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Sponsored by AGRA Watch/Community Alliance for Global Justice & La Via Campesina North America

Although we share a recognition that hunger, poverty, and climate change are inter-related through the medium of agricultural policies, we are writing to express our strong concerns that the Foundation’s approach to these issues—directly and through its Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) subsidiary—is unlikely to adequately address them and may well aggravate their underlying causes.

December 7, 2010

Dear Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,

Although we share a recognition that hunger, poverty, and climate change are inter-related through the medium of agricultural policies, we are writing to express our strong concerns that the Foundation’s approach to these issues—directly and through its Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) subsidiary—is unlikely to adequately address them and may well aggravate their underlying causes.

We note that your activities give a nod to agroecological methods, but believe your grant funding to be heavily distorted in favor of supporting inappropriate high-tech agricultural activities, thereby ignoring the many highly credible and comprehensive scientific studies that confirm the value of small-scale agroecological approaches. We are civil society organizations, farmworkers, farmers and farmer organizations, grassroots groups, health and consumer organizations, environmental groups, scientists, and academics, and we feel it is imperative to call your attention to the following bases for our concerns:

Many of the findings of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) are of particular relevance to your work in Africa. An unparalleled survey of global agriculture commissioned and funded by the UN and World Bank, the IAASTD was conducted with the participation of more than 400 international scientists and development experts, and approved by 58 governments. The resulting 2008 report frames hunger as a fundamentally social and economic problem and warns that continued reliance on high-tech solutions (including transgenic crops) is unlikely to reduce persistent hunger and poverty and may in some cases exacerbate social inequities and environmental degradation. More importantly, the IAASTD unequivocally concludes that feeding the hungry and protecting the environment will require moving away from resource-extractive industrial agriculture and toward agroecological methods of farming. These results are echoed by UNEP and UNCTAD’s report on Organic Farming and Food Security in Africa and the Rodale Institute’s Farm System Trial (FST) project in the United States. The latter resoundingly established that organic crop yields rival chemical yields in years of average precipitation and surpass them in times of drought and flooding. Furthermore, the FST has proven that organic production is more energy efficient (30% less energy), creates more jobs (15% greater labor demand), and stores vast amounts of carbon in the soil (which industrially-farmed soil is unable to retain). We believe these results are relevant to African agriculture, as well.
Together, such studies provide compelling and definitive scientific evidence that agroecological agriculture has the potential to revitalize rural economies, mitigate climate change and its effects, restore and preserve the environment, eradicate poverty, and provide healthy, culturally appropriate food for all. Yet instead of pursuing this potential, we believe the Foundation is mistakenly funding an antiquated thrust to industrialize agriculture in Africa—including chemical fertilizers, pesticides, monocropping of “improved” and genetically engineered (GE) crop varieties, further deregulation of trade, and regulatory frameworks that will privatize seed—which science and historical precedent indicate will come at the expense of the hungry, small farmers, consumer health, and the environment. Patented agro-chemicals, seed, and GE products are both environmentally harmful and expensive. Combined with the aggressive expansion of intellectual property rights, which facilitate corporate rather than farmer control of inputs, corporations stand to gain far more than small farmers. Similarly, trade liberalization in recent decades has been catastrophic for small farmers. Ultimately, this package will drive many small-scale farmers into debt, off their land, and into urban slums with no employment opportunities—a recipe for increased corporate profits and hunger, not food security.

We also find the Foundation’s involvement in GE research and development and lobbying for its use in Africa to be particularly problematic and misguided; indeed, GE is a largely problematic science. Considerable independent research demonstrates some of the risks GE poses to the environment, agricultural systems, and human health, while many consequences still remain insufficiently researched (often due to pressure from the biotech industry). Yet in spite of known and unknown threats, the development, commercialization, patenting, and distribution of GE seed continue at an alarming pace, with little or no public knowledge or participation. The merits of GE as a technology are also unproven. Evaluation of research and actual productivity in commercial operation has shown that there have been no intrinsic increases in yield and further that any gains in productivity of GMO crops have been short termed at best. In fact, genetic contamination of indigenous varieties poses an enormous threat to already declining biodiversity—the foundation of resilient traditional and organic farming systems that promise real solutions to contemporary problems.

To reach our shared goal of a future without hunger, we believe the Foundation should direct its funding to agroecological research and programs and provide assistance to farmer organizations, governments, and international institutions in support of agroecological agriculture in Africa. Scientific research has proven their superior potential, and now you are positioned to contribute to their expansion. For your efforts to be successful, however, the Foundation must listen to the voices of small farmers, farmer organizations, consumer groups, and other civil society organizations in Africa who will be most impacted by your work and who are most familiar with their own problems and how best to solve them. To date, the extent of your consultation and collaboration with Africans has been limited to those who belong to elite strata of society or are involved in only large-scale projects, while just three individuals control the issuing of AGRA grants.
Instead, your funding decisions and strategies should be determined through a real and open consultation with African communities and farmer organizations in accordance with the principles of food sovereignty—a framework being embraced throughout the world which asserts the right of peoples to define and control their own food and agriculture systems. To increase accountability, the Foundation should consider contributing to grant makers independent of governments and foundations such as the trust fund being considered by the United Nations under the auspices of the Committee on World Food Security, which would then issue grants to farmers and projects.

At this time when food issues and growing world hunger are becoming central international concerns, increasing numbers of people in the US and across the globe are mobilizing to strengthen local food systems and transform the currently dysfunctional global food regime. We urge the Gates Foundation to rethink its role in the efforts to eradicate hunger and to work in collaboration with people on the ground in order to bring about a world that will better provide for future generations. We will be watching your work with great interest, as well as continuing to support the self-determination of African peoples on these issues.



African Biodiversity Network – Kenya

African Centre for Biosafety – South Africa

Africa Network for Animal Welfare – Kenya

AGRA Watch/Community Alliance for Global Justice – Washington

Agricultural Missions, Inc – New York

AS-PTA Agricultura Familiar e Agroecologia – Brasil

Big Carrot Natural Food Market – Canada

Biowatch South Africa – South Africa

California Food & Justice Coalition – California

Canadian Biotechnology Action Network – Ontario

Cascadian Edible Landscapes – Washington

Center for Food Safety – Washington, D.C.

CIP Americas Program – Mexico
Corner House – UK

Cumberland Countians for Peace & Justice – Tennessee

Edible Plant Project – Florida

Family Farm Defenders – Wisconsin

Farmworker Association of Florida – Florida

Food Chain Workers Alliance – California

Brandworkers International – New York

Center for New Community – Illinois

Coalition of Immokalee Workers – Florida

Comité de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agrícolas – New Jersey/Pennsylvania

International Labor Rights Forum – Washington, D.C.

Just Harvest USA – California

Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center – Arkansas

Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York – New York

Restaurant Opportunities Centers United – New York

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500 – New York

Warehouse Workers for Justice – Illinois

Food Democracy Now! – Iowa

Food First – California

Food for Maine’s Future – Maine

Food Systems Integrity – Massachusetts

Friends of the Earth International – Uruguay

Gaia Foundation – UK

GMWatch – UK

Grassroots International – Massachusetts

Green Belt Movement International, Europe – UK

GREEN Foundation – India

Growing Power – Wisconsin

Hilltop Urban Gardens – Washington

Indaloyethu Environmental Cooperative – South Africa
Institute for Sustainable Development – Ethiopia

International Society for Ecology and Culture – California

Kenya Biodiversity Network – Kenya

Kenya Debt Relief Network – Kenya

La Via Campesina – North America

Lia BD Consulting – Washington

Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns – Washington, D.C.

National Family Farm Coalition – Washington, D.C.

Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance – Maine

Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility – Oregon

Organic Consumers Association – Minnesota

People-Centered Development Forum – New York

Pesticide Action Network North America – California

Partners for the Land & Agricultural Needs of Traditional Peoples – West Virginia

Practical Action – UK

Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment – California

South African Freeze Alliance on Genetic Engineering – South Africa

Save Our Seeds – Germany

Say No to GMOs! – Texas

Second Chance Foundation – NYC

Slow Food USA – New York

Sustainable Living Systems – Montana

Sustainable West Seattle – Washington

Third World Network – Malaysia

Thirdworld Investment Gateway Trust – South Africa

Uganda Environmental Educational Foundation – Uganda

Washington Biotechnology Action Council – Washington

Washington Fair Trade Coalition – Washington

WhyHunger – New York

Witness for Peace NW – Washington

World Family – UK


(Institutional affiliation provided for identification purposes only)

Will Allen, Founder, Growing Power

Ann Anagnost, Department of Anthropology, University of Washington

Philip Bereano, Technology and Public Policy, University of Washington

Peter Bohmer, Economics and Political Economy, The Evergreen State College

Patrick Bond, Howard College, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Jay Bost, Interdisciplinary Ecology, University of Florida

Lawrence Busch, Center for the Study of Standards in Society, Michigan State University

Javier Souza Casadinho, Reviewer, IAASTD

Ignacio Chapela, Associate Professor, UC Berkeley, Senior Researcher, GenØk: Center for Biosafety, Norway

Lim Li Ching, Lead Author, ESAP report, IAASTD

Barbara Dinham, IAASTD Reviewer

Caroline Faria, Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies, Florida International University

Maria Elena Garcia, Comparative History of Ideas, Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington

Martha Groom, Conservation Biology, University of Washington
Joan Dye Gussow, Nutrition and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

Elizabeth Henderson, Organic Farmer, Genesee Valley Organic CSA

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Lead Author, IAASTD

JoAnn Jaffe, Dept. of Sociology and Social Studies, University of Regina; Review Editor, IAASTD

Lucy Jarosz, Geography, University of Washington

Kristie Knoll, Organic Farmer, Knoll Farms

Jeanne Koopman, African Studies Center, Boston University

David Korton, Co-chair, New Economy Working Group

Frances Moore Lappé, Small Planet Institute

Gary Littlejohn, Review of African Political Economy

Kristen Lyons, School of Social Science, University of Queensland

John Madeley, Author, Beyond Reach?

Charito P. Medina, Lead Author, ESAP (IAASTD)

Dave Muehleisen, Sustainabilty and Justice Planning Group, The Evergreen State College

William Munro, Political Science, International Studies, Illinois Wesleyan University

Douglas Murray, Center for Fair and Alternative Trade, Colorado State University

Raj Patel, Center for African Studies, UC Berkeley; School of Development Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Shailja Patel, Author, Migritude

Devon Pena, American Ethnic Studies, Anthropology and Program on the Environment, University of Washington

Ivette, Perfecto, George W. Pack, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan; Lead Author, IAASTD

Vanaja Ramprasad, Lead Author, IAASTD

Wayne Roberts, Author, The No-Nonsense Guide to World Food

Carol Thompson, Northern Arizona University
Abby Wilkerson, Food Studies, George Washington University

Noah Zerbe, Government and Politics, Humboldt State University

Read the letter online.