3.04.2012

No Good Deed Goes Unnoticed...but Bad Deeds Do

Rice Grown in Sierra Leone
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is often hailed as a organization effectively working towards development of the world's poor and eradication of preventative diseases. Their good deeds and superficial objectives never go unnoticed, but their bad deeds do. The Gates Foundation supporters often fail to look past the vaguely worded goals of the foundation to see the truth that lies behind them, which in fact reveals that it might be doing more harm than good. 

Monsanto's Dream of Monopoly
So, let it be stated that I'm pretty much against all multinational corporations (MNCs). I think they do more harm than good, they stifle local businesses and hinder sustainable development, and in the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo, actually profit from conflict. Therefore, my disdain for Monsanto should really come as no surprise.

For those of you unfamiliar with Monsanto, it is an American-based MNC which claims to "help farmers around the world produce more while conserving more. [They] help farmers grow yield sustainably so they can be successful, produce healthier foods, better animal feeds and more fibre, while also reducing agriculture's impact on our environment". Sadly, in reality all of their actions for the most part run counter to what they profess.

Monsanto argues that genetically modified (GM) seeds are the key to yielding more crops. True, they do, but to much detriment to our health and the environment. I'm going to ignore the health debate for now, not because it isn't important, but just because the environmental concerns are more important for this argument. So GM seeds allow better crop yield; however, they rely on the use of fertilizers and farming techniques that are counterproductive to increasing crop yields. The fertilizers that Monsanto requires to be used on their GM seeds have the potential to build resistant strains of harmful insects, kill beneficial insects, harm plant biodiversity, create new harmful pathogens, and discourage crop rotation, which is good for the soil (see WHO report for more info on GMOs). With these factors in mind, it is clear that Monsanto's claims of producing "healthier foods", "reducing agriculture's impact on our environment", and "growing yield sustainably" are all false. If the world wishes to feed the mouths of the future, which is impossible with current agricultural practices and eating habits, then it needs to be reformed

Rice Paddy in Sierra Leone
What Monsanto is more concerned with is making a profit, much to the detriment of the developing world's farmers. Many claim that Monsanto's profit-driven motives are seeking to monopolize African agriculture. As Minda Magero notes, Monsanto "is out to dominate the agricultural sector in Africa by partnering with governments to introduce Monsanto’s products to African farmers under the guise of development". In essence, this means farmers are being required to used GM seeds and fertilizers which will only hurt the environment and agricultural yields, and will lead to further food dependency, higher grain prices, and more famines

The ills of Monsanto are being recognized in some parts of Africa, like in South Africa where in 2008/2009, 80% of Monsanto's GM maize resulted in crop failures (which Monsanto said was a laboratory mistake), resulting in critics to call for an investigation, because "You cannot make a 'mistake' with three different varieties of corn". The problem cannot be blamed on South African soil or climate either, because crop failures are occurring elsewhere, like in India.

The crop failures in India had led to more than 120,000 farmers to commit suicide by 2008 in what is being termed as the GM genocide. Indian farmers were promised "previously unheard of harvests and income" if they used Monsanto's GM seeds instead of their traditional seeds. Shankara, a farmer in India was "beguiled by the promise of future riches, [so] he borrowed money in order to buy the GM seeds. But when the harvests failed, he was left with spiraling debts - and no income", which eventually led to him being one of the 120,000 victims of suicide. 

The Gates Factor
So where does the Gates Foundation fit into this equation? Well in 2010, the Gates Foundation bought 500,000 shares of Monsanto's stock. Since that time, Bill Gates has claimed that genetically modified food is necessary to fight starvation. He argued that genetically modified golden rice, which includes beta-carotene which can be transformed into vitamin A, should be grown in Asia where vitamin A levels are deficient. However, what isn't mentioned is that a person would need to consume 16lbs of this golden rice to achieve the daily requirement for vitamin A and that in order to convert beta-carotene to vitamin A, the body needs to have ample amounts of dietary fats, which are either not easily accessible or frequently consumed, rendering it ineffective.
Farming Village in Sierra Leone

Gates was interviewed by ABC news on his support of the use of genetically modified seeds, and unsurprisingly, he tooted their benefits without mentioning their detrimental effects. Clearly since he bought 500,000 shares of Monsanto's stock, he too is now concerned about their bottom line and will therefore not mention the harm he and his foundation are doing to the farmers of the developing world. On the Gates Foundation website it rightly states, "Approximately 1 billion people live in chronic hunger and more than 1 billion live in extreme poverty. Many are small farmers in the developing world. Their success or failure determines whether they have enough to eat, are able to send their children to school, and can earn any money to save". What fails to be mentioned, is that when these GM seeds fail to yield crop, the farmers are then in debt and can't save money, are more in danger of chronic hunger and malnutrition, and continue to be unable to send their children to school (and with the future depending on these children, this failure is huge!). Clearly, the Gates Foundation's support of Monsanto and its GM seeds runs counter to 'development' they claim to be working towards. Too bad much of the world continues to only focus on the good deeds of the Gates Foundation and to ignore the harm it's doing - it's not like the future of the environment and the livelihoods of farmers and families in the development world depend on it...oh wait, it does. 

Can we please start being a bit more critical on certain aid practices and organizations by taking a deeper look at their actions and methodologies? Because if we really want to overcome hunger, AIDS, malaria, (fill in the blank with your cause here), then we really need to start focusing on sustainable aid practices instead of ones that involve a quick fix or emphasize the bottom line. 

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