AGRA Watch


South African critic of Gates-funded ‘green revolution for Africa’ speaks in Seattle tonight | 

Lawrence Mkhaliphi

Lawrence Mkhaliphi is a farmer, agro-ecologist and South African activist opposed to the efforts of a Gates Foundation-funded initiative called AGRA, or the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

“The approach they have taken benefits large corporations and outsiders, not poor communities in Africa,” says Mkhaliphi, who says the issue of local ‘food sovereignty’ must be emphasized in these efforts to improve African agriculture — not just agricultural productivity alone.

“They (AGRA) are undermining local people’s power over their own livelihoods, over the ability to promote local solutions,” he contended in a brief discussion I had with him yesterday. “This will only make them poorer, with less control over their lives.”

Mkhaliphi, who is a leading member of an advocacy organization Biowatch South Africa, is on a U.S. tour and is speaking tonight under sponsorship by the Seattle organization AGRA Watch — which is also opposed to the efforts of AGRA and, generally, to what they perceive to be a Western, industrialized agricultural strategy imposed on Africa.

For more details about the event tonight, at 7 pm in Seattle’s Madison neighborhood, go here.


Calestous Juma says Africa CAN feed itself, and the world, by harnessing new science | 

Calestous Juma is a funny guy.

Tom Paulson

Calestous Juma, center, jokes with one of his leading critics, Phil Bereano, at left

The Harvard University professor of international development is author of The New Harvest, a book (free online) in which he makes his case for how agricultural reforms offer the most promise for positively transforming African economies.

Juma spoke Tuesday at the University of Washington’s Kane Hall at an event sponsored by the World Affairs Council. Outside the event, protesters from the local organization AGRA Watch handed out leaflets challenging his views — which also were challenged in a Q&A after his talk.

There’s a good reason this jovial and charming Kenyan provokes controversy.

Juma, though entertaining, doesn’t mince words — “Africa is already doing organic farming … and it isn’t working very well.” He describes himself as a bit of ‘techno-optimist,’ a believer like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the fundamental power of science and technology to transform agriculture in poor countries, especially sub-Saharan Africa.

“Agricultural reform is the key to economic development in Africa, and it is already happening,” Juma said. Many African nations lead the world in economic growth rates and new approaches to old problems are transforming the continent. “Technologies destroy ideologies.”

But it is Juma’s enthusiastic support for science and technology as the key to agri-reform — indeed, to development in general — that makes him a target for those who contend such a strategy ignores, or at least glosses over, a lot of the political, economic and social reasons why so many people remain in poverty.

One of Juma’s critics, retired UW professor of technology policy Phil Bereano, asked why Juma doesn’t describe in his book all of the political work he does behind the scene with African leaders to get them to make agricultural reform a priority.

Bereano: “The reality is that these technological choices are skewed by power …. Why do you leave this out of your presentations?”

Juma: “Yes, power matters … I wrote this book as a memo to African leaders …. If these guys are not engaged, nothing will happen.”

And if he focused his book trying to provide his own perspective on African politics rather than the promise of agricultural reform, Juma said, he would have been much less effective. In short, he explained, he had to leave the power politics out of the book in order to be heard within the corridors of power.

“Nothing is perfect,” Juma had said earlier. There’s plenty to debate and lots of conflicting ideologies, he said, but he is trying to stay focused on the practicalities of finding the best solutions to Africa feeding itself — and, if things go as well as he imagines, helping to feed to world.

For more of Juma’s thoughts, and responses to his critics, listen to the audio interview above.


World’s food needs are central to health, poverty efforts | 

Flickr, elana's pantry

You can’t get very far trying to improve people’s health, reduce poverty or empower the poor without food.

This week in Des Moines, Iowa, about 1,000 people, including many former heads of state and top agricultural policy folk, are gathered together to talk about food — or more accurately, how to feed the planet’s growing population.

This is the week-long World Food Prize symposium and Borlaug Dialogue.

The latter part of the event title (no, it’s not a science fiction plot) is named after the late Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning scientist who spearheaded the so-called Green Revolution which dramatically increased agricultural productivity in many parts of the world during the mid-to-late 20th Century.

There’s a push today for another such effort especially targeting Africa, which did not see much benefit from Borlaug’s revolution. It’s led by an organization called the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which was launched largely thanks to support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Many are critical of this new proposed Green Revolution for Africa, such as one Seattle-based organization known as AGRA Watch. There are too many issues to describe it adequately, but in a nutshell AGRA Watch sees the Gates-backed project as mostly favoring the interests of large international agricultural corporations like ADM, Cargill or Monsanto rather than the poor.

Many were, and are, critical of Borlaug’s original project as well. While the first Green Revolution did increase overall productivity, many contend it did so using industrialized farming techniques (mono-cultures, heavy fertilizer use) that may have improved yields but often did so at the expense of small, community-based farmers and the natural environment.

It’s way too big an issue to cover in this post. Here are few stories coming out of, or related to, the meeting this week:

Inter Press: Biofuels, market speculators driving up food prices

AP: Howard Buffett says no simple solution to global food crisis

Ames Tribune: Global food security key to national security, US Agri Chief says

Guardian: Agricultural policy hurting farmers in poor countries

Reuters: DR Congo is ranked worst on global hunger index

ONE Campaign: World Food Prize kick off

Below is a map featuring the findings of the 2010 Global Hunger Index

Post-party news at the new Gates Foundation campus — Bono drops by to say hi and activists drop in to protest | 

There were a few notable events over the weekend focused on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation following its Thursday grand opening of the new Seattle campus.

Bono praising the Gateses. Activists denouncing them.

Flickr, Phil Romans

Bono, who was in town for a Seattle performance by U2, came by the philanthropy on Friday to say hi and wish everyone well. The rock star also wished the Gates Foundation well at the concert Saturday. Here’s the skinny on his visit to the philanthropy from My Northwest and on his concert comments from Geekwire (which included this Twitpic from Sheena Murphy)

Bono thanked concert-goers for signing up to join the ONE campaign, which advocates for many global health causes championed by the Gates Foundation. He then thanked Bill and Melinda Gates “for your passion, your brain power and your cash, actually.”


AGRA Watch leafletting outside Gates Foundation

On Saturday, before the U2 concert and during the public open house at the new complex, activists who oppose the Gates Foundation’s approach to agricultural development in Africa protested outside and handed out critical flyers.

Members of Seattle-based Community Alliance for Global Justice and AGRA Watch contend “the majority of the projects funded by Gates promote high-tech industrial agricultural methods and market-driven development – privatizing seed, lobbying for genetically modified crops, increasing farmer debt alongside corporate profits, and encouraging land consolidation.”

Finally, I just got this photo sent me by someone who saw this written on one of the whiteboards during the celebration of the new Gates Foundation campus. I wonder how many know that the original mid-1990 meetings that led to the forming of the Gates Foundation — back when there were just a handful of people involved and no actual location — was upstairs in a pizza joint.

Yes, they should have had pizza:

A message to Bill at the Gates Foundation's grand opening

Activists challenge Gates Foundation’s agricultural development strategy | 

AGRA Watch

AGRA Watch logo

Seattle-based AGRA Watch, an activist organization that believes the Gates Foundation’s approach to agricultural reform in Africa is environmentally, economically and ethically unsound, today released a protest letter signed by more than 100 organizations, food experts and scientists opposed to the strategy.

The letter was released to coincide with street protests in Cancun held by groups angry with the nature of the climate talks going on there this week. (Note: KPLU’s Liam Moriarty is there, and reports here.)

“The Gates Foundation is promoting a Western, industrialized agricultural approach that serves corporate interests, not the needs of poor farmers worldwide, a strategy that will also do serious damage to the environment,” said Phil Bereano, a member of AGRA Watch and a retired UW professor of technology policy.

Agricultural reform is a key mission of the Gates Foundation, which helped launch an organization based in Africa devoted to this called AGRA, the Allliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. Continue reading