The Gates Foundation Invests in GMO Research in Africa

The Gates Foundation is normally known for its work eradicating malaria and polio through innovative methods. Recently however, it has joined hands with Monsanto, Cargill and other agri-biotech companies to push GM-research. Back in 2009, Tom Philpott wrote a piece urging Bill Gates not to endorse GMO but the sound advice has gone unheeded. Fast Company reports that the Gates Foundation has invested $11.9 million in research towards a Virus-Resistant Cassava strain for Africa.

Cassava is a highly-drought resistant staple food for over 200 million sub-Saharan Africans. However, over a third of the harvest is lost each year to Cassava Mosaic Disease and Cassava Brown Streak Disease. The project’s objective is to use gene silencing to create disease resistant plants. While the goal of disease-resistant cassava is certainly worthy, dabbling with GM technology leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

The Gates Foundation has many powerful collaborations with USAID and the US State Department. The collaboration has raised many eyebrows because it so far removed from the Foundation’s goal of sustainable development. The recent Wikileaks cables revealed that the Department of State has virtually become an agency for promoting the private interests of the Monsanto Corporation.

Eric Holt Gimenez wrote in the Huffington Post that the association of the Gates Foundation with Monsanto is not an accident and that many leading officials at AGRA are former Monsanto executives. The Gates Foundation’s purchase of  500,000 Monsanto shares at the price of $23M is proof of that.  Holt Gimenez goes on to say:

Africa’s seeds are a potential windfall investment for Monsanto. Regardless of the philanthropic side of its intentions, cloaked in the sheep’s clothing of AGRA, the Gates Foundation is moving stealthily opening African seed market to global corporations. When the research, extension, and U.S. foreign aid is all in place Monsanto will swoop in for the feast.

GM technology has been connected with many unintended consequences but it is rapidly infringing on every aspect of world agriculture. I wonder what the scenario would be if this huge pile of money had been diverted towards organic agriculture, which seems to be more in tune with the Gates Foundation’s ideals. A 2008 paper by the FAO states that organic agriculture can indeed help African farmers:

Organic agriculture can increase agricultural productivity and can raise incomes with low-cost, locally available and appropriate technologies, without causing environmental damage. Furthermore, evidence shows that organic agriculture can build up natural resources, strengthen communities and improve human capacity, thus improving food security by addressing many different causal factors simultaneously.  Organic and near-organic agricultural methods and technologies are ideally suited for many poor, marginalized smallholder farmers in Africa, as they require minimal or no external inputs, use locally and naturally available materials to produce high-quality products, and encourage a whole systemic approach to farming that is more diverse and resistant to stress. 

Has Bill Gates read this report? GM simply does not work as a long term solution. A Forbes article echoed the same sentiment, adding that GM crops can create a new strain of super-bugs. According to a recent Bloomberg news report, rootworms in Iowa are showing resistance to Monsanto corn. New York Times writes about farmers having to cope with Roundup-resistant weeds.

According to an article in The Guardian:

There is, genuine concern at governmental and community level that the United State’s model of extensive hi-tech farming is inappropriate for most of Africa and should not be foist on the poorest farmers in the name of “feeding the world”

We need to be moving in the opposite direction of industrial agriculture. A really wise person once said that we cannot expect to solve the world’s problems by using the same thinking that created them. Using GM-technology does exactly this. Agri-biotech companies are doing everything they can to push their technology wider and further, the last thing that needs to happen is for organizations like the Gates Foundation to support them.

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also

7 responses

  1. what rubbish……..this type of disease suppresion via GM technology is a very positive example of doing good. As an experienced ag scientist who has worked in Africa, it offers a real opportunity to do some real good. Good works!!

  2. Who ever wrote this seems to know very little about cassava cultivation, and possibly less about cassava in Africa, Asia or South America, all areas where subsistence cassava is an important food source for millions.

  3. Lousy journalism, which is a pity. There are legitimate issues to be raised about GM crops, but casssava, like banana, is particularly suited to biotech/GM interventions, far more than other African (seed-based) crops like corn/maize. Organic agriculture has its place, but not INSTEAD of biotechnology, but alongside it. Have you ever tried to grow 10 or even 5 hectares of corn/maize organically, especially by hoe as most African farmers do? Organic is a romantic pipe dream with large-acreage field crops.

  4. Great article! Why are journalists that speak the truth about Bill Gates so few and far between?

    As a former Seattle Schools teacher turned political activist, I’ve learned a lot about Bill Gates, one of history’s biggest capitalist crooks. Even if we take a cue from Wikipedia and magically ignore 95% of Gates’ crimes as CEO of Microsoft, he’s STILL a world class scumbag.

    For example, did you know that Gates screwed Seattle taxpayers out of more than $50 million in relocating the Gates Foundation headquarters? Seriously, what kind of philanthropist can’t even pay for his own headquarters? Or check out the Seattle Sounders soccer team’s uniforms, which are little more than an advertisement for Xbox, not to  mention their tax-subsidized stadium, owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

    And if you don’t care about facts, how about a little logic? Exactly what  have all the billions of dollars Bill Gates has thrown at public education accomplished (aside from wrecking a number of schools)? How can it be that a man who has so much compassion for the sick, the hungry and the poor never has a word to say about WAR? Does Bill Gates not give a damn about Muslims?

    Bill Gates’ “philanthropy” is a monumental fraud. The Gates Foundation is nothing more than an investment firm – a very corrupt one. It’s no surprise that St. Gates is a good friend of some of the planet’s biggest monsters, from George W. Bush to Monsanto.

    Take a look at the LA Times’ sensational expose, “Dark cloud over good works of Gates Foundation,” at,0,2533850.story

    Also, check out my answer to Wikipedia’s Bill Gates biography – which reads like a Microsoft press release – at

    I’m also running for public office, and I’ll be blasting Bill Gates in his own backyard. My campaign website is
    though it isn’t online yet. ( Check back after the weekend.)

    There can be no meaningful reform, let alone revolution, as long as people are stupid enough to believe the corporate media’s big lie that one of the biggest monsters on the planet is our savior.

  5. I commend the author for addressing concerns about Bill Gate’s affiliation with Monsanto. Perhaps, the other readers should take a step back and look at the bigger picture. The long-term effects of GMOs have NEVER been evaluated but all indications are that it is a disaster to ecosystems and organisms alike. GMO crops are already creating resistant weeds for example and will eventually eradicate nonGMO species. The high levels of herbicides are toxic to organisms and this effect will be seen in a few generations. Placing the world food supply in the hands of one company, the nefarious Monsanto is in itself lunacy. Bill Gates is a well known eugenicist, therefore his connection with Monsanto is to be expected. Wake up people!

  6. As I am born and bread in Africa and am so aware of how the first world countries think they have all the answers for our continent, I read the article above and realize how we here in Africa think that the rest of the world have got our best interests at heart, only to find that it is all done purely in the name of greed and profit.   I have been trained in a method of subsistence farming which can be used by either the small farmer with his hand-tool or used on huge commercial farms with a bit of adaptation of machinery.   GMO seeds are not the answer for Africa, as it means that the already poor farmer has to buy new seed every year as well as the various pesticides needed to stop all the organisms and pests which still attack it.   In the case of most subsistance farmers, teaching them correct farming methods, using and caring for the soil with what they have, rotating crops and using mulch and retaining the moisture, even though it is not a lot, has been proved to actually be the best method of farming for our continent.  So instead of spending so much money on GMO’s why not invest it into a worthy non-profit organisation, which originated in Africa and not a first world country,
    to really provide a solution for the starving millions in Africa!!!

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