How does the Gates Foundation spend its money to feed the world?

How does the Gates Foundation spend its money to feed the world?

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At some point in June of this year, the total amount awarded as grants to food and agriculture projects by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation exceeded $ 3 billion. This marked an important milestone. From being no one on the agricultural scene less than a decade ago, the Gates Foundation has emerged as one of the largest donors to agricultural research and development.

The Gates Foundation is possibly, as has never been seen, the largest philanthropic endeavor. He currently maintains a $ 40 billion fund, raised mostly from Gates' own wealth and from his billionaire friend Warren Buffet. The Foundation has a staff of more than 1,200 people and has provided over $ 30 billion in donations since its inception in 2000, 3.6 billion in 2013 alone.2 Most donations are for global health and educational work programs in the United States, traditionally the Foundation's priority areas. But in 2006-07, the foundation massively expanded its funding for agriculture, launching the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and a series of large grants to the international agricultural research system (CGIAR). . In 2007 it spent over half a billion dollars on agricultural projects and funding has kept it close to this level. The vast majority of the foundation's agricultural donations are focused on Africa.

Spending such amounts of money gives the foundation great influence over agricultural research and development agendas. As the weight of the foundation's interest in partnering with the tech sector and the private sector has begun to be felt in the global concert of agriculture, it has sparked controversy and opposition, particularly over its work in Africa. Critics say the Gates Foundation is promoting and importing models of industrial agriculture based on the seeds and high-tech chemicals sold by US corporations. These criticisms point out that the foundation is obsessed with the work of scientists in centralized laboratories who prefer to ignore the knowledge and biodiversity that small farmers in Africa have developed and maintained for generations. Some also denounce that the Gates Foundation is using the money to impose a political agenda in Africa, accusing the foundation of direct intervention in highly controversial issues such as seed laws and GMOs.

GRAIN reviewed the foundation's financial records, available to the public, to see if actual money flows support these criticisms. We swept through all the donations for agriculture that the Gates Foundation gave between 2003 and September 20143. We organized donation recipients into large groups (see table 2) and built a database, which can be Downloaded from the site (in English only) as an Excel or PDF spreadsheet. 4.

These are some of the conclusions that we were able to obtain from the data.

1. The Gates Foundation fights hunger in the South by giving money to the North.

Figure 1 provides the complete picture. Almost half of the donations from the foundation for agriculture go to large groups: the CGIAR agricultural research network, international organizations (World Bank, United Nations agencies, etc.), AGRA (created by Gates himself) and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF). The other half ended up in hundreds of different research, development, and policy organizations throughout the world. Of the latter group, over 80% of the donations were given to organizations in the United States and Europe, 10% to groups in Africa, and the rest elsewhere. The first countries where Gates beneficiaries are located are, by a great distance from the others, the main recipient country is the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands.

When it comes to the foundation's agricultural donations to universities and national research centers around the world, 79% went to recipients in the United States and Europe and a meager 12% to recipients in Africa.

The North-South divide is more alarming, however, when you look at the NGOs that the Gates Foundation supports. One would assume that a significant proportion of the frontline work that the foundation funds in Africa would be done by organizations based in Africa. But of the $ 669 million that the Gates Foundation has given to nongovernmental organizations for agricultural work, more than 75% has gone to organizations based in the United States. Africa-based NGOs receive a scant 4% of total agriculture-related grants given to NGOs.

2. The Gates Foundation gives to scientists, not farmers.

As can be seen in Figure 2, the largest individual recipient of Gates Foundation grants is the CGIAR, a consortium of 15 international agricultural research centers. In the 1960s and 1970s, these centers were responsible for the development and dissemination of the controversial agricultural model of the Green Revolution in parts of Asia and Latin America, which focused on the mass distribution of a few varieties of seeds that could produce high yields. - with the generous application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Efforts to implement the same model in Africa failed and, globally, the CGIAR lost relevance as corporations such as Syngenta and Monsanto took control over the seed market. Money from the Gates Foundation is giving the CGIAR and its Green Revolution a new life, this time in direct partnership with the seed and pesticide companies.5

The CGIAR centers have received more than $ 720 million from Gates since 2003. During the same period, another $ 678 million went to universities and national research centers around the world - more than three-quarters of them in the United States and Europe - for research and development of specific technologies, such as crop varieties and techniques. improvement.

The Gates Foundation's support for AGRA and AATF is closely tied to their research agenda. These organizations seek, in different ways, to facilitate CGIAR research and other research programs supported by the Gates Foundation and to ensure that the technologies that will emerge from the laboratories reach the farmers' fields. AGRA trains farmers in how to use these technologies and even organizes them into groups for better access to the technology, but it does not support farmers to develop their own seed systems or do their own research.6

We could find no evidence of any Gates Foundation support for farmer-led or farmer-based technology research or development programs, despite the multitude of initiatives that exist across the continent (African Peasants, after of all, they continue to provide an estimated 90% of the seed used in the continent!) The foundation has consistently preferred to put its money in vertical structures for the generation and flow of knowledge, where farmers are simple recipients of technologies developed in laboratories and sold by companies.

3. The Gates Foundation buys political influence.

Does the Gates Foundation use your money to tell African governments what to do? Not directly. The Gates Foundation established the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa in 2006 and has supported it with $ 414 million since then. He holds two seats on the Council of the Alliance and describes it as “The African face and voice of our work” 7.

AGRA, like the Gates Foundation, provides grants for research programs. It also finances agribusiness initiatives and companies operating in Africa to develop private seed and fertilizer markets by supporting “agro-distributors” (see box on Malawi). However, an important component of this work is shaping policy.

AGRA is directly involved in the formulation and review of agricultural policies and regulations in Africa on issues such as land and seeds. It does this through “national nodes of experts in political action”, selected by AGRA, who work to advocate for certain policy changes. For example, in Ghana, AGRA's Node for Political Action on Seeds drafted the reviews of the national seed policy and presented it to the government. The Ghana Food Sovereignty Network has fought these policies intensely since the government launched them. In Mozambique, AGRA's Seed Policy Action Node drafted the regulation on plant variety protection in 2013 and in Tanzania it reviewed national seed policies and presented a study on the demand for certified seeds. Also in Tanzania, the Land Policy Action Node is involved in the revision of the Village Land Act as well as the 'review of laws regulating land titles at the district level and worked closely with district officials to develop guidelines for the formulation of statutes. ”8

The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) is another organization supported by the Gates Foundation, which rides into the territories of technology and public policy. Since 2008 it has received $ 95 million from the Gates Foundation, which has been used to support the development and distribution of hybrid corn and rice varieties. But it also uses Gates Foundation funds to "positively change public perceptions" about GMOs and to lobby for regulatory changes that will increase the adoption of GMOs in Africa.9

In a similar vein, the Gates Foundation provides Harvard University with the funds to promote the discussion on biotechnology in Africa, the University of Michigan supports it with a grant to establish a center to help those who define public policies decide how make better use of biotechnologies and Cornell University, with funding to create a global “agricultural communication platform” so that people can better understand science-based agricultural technologies, with AATF as its primary partner.


Gates and AGRA in Malawi: organizing agro-distributors

One of AGRA's core programs in Africa is the establishment of networks of “agro-distributors”: small private distributors who sell chemicals and seeds to farmers. In Malawi, AGRA provided US $ 4.3 million in grants to the Malawi Agro-distributors Strengthening Program (MASP) to supply hybrid maize seeds and chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

The main supplier for agro-distributors in Malawi has been Monsanto, responsible for 67% of all inputs. A Monsanto national manager revealed that all of Monsanto's sales of seeds and herbicides in Malawi were made through AGRA's network of agro-distributors.

"Agro-distributors act as channels to promote products from input suppliers," says one of the MASP project documents. Another indicates: "The supplier companies have expressed their appreciation for the field days because the agro-distributors who train are helping them promote their products in very remote areas of Malawi." The training of agro-distributors in the knowledge of the products is carried out by the companies that supply the products. In addition, these agro-distributors are increasingly the source of crop advice for small farmers and an alternative to government extension service.

A project evaluation report establishes that 44% of the agro-distributors in the program were providing extension services. According to the World Bank: "Agro-distributors have… become the most important extension node for the rural poor… A new form of extension driven by the private system is emerging in these countries."

The agro-distributors project in Malawi has been implemented by CNFA, ​​a United States organization funded by the Gates Foundation, USAID and DFID, and its local affiliate the Rural Market Development Trust (RUMARK), whose controllers include four seed and chemical suppliers: Monsanto, Seed Co, Farmers World and the Farmers Association.

Adapted from "The hunger games" by War on Want, London, 2012


Listening to the farmers?

“Listening to farmers and addressing their specific needs” is the main guiding principle guiding the Gates Foundation's work in agriculture.10 But it's hard to listen to someone when you can't hear them. The peasants of Africa do not participate in the spaces where agendas are set by agricultural research institutions, NGOs or initiatives such as AGRA that the Gates Foundation supports. These spaces are dominated by representatives of the foundation, high-level politicians, business executives and scientists.

Listening to someone, if this has any real significance, must also include the attempt to learn. But nowhere in the programs funded by the Gates Foundation is there any indication that they believe that African farmers have something to teach, that they have something to contribute to research, development and public policy agendas. The farmers of the continent are always considered as the recipients, the consumers of knowledge and technology from others. In practice, the main guiding principle guiding the foundation appears to be a commercialization exercise to sell its technologies to farmers. In this, and not surprisingly, it looks a lot like Microsoft.


Investing without your left hand knowing what your right is doing

In September 2014, Rockefeller's heirs decided to follow some of their philanthropic peers and withdrew, citing moral reasons, their foundations' money invested in fossil fuels. Also Gates, whose foundations own about $ 700 million in Exxon, BP and Shell stock, has been under pressure to make their investments more socially responsible.11

In 2007, the Los Angeles Times revealed that hundreds of Gates Foundation investments - totaling at least $ 8.7 billion, or 41% of its assets - were in companies operating against the charitable goals or social philosophy of its foundation. . Soon after, the foundation announced a review of its investment assets to assess its social responsibility. This review, however, was quickly thrown away and the foundation decided to maintain an investment policy with a maximum return.12

The foundation, however, stated that “when educating investment managers, Bill and Melinda also consider other issues beyond corporate profits, including the values ​​that drive the foundation's work.” 13

It's hard to see what this means when it comes to your food and agriculture program. The Gates Foundation maintains that "access to diverse and nutritious food is critical to good health," but its food-related investments are exclusively for the fast food industry. Neither more nor less than US $ 3.1 billion were invested in companies such as Coca Cola, McDonald's, Pepsico, Burger King and KFC in 2012. The foundation has a billion dollars tied to the world's largest supermarket chain, Walmart, the which is one of the main causes of the displacement of small farmers and their replacement by large distributors.14 The Gates Foundation has also purchased $ 23 million in shares of Monsanto, the world's leading producer of GM crops.15


1 Gates Foundation website. Agricultural Development, strategic overview.

2 Gates Foundation website, Foundation Fact Sheet.

3 We used the donations database on the Gates Foundation website and analyzed the donations that appear on the ‘Agricultural Development’ list, 610 donations totaling US $ 3,110,591,382. (The database was last accessed on October 7, 2014:

4 The database is in spreadsheet format and can be downloaded here.

5 For discussions on Gates and the CGIAR, see: SciDevNet, “Are Gates and CGIAR a good mix for Africa?”, 2010.

6 Several very good reviews of AGRA already exist and we do not want to repeat them here. See, for example, African Center for Biosafety, “AGRA: laying the groundwork for the commercialization of African agriculture”, by Food First, “Out of AGRA: the Green Revolution returns to Africa ”, 2008; GRAIN, "A new Green Revolution for Africa?" 2007 and others.

7 From the Gates Foundation Agricultural Development Strategy, 20018-2011, quoted in Phil Bereano and Travis English, “Looking in a gift horse’s mouth”, in: TWN, Third World Resurgence, Penang, 2010.

8 On the Nodes of Political Action, see: AGRA 2013 Annual Report. For information on Food Sovereignty Ghana:

9 Many of these activities are carried out by the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB), created by AATF in 2006 to achieve “an increase in the adoption of genetically modified products in Africa and the rest of the world” , See:

10 Gates Foundation website, “Agricultural Development, strategic overview”.

11 Figures based on tax returns in 2012, reported in Alex Park and Laeah Leet, “The Gates Foundation’s hypocritical investments,” Mother Jones, December 6, 2013.

12 Charles Piller, Edmund Sanders and Robyn Dixon, “Dark cloud over good works of Gates Foundation,” Los Angeles Times, January 7, 2007

13 Gates Foundation website, “Our investment policy”.

14 Figures based on 2012 tax returns, reported in Alex Park and Laeah Leet, “The Gates Foundation’s hypocritical investments,” Mother Jones, December 6, 2013.

15 John Vidal, “Why is the Gates foundation investing in GM giant Monsanto?”, Guardian, September 29, 2010.

GRAIN would like to thank Camila Oda Montecinos for her help in consolidating the database and graphic materials.


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