Regarding your involvement with Monsanto and Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa:
We – the concerned people who have signed this petition – are aware that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are, via your sponsorship of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and your economic cooperation with Monsanto, planning to spread chemical agriculture and genetically modified organisms into the precarious societies and nature of Africa.
Although we assume that your Foundation is supporting this technology in order to alleviate hunger and poverty in Africa, we must respectfullydisagree with your approach, which we find reductionist, purely focusing on technological fixes and economic profit making. This is a limited approach, which we believe cannot give sustainable results. If your Foundation aims to be part of solving global hunger and poverty, we find it necessary that you embrace a holistic approach, hence including in your program concern for women, poor people, and nature.
In the following we would like to explain in detail why we oppose your approach:
While women represent half the global population, one-third of the labor force, and do two-thirds of all working hours, they receive only one-tenth of the world income, and own less than one percent of world property. Owing to this inequality, data show that 70 percent of all absolute poor people are women.
Thus, poverty is a gender related problem. It derives from subordination of women in most societies.
Laws, institutions, social rules, and cultural traditions have throughout history dominated the African women and limited their access to productive resources and markets. Women are also not enjoying much government and donor assistance, and in many places they cannot own land. In spite of these obstacles women are producing 80 percent of the continents food. They are also the main actors in the informal markets from which poor people survive. Due to their prominent role in food production women depend on nature. This relationship has given many Southern women a unique knowledge about their environment. It is an organic and sustainable relation benefitting both: nature helps women to feed their families while women ensure that nature remains healthy and reproductive. This knowledge is diverse, depending on the context, and it has been transmitted from one generation to the next. When the North introduced chemical agriculture and production of cash crop for the formal market, they marginalized women’s food production. The natural resources from which women lived were directed towards cash crop production. This caused scarcity of land for women’s food production resulting in hunger and poverty of women and their children, and degradation of natural resources. Moreover, the purely technological approach from mechanical scientists, dismissed women’s organic agricultural knowledge, which has sustained traditional people and nature for thousands of years.
The “Green Revolution” or chemical agriculture consequently did not benefit women, poor people, and nature. Its mono culture, chemical fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide, its hybrid seeds and extreme water use via irrigation have had tremendous negative side effects for society and nature. This has been researched by various respected scientists. One is Dr. Vandana Shiva who analyzed the “Green Revolution” in India and published her results in the 1989 book “Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development”.
The dangers of spreading chemicals in nature were also highlighted in the now famous classic book, “Silent Spring”, written by the late American marine biologist Rachel Carson. There is ample additional evidence, which points to chemical agriculture’s inability to sustainably increase yields, while the method oppositely is polluting nature and people: The artificial technologies have caused serious imbalances to the natural eco-system. Chemicals have tainted soils, poisoned ground water, endangered fish, birds, and other animals. Chemicals have indiscriminately killed insects including those that are supportive to healthy plant development, like bees and worms. Chemicals have caused mineral imbalance in soils, which is draining their health and nutrition. Irrigation has introduced too much water into soils causing siltation and salinisation, making soils salty and muddy and hence unfit for agricultural production.
In addition, chemical agriculture has overused water resources and caused alarming shortage of clean water globally. Hence, introduction of the proposed “Green Revolution” will eventually render the precarious African soils infertile; it will dry out Africa’s scarce water sources, and destroy valuable traditional agricultural knowledge.
Agricultural chemicals also make people sick. Many of the toxics enter the human body where they remain in the tissues, because the immune system cannot dispose of them. Some of the chemicals are causing cancer or birth defects, and contributing to numerous health problems. In addition, people are often unaware of how to handle the dangerous chemicals they are using. Due to inadequate technical knowledge pesticide and herbicide kill 10-40,000 people annually in the South. With all these painful side effects carried by society and nature one should at least expect that chemical agriculture could boost crop production, however that is not the case.
Although chemical agriculture initially increased yields, this improvement quickly diminished, and scientists say that the yield now is lower compared to organic farming. The decrease relates to exhaustion in soil nutrition and increased pest attacks. The persistent use of pesticide has caused pests to mutate, developing resistant strains of pest. This increased invasion of pests can cause crop losses of up to 30 percent. Since the chemicals also have killed the pests’ natural predators the mutated pests will require ever more deadly chemicals causing a never ending vicious circle, like drug addiction. Consequently, introduction of chemical agriculture has not led to food security; instead it has caused severe side effects, hence we must doubt the benefit from using chemicals in nature.
Genetically modified organisms (GMO) are an expansion of the “Green Revolution”. Genetic engineering of the seed has made it ecologically incomplete so that it cannot produce alone. It will need help from purchased fertilizer and pesticide. This will increase the need for chemicals in agriculture hence escalating the above mentioned negative side-effects for society and nature. Due to the modification technique used in the laboratory, the GMO foods cause additional health threats.
Research on animals has shown that GMO food combined with their chemicals are causing liver and kidney damage, reproductive dysfunction, sterility, increased infant mortality, food allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases, while also having negative effects in heart, adrenal, spleen, and blood cells.
Genetically engineered seeds have been modified in such a way that they cannot reproduce. This is an economic advantage for the corporations because it requires the farmer to buy new seeds for every planting season, together with the necessary chemicals. Making the seed sterile means that farmers can no longer replant their own seeds from previous harvests. They must buy new seeds every season, which puts an end to their ability to develop new crops. This is devastating in the South where farmers grow 80 percent of their crops from saved seeds. When poor farmers cannot store and trade seed, their agricultural production become dependent on expensive seed and chemical implements from agri-businesses. As a result, only those farmers who can afford it will have food, the rest will be marginalized. Modification of seeds has allowed patenting. In this way the agri-businesses maintain a monopoly on resources for food production. Because of this market monopoly GMO seeds and their chemicals are expensive. This has led poor farmers into debt and poverty. You can hardly be unaware of the thousands of crop farmers who have committed suicides in India, due to bankruptcy caused by Monsanto’s monopoly on agricultural technology.
In addition, the GMO crops are eradicating traditional crops. Nature does not operate in neatly separated boxes, thus cross pollination takes place between the GMO plant and traditional crops, which makes the latter sterile. This is disastrous for sustainable food production because it is the traditional crops that have given local people food security for thousands of years keeping both nature and people healthy. In this way, corporations have taken over plant breeding, which is creating the classical conditions for hunger and famine. History has shown that whenever ownership of resources for food production are concentrated in a few hands and the market is in charge of distributing the agricultural products, then we have the foundation for food insecurity. Consequently, hunger and poverty began when modern chemical agriculture entered the South. The shift from an ecological process of sustainable food production, to a technological process of non-renewable production has reduced biological diversity in agriculture; it has increased farmer’s dependency on expensive patented products; and it has created non-sustainability in agriculture, which will lead to hunger and poverty in the South.
There is yet another reason why GMO cannot eradicate world hunger: although the industry has declared that it will feed the world, the promise has proven empty. Experiments show that GM seeds do not increase crop yields radically; they are also not promising for adapting to climate change. According to the report “Failure to Yield” from July 2009 made by Union of Concerned Scientists, GMOs have, despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, failed significantly to increase US crop yields. It therefore does not make sense to support genetic engineering at the expense of technologies that have proven to substantially increase yields, especially in many developing countries. In addition, recent studies have shown that organic and similar farming methods that minimize the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers can more than double crop yields at little cost to poor farmers in developing regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa.
The senior scientist, Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman concludes that, “If we are going to make headway in combating hunger due to overpopulation and climate change, we will need to increase crop yields; traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering hands down.”
Research from the Rodale Institute supports these findings. They have an ongoing revolutionary research project that started in 1981 called Farm System Trial (FST) on organic farming. Their research has found that crop yields from organic and chemical farms are similar in years of average precipitation.
However, organic farm yields are higher during droughts and floods, due to stronger root systems in organic plants, and better moisture retention in the soil, which prevents runoff and erosion. The data moreover showed that organic production requires 30 percent less energy than chemical production when growing corn and soybeans; that organic farms create jobs because labor inputs are 15 percent higher; and that the net economic return for organic crops is equal to or higher than that for chemically produced crops because the costs are lower. In addition, organic farming is psychologically and socially supportive because it is labor intensive and community oriented.
The most surprising FST finding of all has been that when soil is cultivated organically its carbon content increases, which contributes to reducing global warming. The carbon increase is so high that if all the cultivated land in the world were farmed organically it would immediately reduce our climate crisis significantly. Organic farming can pull, on an annual basis, thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide per acre right out of the air and keep it in the soil, adding to its carbon stores year after year. Physicist Amory Lovins supports this finding. In his estimates increasing the carbon content of the world’s depleted soils at reasonable rates would absorb about as much carbon as all human activity emits. Conversely, soil farmed by using chemical methods has very little ability to keep or build vital supplies of carbon in the soil. It is oppositely causing global warming. Its nitrogen-based fertilizers are releasing the green house gas nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. Hence, switching to organic food production is the single most critical action we can take right now to stop our climate crisis.
Consequently, organic farming is a relevant, ecological, and holistic technology that would alleviate hunger and poverty. Organic farms are small and owner operated. Farmers sell their products at local markets with a short distance from the farm to the table, saving energy, packing, and at the same time maintaining the food fresh and healthy. Finally, organic farming is successful and efficient. An agroecological project involving 730,000 farm households across Africa resulted in yield improvements of between 50-100 percent. In addition, it decreased production costs while increasing cash incomes up to as much as ten times. Thus, organic farming raises production, gives ecological and social benefits, and it empower farmers, most of whom are women.
In order to give a holistic understanding, it is important to add that hunger is not caused by global food shortage. According to Frances Moore Lappé and her colleagues at the Institute for Food and Development Policy in USA, the reasons for hunger are political. According to her book from 1986, “World Hunger: Twelve Myths” there is enough food supply for all in our world. Increase of food supply has, in the last fifty years, kept ahead of population growth in every region of the world, except Africa. Research also shows that there is no direct relationship between the prevalence of hunger and a country’s population size. Moreover, 78 percent of all malnourished children in the South live in countries with food surpluses. Many of these countries export more agricultural goods than they import. The root causes of hunger are consequently unrelated to food production. Poverty, inequality, and lack of access to food and land are the primary causes of famine. People are hungry because the economic and political elite control the means of producing and distributing food. Thus, world hunger is not a problem that can be solved by chemical technology and GMO; it comes from lack of democracy and economic equality.
If we do not address the root causes - which relate to domination - hunger and poverty will continue no matter which technology we apply. We consequently do not need a “Green Revolution” in Africa. Organic farming methods are more likely to support women, poor people, and nature, and to keep women and poor people in control of productive resources. Therefore, if we should hope to alleviate hunger and poverty control over resources for food production need to return into the hands of the food producers, most of whom are women. They must be empowered to grow their own food by choosing their own technology and using their own knowledge.
This should be supported rather than subordinated.
Conclusively if your Foundation would support women’s organic agriculture it would have the following positive, systemic ripple and trickle-down effects: increase agricultural production, ensure food sustainability, eradicate hunger and thus poverty, improve health of women and children hence reducing child mortality, diminish women’s reproduction thus putting a halt to global population expansion, reduce global warming hence arresting climate change, increase human productivity, make people independent and content, which is boosting social cohesion leading to limitation in crime and violence, sustain a healthy nature with fertile soils and clean waters, which will be supporting life of people and animals, empower women, leading to gender equality, freedom, and democracy. In conclusion, a holistic approach to food production will bring about sustainability and an overall increase in the quality of life for women, poor people, and nature. If the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would follow this path, you would place your names in the history books as people who truly made a difference in our world.
Oppositely if your Foundation supports AGRA’s and Monsanto’s chemical agriculture and GMO, you may not be part of the solution to hunger and poverty. Your Foundation may oppositely become yet another dominant institution, which is subordinating women and poor people, while exploiting nature by controlling people’s productive resources preventing them from becoming self-sufficient. Since the technology Monsanto is promoting has proven to be dangerous to society and nature, supporting Monsanto economically means that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation indirectly and hopefully unintentionally may harm Africa’s precious people and priceless nature. We therefore urge you to reconsider your support to AGRA and Monsanto, and instead follow a holistic and sustainable strategy for hunger and poverty alleviation.
A holistic development strategy includes not only quantitative economic and technical issues; it needs to integrate concerns for a quality of life for society and nature. History has shown that formal markets, economic growth, and chemical agriculture have failed to alleviate hunger and poverty; we therefore need to try alternative strategies. I would enjoy sharing such an alternative perception with your Foundation.
At the beginning of next year the University Press of America will be publishing my book, “Ecofeminism: Towards Integrating the Concerns of Women, Poor people, and Nature into Development”, which is based on my Masters Degree dissertation obtained at University of South Africa. The book presents a complex critique of the present reductionist, purely economic oriented development strategy.
It is showing that a holistic perception of reality is more likely to end the global crises of poverty, violence, natural destruction, and human rights abuses. As soon as the book is out from print, I will, via the publisher, forward the book to you as a gift. I sincerely hope that the content of the book in some ways will inspire your ongoing work with global hunger and poverty alleviation in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
On behalf of the petition sponsor
Sustainability Education Network, USA, Gregory Hilbert and Suzanne Sparling, CoFounders
And all those who have signed this petitionMrs. Jytte Nhanenge
C.P. 258, Chimoio, Mozambique; BA Development Studies and Philosophy, Hons BA Philosophy, MA Development Studies