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Gates Foundation Should Step Away from Funding Genetically Modified Crops in Africa

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page and our Millions Against Monsanto page.

AS California voters consider Prop. 37 to require businesses to label genetically modified food, people should consider that the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is funding research to develop genetically modified crops around the world instead of more natural products.

In June, the foundation granted $9.8 million to British scientists at the John Innes Centre to investigate whether a symbiosis of cereal crops and bacteria could be genetically modified to fix atmospheric nitrogen.

This Gates grant does not support locally defined priorities, it does not fit within the holistic approach urged by many development experts, and it does not investigate the long-term effectiveness and risks of genetic modification. The choice of a high-risk, high-tech project over more modest but effective agricultural techniques is problematic, offering no practical solutions for the present and near-future concerns of the people who run small farms.

Affiliated researchers have acknowledged that the research is exploratory and uncertain, but have also claimed that such crops would be environmentally sustainable and more affordable for small farms in sub-Saharan Africa, reducing the use of costly nitrogen fertilizer.

Katherine Kahn, senior program officer of agricultural development at the Gates Foundation, stated, "We need innovation for farmers to increase their productivity in a sustainable way so that they can lift themselves and their families out of poverty. Improving access to nitrogen could dramatically boost the crop yields of farmers in Africa." 

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