AGRA Watch is a grassroots, Seattle-based group challenging the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s questionable agricultural programs in Africa, including its Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). The Gates Foundation and AGRA claim to be “pro-poor” and “pro-environment,” but their approach is closely aligned with transnational corporations, such as Monsanto, and foreign policy actors like USAID. They take advantage of food and global climate crises to promote high-tech, market-based, industrial agriculture and generate profits for corporations even while degrading the environment and dis-empowering farmers. Their programs are a form of philanthrocapitalism based on biopiracy.
CAGJ’s AGRA Watch project hosted the Africa-US Food Sovereignty Strategy Summit in Seattle October 10 – 14, 2014. The four-day meetings brought together a range of grassroots organizations, progressive funders, and international networks working towards food sovereignty in Africa and the United States.
And now the real work is beginning! Coming out of the Summit, the group decided to take on the Genetically Modified (GM) ‘Super Banana’ as one of their first issues. The GM banana is slated to be introduced in Uganda, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is currently funding feeding trials in Iowa to test the effects of this experimental new crop.
Hence, the GM banana offers a strategic opportunity to examine and intervene in a process that touches both Americans and Africans. This week, the organizations sent an Open Letter to the Gates Foundation opposing the feeding trials. See below for a press release issued on Dec. 9th, 2014. To learn more about this campaign, contact AGRA Watch.
The Open Letter is supported by more than 120 organizations from around the world. Farmers, advocates, consumers and other communities from the United States are represented, including the US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA), FoodFirst, AGRA Watch/Community Alliance for Global Justice and La Via Campesina North America, as well as many from Africa, Europe, Latin America, the United Kingdom, Asia and Australia. Dr. Vandana Shiva, Dr. Jeanne Koopman, Dr. Eva Navotny and Professor Joseph Cummins are among the prominent scientists and academics also supporting the Open Letter.
The GM banana human trials are funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and carried out by Iowa State University under the leadership of Dr. Wendy White. The human subjects of these trials are young female students from Iowa State University. Scientists at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia developed the GM banana, also with funds provided by the Gates Foundation. Touted as a ‘Super Banana’ the GM banana in question, has been genetically modified to contain extra beta-carotene, a nutrient the body uses to produce Vitamin A. The results of the human trials are designed to support the release the GM bananas into Ugandan farming and food systems. According to Iowa State University, “Vitamin A deficiency is a major public health problem in Uganda and other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and leads to decreased survival in children, impaired immune function and blindness.”
An outraged Bridget Mugambe, a Ugandan and AFSA Policy Advocate, says “Just because the GM banana has been developed in Australia and is being tested in the US, does not make it super! Ugandans know what is super because we have been eating homegrown GM-free bananas for centuries. This GM Banana is an insult to our food, to our culture, to us a nation, and we strongly condemn it.“
Iowa farmer George Naylor noted, “We’re told that GMOs are safe but we don’t even know if these genetically engineered bananas should be tested on humans. People who are malnourished need good food, not another public relations stint that clears the way for more corporate, patented, high-profit technologies.”
“As AFSA, we are vehemently opposed to GM crops. Africa and Africans should not be used as justification for promoting the interest of companies and their cohorts. We do not need GM crops in this changing climate. What we need is the diversity in our crops and the knowledge associated with them,” commented Dr. Million Belay, AFSA Coordinator.
AFSA, USFSA and others supporting the Open Letter have demanded that it be shared with the human subjects of the trials in the US.
Notes to Editors:
AFSA members include the African Biodiversity Network (ABN), the Coalition for the Protection of African Genetic Heritage (COPAGEN), Comparing and Supporting Endogenous Development (COMPAS) Africa, Friends of the Earth–Africa, Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC), Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Association, Eastern and Southern African Small Scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF), La Via Campesina Africa, FAHAMU, World Neighbours, Network of Farmers’ and Agricultural Producers’ Organizations of West Africa ( OPPA), Community Knowledge Systems (CKS) and Platforme Sous Regionale des Organisations Paysannes d’Afrique Centrale (PROPAC).
View documents accessed from Iowa State University.
“Don’t Ask How to Feed the 9 Billion” | 11/21/2014
Vandana Shiva and The New Yorker | 10/01/2014
“Stop the Spread of Transgenes” | 07/11/2014
“The Importance of Criticizing Philanthropy” | 06/09/2014