing but have all the nutritional value needed to sustain these communities. In contrast, the approach supported by the Gates Foundation threatens to replace seed systems diversity and the agro-biodiversity system that is critical for human and ecosystem health and replace it with a privatized, corporate approach that will reduce food systems resilience.”

SAFCEI director de Gasparis is clear on the social and environmental stakes: “What African farmers need is support to find communal solutions that increase climate resilience, rather than top-down profit-driven industrial-scale farming systems. When it comes to the climate, African faith communities are urging the world to think twice before pushing a technical and corporate farming approach,” she says.

Summarizing the demands of African faith communities, Rev.Wellington Sibanda, intern resident minister in South Africa, says, “We can’t keep quiet as faith leaders. We call on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to shift its funding into agroecological farming.”

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  1. Dave in Austin

    So here is what the article is really about. I Googled “population history of sub-Saharan Africa” and got these two:

    “The population of sub-Sahara Africa has grown from 186 million to 856 million people from 1950-2010. That’s about 11 million people a year for the past 60 years or approximately 670 million people in 60 years. By 2060, the population of sub-Sahara Africa could be as large as 2.7 billion people.”

    The following is the link to the World Bank chart of age distribution for sub Saharan Africa vs East Asia.

    End of discussion.

    1. tegnost

      If it’s a discussion I have no idea what we were talking about…
      I thought it was corporate mono cropping is good for billionaires but not so good for the people who live on the land. If you’re implying, in your ended discussion, that only corporate monocropping (patents don’t add value) and gmo crops that encourage pesticide use (yuck) are the only way to feed the people there you would be wrong. Americans are overweight and unhealthy exactly because of this….
      Start of discussion.

      1. James Simpson

        The people of Samoa are also overweight and unhealthy. The diet of South Asian peoples is notorious for its high salt and fat content. Many societies suffer from poor diets. Since humans replaced hunting & gathering with settled agriculture, we have been ravaged by periodic and frequent famines. Industrial agriculture eventually ended those and drove the rise in human population but at gigantic costs to the natural world. We have painted ourselves into a corner and I see no easy or simple route out.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Do we have enough knowledge and information now to be able to do a kind of “artisandustrial” agriculture involving way more people living on/in/among the land than who live there now? Substituting artisandustrial micro-machine-assisted hand labor for the mega-machines of today, needing near zero people to operate thousands of acres per mega-machine?

          Johnny’s Selected Seeds offers examples of the artisandustrial micro-machines I am speaking of. Here is the hand tool and micro-machine part of Johnys selected seed catalog.

  2. Thuto

    It’s telling that farmers and faith leaders are addressing the B&MG Foundation in such a public and direct manner, and not going through government or African Union channels. The politicians, just as in healthcare, are irretrievably captured by the foundation and have thrown these poor people to the wolves, that’s why this whole thing feels like a desperate, everything-else- has-failed attempt by farming communities to reclaim a semblance of sovereignty over their own lives. That the foundation hasn’t bothered to respond or acknowledge the cries of these people is also telling, and it smacks of a “how dare the uppity, uneducated poor think they know what’s best for them” attitude.

    What’s worse is that the farming activities of the foundation receive much less press coverage than its well publicized capture of healthcare policies in Africa, and as such it can stealthily spread its influence and wreak havoc with the lives of farming communities away from the public gaze.

      1. Thuto

        Thank you Slim, fascinating read and what a giant of a man Mr Phiri was. I firmly believe there are many more like him across Africa and around the world in other indigenous farming communities who possess a deep well of knowledge that is now being pushed aside and replaced with some techno mumbo jumbo snake oil pushed by wolves in sheep’s clothing. These communities have survived for thousands of years without the tech mogul messiahs who now portray themselves as their only hope for survival.

  3. chuck roast

    “Farmers have become wary of programs that promote monoculture and chemical-intensive farming.” Sounds like The Alliance for Progress redux. The old neocolonial model. The hegemon assists the less developed country in improving production of a single crop for export all the while being required to import value added products from the metropole. The exported crop doesn’t balance the international payments, but the IMF is always happy to assist and loans the difference to the crop exporting country to “improve productivity.” This well known scam keeps on working because the imports are Mercs, golf clubs and air conditioners for (dare I say it) the local elites.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Go ahead, dare to say it.

      Since the local running-dog lackey-flunky stooge-footstools which make up the local governments work for the Gates Foundation, and other such Foundations, and the Corporate Globalonial Distributed Metropole, the only hope for survival which local-knowledge farmers might have is if they can generate enough massive passive obstruction to the various Metropole Gates plans for agriculture that they can wear down and outlive the Metropole Gatesers.

  4. topcat

    I was born in Zambia in 1963 when the population was 3.3 million, back then most of the large wild-life such as leopards and cheetah were already gone (in the early 50’s they were still there) but as a child I could still play with chameleons, large lizards and snakes (not really good for playing with) in our garden. Now there are 18 million Zambians and every chameleon and lizard has been caught and sold. The carrying capacity of the country must have been long ago exceeded. Recent pictures of the Victoria falls without a drop of water are quite shocking. You can’t eat copper.

  5. Alex Cox

    Having followed Gates’ successful attempts to enrich himself via his dreadful OS, to suppress Gnu/Linux, to make a profit from the AZ vaccine, and to destroy sustainable agriculture worldwide, I honestly conclude that he is one of the only truly evil human beings.

  6. David

    Farmer Bill needs to remember that he wouldn’t be the first white farmer defenestrated in Africa.

  7. KFritz

    Possible Bill Gates reply: Technology has been very good to me! What could go wrong?

    And the South African Faith Leaders would do well to address the antiquated, sometimes oppressive, and more-dangerous-each-day policies that many of their number take on birth control/population containment.

  8. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, J-LS.

    My fellow Africans should also be wary of the Blair, Clinton and Omidyar foundations. They are as rapacious as the Gates gang, now the largest landowner in North America. All are recruiting British civil servants and NGO do gooders, not just British, to advance their cause and get their hands on western government aid money. They are also coopting the likes of Tax Justice Network, which led to the departure of John Christensen and Richard Murphy.

    Some of this is in league with investors like Richard Branson, the Belgian families behind Union Miniere du Haut Katanga, now Umicore and implicated in the death of Patrice Lumumba, and the City of London. Contrary to MSM alarm about China and the Gulf states buying farm land around Africa, South America and Australasia, the City is the largest investor in farm land around the world, including Eastern Europe.

    With Brexit pushing a desperate UK into trade deals, the City is looking for more farm land overseas. If trade deals with Australia, the US and Brazil go ahead, British farmers will be barbecued, leading to fire sales of land to the City.

    One of my cousins operates a perma culture farm on the slopes overlooking where the Wakashio lies. He trains locals interested in such matters. My parents and I lease some of our small holding on the western side of the island to people interested in perma culture.

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