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looking in a gift horse’s mouth

Posted: November 8 2010

The 'New Green Revolution for Africa', launched by the philanthropic foundation established by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, may not be so green after all. by PHILIP L BEREANO & TRAVIS M ENGLISH

The persistence of food crises and food price volatility has spawned some false solutions. The most notable of these is the 'New Green Revolution for Africa', launched by the philanthropic foundation established by Microsoft founder Bill Gates. As Philip L Bereano and Travis M English reveal, this revolution may not be so green after all.
THE largest 'private charitable operation' in the world today is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, headquartered in our hometown, Seattle, in the United States and distributing about $4 billion each year.  A major thrust of the Foundation, announced in 2006, was to join with the Rockefeller Foundation in creating an 'Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa' (AGRA) which would tackle hunger in Africa by 'work[ing] to achieve a food secure and prosperous Africa through the promotion of rapid, sustainable agricultural growth based on smallholder farmers'.
AGRA, according to the Gates Foundation, 'is an Africa-based and African-led effort to develop a thriving agricultural sector in sub-Saharan Africa'.  Yet large numbers of African farmers and rural community groups in Africa are raising critical concerns about the Foundation's activities and its reliance on high-cost inputs and new technologies. And they have also raised concerns about transparency and lack of opportunities for participation in these processes of decision-making for African agriculture. The following account of the current dynamic is based on recent research on the ground in East Africa as well as web-based content analysis.
The slogan of AGRA's promoters is a 'New Green Revolution for Africa' but this 'Revolution' may not be very 'green' at all.
The original 'Green Revolution' several decades ago was a term used to describe high-technology agricultural development. As described in the Britannica Concise Encyclopedia:
'Great increase in production of food grains (especially wheat and rice) that resulted in large part from the introduction into developing countries of new, high-yielding [seed] varieties, beginning in the mid-20th century. Its early dramatic successes were in Mexico and the Indian subcontinent. The new varieties require large amounts of chemical fertilisers and pesticides to produce their high yields, raising concerns about cost and potentially harmful environmental effects. Poor farmers, unable to afford the fertilisers and pesticides, have often reaped even lower yields with these grains than with the older strains, which were better adapted to local conditions and had some resistance to pests and diseases.'
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