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Community Alliance for Global Justice, 23 March 2015
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 23, 2015
Gates Foundation Plots Ways of Profiting from Africa’s Seed Systems
Simultaneous Demonstrations in London and Seattle
SEATTLE, WA — Today, Monday, March 23, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are sponsoring a secret meeting in London to promote a recent report detailing in clear terms how to privatize the seed and agricultural markets of Africa– without African stakeholders having a seat at the table.
The meeting is being criticized for including corporations, development bodies, trade bodies and aid donors, yet excluding any African farmers or representatives of affected organizations. Today protesters on both sides of the Atlantic are picketing to protest the corporate capture of seed, and to urge the foundation to support African food sovereignty. Both in London and Seattle protesters will distribute open-pollinated seeds as a symbol of the alternative to the corporate model promoted by USAID and BMGF. (The Seattle protest will take place 8:30 – 10:00am.)
The London meeting will discuss a study produced by Monitor-Deloitte which was commissioned by the Gates Foundation and USAID. BMGF is a major sponsor of the commercialization of agriculture in Africa including through its subsidiary the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Working with USAID, this commercial agenda extends US foreign policy into Africa on behalf of corporate interests, threatening the livelihoods of millions of small-scale farmers who rely on recycling seed for their livelihoods.
Phil Bereano, food sovereignty campaigner with AGRA Watch and an Emeritus Professor at the University of Washington said, “This is an extension of what the Gates Foundation has been doing for several years – working with the US government and agribusiness giants like Monsanto to corporatize Africa’s genetic riches for the benefit of outsiders. Don’t Bill and Melinda realize that such colonialism is no longer in fashion? It’s time to support African farmers’ self-determination.”
The goal of the Monitor-Deloitte study is to develop models for commercialization of seed production in Africa, especially “early generation seed”, and to identify ways in which the African governmental sectors could facilitate private involvement in African seed systems. The study was conducted in Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia on maize, rice, sorghum, cowpea, common beans, cassava and sweet potato.
The report exposes a typical approach of private sector “cherry picking”, where private companies identify any profitable public activities for their own involvement. While complaining incessantly about “heavy state involvement” they still insist on such involvement for unprofitable activities and permitting the private sector to take the profitable activities.
The Monitor-Deloitte report uses cowpea production in Ghana as an example of where the public sector should carry the extremely expensive improved cowpea breeder seed costs to allow the private sector to profit in seed multiplication and distribution. Breeder seed is prohibitively costly because of low multiplication rates and low demand. But the demand that exists is nonetheless lucrative, so the private sector wants to be involved only in the parts of the production process identified as profitable. Where the whole chain is profitable, such as hybrid maize or in closed value chains where there is strong but limited demand and early production processes are also potentially profitable, for example hybrid sorghum for brewing, Deloitte proposes the public sector be locked out of the production process.
Although historically, in Africa and around the world, farmers have been the traditional developers and distributors of improved seeds, the report does not even consider a potential role for farmers in the production or distribution of seed. Indeed farmers are viewed only as passive consumers of seed produced elsewhere.
The meeting in London and the focus of the report expose the agendas of the BMGF and USAID to enable private interests to profit from essential life processes in African agriculture.
Mariam Mayet Director of the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) in South Africa said: “ACB insists that an equitable and sustainable solution to seed production and distribution can only come from direct engagement with farmers and their organizations to ensure their active involvement in these activities. We further insist that public-farmer partnerships to improve seed that integrates farmer and scientific knowledge will generate a more accountable process, and produce longer-lasting and more meaningful solutions for African agricultural production, than these profit-driven, exclusive and narrow processes.”
Download accompanying PDF documents.
EGS Study Draft Summary 1,4Mb
AGRA Watch is a grassroots, Seattle-based program of Community Alliance for Global Justice, challenging the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations’ questionable agricultural programs in Africa, including its Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
Secretive and seedy: how aid donors are opening the agribusiness flood gates
Ian Fitzpatrick – Open Democracy,
When big agribusiness teams up with international aid organisations to corner the market on seeds, everyone loses.
A secretive conference, co-organised by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), one of the world’s largest donors, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) takes place in London today, 23 March 2015.
The meeting bears the ludicrously long sobriquet ‘Multiple Pathways for Promoting the Commercial and Sustainable Production and Delivery of Early Generation Seed of Food Crops in Sub-Saharan Africa.’ To give it a more succinct description, this is a meeting where corporations will discuss how to increase their control of the global seed sector.
The list of invited participants reads like a roll call for some of the most renowned actors in the agribusiness world. Syngenta (the world’s third biggest seed and biotechnology company), and its ‘greenwashing’ relative, the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, will make an appearance, as well as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, and donor organisations like the UK’s Department for International Development and The World Bank.
The invite list is entirely made up of corporations, development agencies and aid donors. Not a single farmer organisation was invited. But then, why invite a farmer organisation when your aim is helping companies sell new seed varieties?
From what we’ve seen of the pre-meeting documents that were circulated, the aim of the conference will be to share findings of a report by Monitor Deloitte on developing the commercial seed sector in sub-Saharan Africa.
The neoliberal agenda and food sovereignty
The report recommends that in countries where demand for patented seeds is weaker (i.e. where farmers are using their own seed saving networks), public-private partnerships should be developed so that private companies are protected from ‘investment risk’. It also recommends that that NGOs and aid donors should encourage governments to introduce intellectual property rights for seed breeders and help to persuade farmers to buy commercial, patented seeds rather than relying on their own traditional varieties.
Finally, in line with the broader neoliberal agenda of agribusiness companies across the world, the report suggests that governments should remove regulations (like export restrictions) so that the seed sector is opened up to the global market.
is neoliberal agenda of deregulation and privatisation, currently promoted in almost every sphere of human activity – from food production to health and education – poses a serious threat to food sovereignty and the ability of food producers and consumers to define their own food systems and policies.
The two organisations organising the conference, BMGF and USAID, are two of the main driving forces behind the adoption of commercial, patented seeds among poor farmers in Africa. When seed markets are dominated by a handful of companies selling their patented seeds, farmers’ ability to save, exchange and sell their own seed varieties is threatened.
Small farmers hold the keys
We know that up to 75% of the seed varieties needed to produce our food are currently in the hands of small farmers. We also know that smaller farms are more biodiverse, and therefore more resilient to crop disease and climate change than large plantations.
But despite the incredibly important role that small farmers play in preserving seed varieties and creating resilient food systems, large donors like BMGF, USAID, and DfID (particularly with its support of the New Alliance initiative) seem more interested in supporting big business and promoting policies that make it easier for agribusiness companies to control seed markets. In fact, BMGF and USAID’s priorities are laid bare in the report. They include increasing the role of large seed companies in the seed sector, together with helping small and medium-sized companies produce their own patented seed varieties.
The recent Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology, which was backed by Via Campesina, one of the world’s largest social movements with over 250m members, and dozens of other farming and food producing groups, is as clear about the problem:
“The corporate model over-produces food that poisons us, destroys soil fertility, is responsible for the deforestation of rural areas, the contamination of water and the acidification of oceans and killing of fisheries. Essential natural resources have been commodified, and rising production costs are driving us off the land. Farmers’ seeds are being stolen and sold back to us at exorbitant prices, bred as varieties that depend on costly, contaminating agrochemicals.”
It is also clear about the solution, stating that agroecology, within a food sovereignty framework, offers us a collective path through the current food crisis. A truly sustainable food system recognises the fundamental contribution that small farmers make to it through their preservation of seed diversity and farmers’ own innovation, research and breeding skills. It also recognises that farming is political and a sustainable farming system requires us to challenge the current power imbalance in the food system and put the control of seeds and other resources into the hands of the estimated two billion small farmers, fisherfolk, peasants and pastoralists that currently feed our world.
The fight for seed freedom
Today US AID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are hosting an invite-only, secret meeting with aid donors and big seed companies to discuss a strategy to make it easier for seed companies to sell patented ‘improved’ seeds in Africa. However this agenda will increase corporate control over seeds, benefitting big companies at the expense of small farmers in Africa.
‘Whoever controls seeds, controls the food system’
For generations, small farmers have been able to save and swap seeds. This vital practice enables farmers to keep a wide range of seeds which helps maintain biodiversity and helps them to adapt to climate change and protect from plant disease. However, this system of seed saving is under threat by corporations who want to take more control over seeds. Big seed companies are keen to grow their market share of commercial seeds in Africa and alongside philanthropic organisations like the Gates Foundation and aid donors, they are discussing new ways to increase their market penetration of commercial seeds and displacing farmers own seed systems.
Corporate-produced hybrid seeds often produce higher yields when first planted, but the second generation seeds will produce low yields and unpredictable crop traits, making them unsuitable for saving and storing. This means that instead of saving seeds from their own crops, farmers who use hybrid seeds become completely dependent on the seed companies that sell them. Often the seeds are sold in packages with chemical fertiliser and pesticides which can lead to spiralling debt as well as damaging the environment and causing health problems.
“Women farmers have few resources and do not want seed that we can plant for one season only or seed that is owned by companies. We believe in our own seeds that we can access from our own collections or from our farmer networks, free of charge.”
Beatrice Katsigazi Eastern and Southern Africa Farmers Forum, Uganda
Global Justice Now along with the UK Food Sovereignty Movement are protesting at the meeting today in solidarity of with small scale farmers in Africa who are fighting for their seed freedom. You can help to expose this corporate agenda by joining in with our twitter action on Monday.