Saturday, June 4, 2011

Gates Wants to do for International Development what he did for Software

Continuing the theme of copying drug pushers' trick of giving away free drugs to get people hooked, the Gates Foundation has been at it again. They actually boast about 'giving' farmers free 'drought tolerant' maize seeds. Well, firstly, drought tolerant maize doesn't work and secondly, giving someone genetically modified organisms (GMO) is like giving someone HIV. They will risk giving it to others before they realize they are infected and they will not be able to get rid of it.

That may sound a bit harsh, especially to those who think that people like Gates is doing a great job in Africa, looking after agriculture, health, education and just about everything else. But GMOs are not, despite claims to the contrary, sustainable. If the farmer falls for the Foundation's lies, they may be stupid enough to start buying this contaminated maize seed. But they will find that yields are no higher than before and the costs are higher, the costs of the seed, the fertilizer and the pesticides. And the costs increase rapidly so that in a few years, profits will be far lower than the farmer is used to.

An article that purports to be written by a small scale Kenyan farmer, but is in fact by a Gates (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa or AGRA) employee who has a bit of land, talks about small farmers being the future. But GMOs are not appropriate for the sort of small farmer than make up 70-80% of African farmers, those with a few acres of land, at the most. These small farmers will disappear because Gates model involves farms that are large enough to be mechanized, at least to some extent.

Apparently Gates is aware that the majority of farmers will go out of business and end up unemployed in cities, but so far he hasn't found a way of exploiting them. Not that he has mentioned, anyhow. I'm sure he'll let us know when he thinks of one.

This Gates employee also bemoans the fact that he couldn't find the right type of seed for local conditions. This is ironic because most GMOs are one size fits all, a complete removal or all crop diversity, the opposite to what African farmers need. And world seed markets are almost all sewn up by a handful of multinationals who also happen to be the biggest proponents of GMO. Nor is it a coincidence that these multinationals work closely with the Gates Foundation.

The Foundation claims that it has invested millions in seed research but that it places very little emphasis on GMOs. What they place emphasis on is any kind of proprietary product, as opposed to the system many farmers use of selecting a good stock of seeds from each year's crop. The Foundation's work may or may not involve genetic modification but the effect on the farmer is the same, it impoverishes them. And the Foundation has invested a lot in GMOs, they just seem to be a bit ashamed of it.

The so-called 'golden' rice is an example. It doesn't work, it's expensive, but it's just the kind of dirty trick that the Gates Foundation enjoys, probably something they picked up from the Microsoft Corporation. The Foundation has a similar model for health. That's pills and vaccines for everything when basic healthcare, clean water and improved sanitation, good nutrition and better living conditions would do far more for people than all the technical fixes in creation.

Gates has spent a lot of money showing that he knows nothing about development, health, agriculture or, indeed, democracy. His intention appears to be to render these fields into his own model of how they should be, that is, dominated by technology that is wielded by a few rich multinationals. Frequently Gates, the Foundation or one of their mouthpieces rants on about education or lack of education and the plan seems to be to 'educate' people, by telling them all about how great the world will be if people would just think like him, it or them.

There is a sense in which Gates wants to do for international development what he did for software. And the important thing is whether you think that's great or whether you think that's a disaster. I think it's a disaster.



Claire said...

Interesting. What's happening is like a well-written novel where the characters inevitably lead themselves to their own downfall - Gates controls aid because he has made vast amounts of money, but he got that money through processes that don't have analogies in making good development, and technological moneymaking is all he knows how to do. We need to hit upon the right kind of people to give all that money to. I suspect the people who understand how development occurs/might occur are people who come from the countries that need to develop, who enjoy complexity and human nature, people who don't naturally seek to reduce problems to one simple solution, but relish the understanding of all aspects of a developing society and its people, and continue to want to understand it while development occurs and into the future. Not people who want to design a few silver bullets (unfortunately, scientific minds like my own sometimes have a tendency for such reductionism, but scientists are not all like that), and once they have been fired, retreat with a huge sense of relief that it is all over, and no need to worry any more, just sit back and listen to the good news rolling in.
So we need more caring local believers in complexity, but does money just corrupt anyway?

Simon said...

Hi Claire
Thanks for your comments. Perhaps I should do a 'Constant Gardener' on it. Yes, Gates doesn't believe in consulting potential recipients of aid or even those who suffer the most from underdevelopment. He believes in getting some handy anecdotes and paying some already well-off Africans (or just non-Americans) to front some of his Foundation's work. Maybe money corrupts, maybe not always, I don't know. But I've yet to see a development that doesn't require money!