Wednesday, February 8, 2012
An article in The Citizen opens with the statement: "Tanzania will not make significant gains in its endeavours to eradicate poverty through increased agricultural productivity if the doors to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are not opened." It seems he was quoting the minister of agriculture, who is a professor of some kind, but is also quite uncertain about the population of Tanzania.
The minister wishes for "more efficient use of resources, enhanced food production and higher farm incomes" and other nice things. He notes that three quarters of the working population are only contributing to 27% of the gross domestic product and says that low productivity is associated with poor agronomic practices and limited use of improved seed, fertilisers as well as lack of sustainable control of pests and diseases".
But Justin Sandefur of the Center for Global Development takes quite a different view. He criticizes the Bill Gates annual letter for what the man has to say about research that his Foundation is funding in Tanzania, probably the same research the above minister is welcoming, certainly a similar kind of research. Sandefur is entitled to have a view on this as he carried out some agricultural research funded by the Foundation in Tanzania. Perhaps I was wrong in suggesting that Gates doesn't have advisers who have the balls to stand up to him; perhaps he just doesn't listen to them.
Gates' optimism about innovation being enough to lift Tanzanian farmers out of poverty is contrasted with the fact that people leaving agriculture altogether has been the main source of poverty reduction. Sandefur finds that innovation is not very popular and most farmers don't use modern farming technologies. And as income levels in agriculture are much lower than those outside of agriculture, leaving agriculture is probably the best way of reducing poverty levels. This has been a trend for some time, apparently.
Sadly, Sandefur doesn't have much to say about the kind of technology Gates is particularly interested in, GMOs. These were not developed with lifting Tanzanians, or anyone else, out of poverty in mind. They were designed so those who controlled them would also control the people who grow them and the land and water where they are grown. Those who produce the GMOs also produce the agricultural technologies. That's what Gates is attracted by; I don't understand why he keeps mentioning poverty and the like but I assume it's a form of spin.
Sandefur also takes Gates up on his use of the terms 'population bomb' and 'global food supply shortages'. But Gates and his views on population are infamous; he thinks there are too many people in the world; especially poor people, whom he believes should have fewer children. But as his flunkies should be able to tell him, local food shortages are not due to a lack of food. It's just that poor people can't afford it, especially if it's being grown for export, by foreigners, for a big profit, on land that has been taken from small farmers.
I agree with Sandefur that there are limits to technological fixes but not that Gates should continue with what he is doing. GMOs are destructive to the food supply, to food security, to the economy and to the environment. Other Gates technological fixes, such as in health, can also be destructive. If more people leave agriculture, that may improve conditions for GMOs to take over, as they need very large amounts of land, a lot of technology and very few employees. But this doesn't improve the prospects of those leaving agriculture, nor does it address the problems of poverty and underdevelopment for Tanzanians as a whole. People who are poor and whose income is stagnating will only become less and less able to afford what they need to survive.
Gates doesn't have a plan for all those who stand to lose out under his proposed GMO technocracy, which is all Tanzanians, whether they work in agriculture or not. But non-GMO agriculture is in a far better position to increase food supply, ensure food sovereignty, improve nutrition, protect the environment and provide various advantages without compromising the current, very weak economy. The minister of agriculture may not wish to turn down Gates' philanthrophy but there's a good reason why Gates wants to do things in Tanzania and it has nothing to do with improving the lives of Tanzanians.
For more about GM and non-GM crops, see GMWatch.