Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Gates 'New' Model of Development is the Old One, But With Higher Returns

The biggest producer of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in the world is the US, by a very long shot. The EU doesn't produce them comercially at all. So why is the number of tons of cereal per acre the same for both geographic regions? If GM is the answer, yield per acre should surely be a lot higher in the US. Of course, the figures could be rubbish, I got them from the Gates Foundation site.

The figure comes from one of Gates' sick-making speeches about Nora's goat, Tommy's piles or some happy, healthy (but African) toddler's ambitions to be prime minister. But behind the sugar coating there is, apparently, a pill; a pill to cure all of Africa's problems.

You might think that pill is GMO, but that's just one of a range of pills that have something in common: intellectual property rights have that not expired.

The strategy starts with "Innovation in seeds [which] brings small farmers new high-yield crops that can grow in a drought, survive in a flood, and resist pests and disease".

Some comments are in order. The majority of crops that have all, or even any of these advantages, are not genetically modified. So, no sugar for them. And these crops, whether GM or otherwise, are not developed, despite Gates' constant reference to them, for small farmers.

The few GM crops that have any of these advantages, none of them have all the advantages, also have some serious disadvantages, what Gates might call 'challenges'. For example, the seeds cost a lot more than conventionally bred seeds, resistance to pests gives rise to resistant pests, giving rise to further costs, etc. I say 'etc' because no commercially available GM crop has been developed with resistance to flooding or drought.

"Innovation in markets offers small farmers access to reliable customers." Now, what markets would he be talking about? The World Food Program and it's 'Purchase for Progress initiative, supported by Gates, which purchases a proportion of food aid from developing countries, or aims to. Apparently one of the Noras or Tommys quadrupled their income in one year as a result of this program.

Or perhaps Gates is talking about the US and EU markets, which subsidise some of their farmers so heavily that cotton and sugar, for example, can be grown more cheaply in the richest countries in the world than they can be in the poorest? Could the US and EU become 'reliable customers'? As things stand, the EU will cease to be customers as they don't accept any GMO contaminated foods for human consumption. So they say, anyhow.

"Innovation in agricultural techniques helps farmers increase productivity while preserving the environment – with approaches like no-till farming, rainwater harvesting, and drip irrigation." No-till farming may or may not require the use of GMOs. But rainwater harvesting and drip irrigation neither requires nor excludes them. The question is, will the Foundation require GMOs or, at least, crops that involve rich country protectionism, in the form of intellectual property rights? I'm guessing that not a lot of money will be spent on these 'challenges'.

"Innovation in foreign assistance assistance means that donors now support national plans that provide farming families with new seeds, tools, techniques and markets." So the rich countries that are making so much money screwing poor countries are going to suddenly concentrate their efforts on alleviating poverty that they have gone to so much effort to create? Keep dreaming Bill.

Following 'Purchase for Progress', there is now 'Feed the Future', of which Gates is also a keen supporter. And why wouldn't he be, with some of the top names in agriculture and food multinationals behind it?

Bill says his strategy has nothing to do with the "old aid model of donors and recipients". Actually, it has everything to do with the old aid model: it guarantees that the model of giving to people from whom you know you can extort a hell of a lot more will work far better if you also take control of the recipients' means of production. That's what's wrong with GMOs and with Gates.


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