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Sign-on Letter to the Gates Foundation Sponsored by AGRA Watch/Community Alliance for Global Justice, La Via Campesina & Food First

Sign on your organization by sending an email to agrawatch@seattleglobaljustice.org

Dear Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,

Although we share a recognition that hunger, poverty, and climate change are inter-related through the medium of agricultural policies, we are writing to express our strong concerns that the Foundation's approach to these issues-directly and through its Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) subsidiary-is unlikely to adequately address them and may well aggravate their underlying causes. We note that your activities give a nod to agroecological methods, but believe your grant funding to be heavily distorted in favor of supporting inappropriate high-tech agricultural activities, thereby ignoring the many highly credible and comprehensive scientific studies that confirm the value of small-scale agroecological approaches. We are civil society organizations, farmers and farmer organizations, grassroots groups, health and consumer organizations, environmental groups, scientists, and academics, and we feel it is imperative to call your attention to the following bases for our concerns:

Many of the findings of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) are of particular relevance to your work in Africa. An unparalleled survey of global agriculture commissioned and funded by the UN and World Bank, the IAASTD was conducted with the participation of more than 400 international scientists and 58 governments. The resulting 2008 report frames hunger as a fundamentally social and economic problem and warns against reliance on high-tech solutions (including transgenic crops), which it asserts are more likely to exacerbate the social inequities and environmental degradation behind hunger than to solve it. More importantly, the IAASTD unequivocally concludes that feeding the hungry and protecting the environment will require moving away from industrial agriculture and GMOs and toward agroecological methods of farming. These results are echoed by the Rodale Institute's Farm System Trial (FST) project in the United States, which resoundingly established that organic crop yields rival chemical yields in years of average precipitation and surpass them in times of drought and flooding. Furthermore, the FST has proven that organic production is more energy efficient (30% less energy), creates more jobs (15% greater labor demand), and stores vast amounts of carbon in the soil (which industrially-farmed soil is unable to retain). We believe these results are relevant to African agriculture, as well.

Together, such studies provide compelling and definitive scientific evidence that only agroecological agriculture has the potential to revitalize rural economies, mitigate climate change and its effects, restore and preserve the environment, eradicate poverty, and provide healthy, culturally appropriate food for all. Yet instead of pursuing this potential, we believe the Foundation is mistakenly funding an antiquated thrust to industrialize agriculture in Africa-including chemical fertilizers, pesticides, monocropping of "improved" and genetically engineered (GE) crop varieties, further deregulation of trade, and regulatory frameworks that will privatize seed-which science and historical precedent indicate will come at the expense of the hungry, small farmers, consumer health, and the environment. Patented agro-chemicals, seed, and GE products are both environmentally harmful and expensive. Combined with the aggressive expansion of intellectual property rights, which facilitate corporate rather than farmer control of inputs, corporations stand to gain far more than small farmers. Similarly, trade liberalization in recent decades has been catastrophic for small farmers. Ultimately, this package will drive many small-scale farmers into debt, off their land, and into urban slums with no employment opportunities-a recipe for increased corporate profits and hunger, not food security.

We also find the Foundation's involvement in GE research and development and lobbying for its use in Africa to be particularly problematic and misguided; indeed, GE is a largely problematic science. Considerable independent research demonstrates some of the risks GE poses to the environment, agricultural systems, and human health, while many consequences still remain insufficiently researched (often due to pressure from the biotech industry). Yet in spite of known and unknown threats, the development, commercialization, patenting, and distribution of GE seed continue at an alarming pace, with little or no public knowledge or participation. The merits of GE as a technology are also unproven.  Evaluation of research and actual productivity in commercial operation has shown that there have been no intrinsic increases in yield and further that any gains in productivity of GMO crops have been short termed at best.   In fact, genetic contamination of indigenous varieties poses an enormous threat to already declining biodiversity-the foundation of resilient traditional and organic farming systems that promise real solutions to contemporary problems.

To reach our shared goal of a future without hunger, we believe the Foundation should direct its funding to agroecological research and programs and provide assistance to farmer organizations, governments, and international institutions in support of agroecological agriculture in Africa. Scientific research has proven their superior potential, and now you are positioned to contribute to their expansion. For your efforts to be successful, however, the Foundation must listen to the voices of small farmers, farmer organizations, consumer groups, and other civil society organizations in Africa who will be most impacted by your work and who are most familiar with their own problems and how best to solve them. To date, the extent of your consultation and collaboration with Africans has been limited to those who belong to elite strata of society or are involved in only large-scale projects, while just three individuals control the issuing of AGRA grants.

Instead, your funding decisions and strategies should be determined through a real and open consultation with African communities and farmer organizations in accordance with the principles of food sovereignty-a framework being embraced throughout the world which asserts the right of peoples to define and control their own food and agriculture systems.  To increase accountability, the Foundation should consider contributing to grant makers independent of governments and foundations such as the trust fund being considered by the United Nations under the auspices of the Committee on World Food Security, which would then issue grants to farmers and projects.

At this time when food issues and growing world hunger are becoming central international concerns, increasing numbers of people in the US and across the globe are mobilizing to strengthen local food systems and transform the currently dysfunctional global food regime. We urge the Gates Foundation to rethink its role in the efforts to eradicate hunger and to work in collaboration with people on the ground in order to bring about a world that will better provide for future generations. We will be watching your work with great interest, as well as continuing to support the self-determination of African peoples on these issues.

Sincerely,

The Organic Consumers Association

This Sign-on letter is the companion to an online petition to the Foundation, "Tell The Gates Foundation to Support Real Solutions to Hunger!" Individuals may sign the petition at Change.org - click here! Please note: If you reside outside the US, sign the petition at  Change.org or look for the link "Outside the US?" on the AGRA Watch website.