Kamalakar Duvvuru of Dissident Voice
The Ecologist, 26 June 2009
How do you get your GM crops and herbicides into countries that don't want and can't afford them? Simple - you just wait for a crisis, and offer a helping hand...
Over a period of several years, biotech giant Monsanto has worked very hard to build its image as a champion of the poor. To legitimise this image it has engaged in a high profile effort through giving grants to some established NGOs such as the World Vision.
Monsanto established 'Monsanto Fund' in 1964 as the charitable arm of the company. It states that 'our philanthropic goal has been to bridge the gap between people’s needs and their available resources. We want to help people realize their dreams, and hopefully inspire them to enroll others in their vision.'
Monsanto has also Monsanto Fund Matching Gifts Program. This programme 'gives permanent Monsanto employees and active members of the Monsanto Board of Directors an opportunity to join Monsanto Fund’s support of not-for-profit institutions.' Monsanto makes it candid that the request for support of an NGO is honoured 'if the recipient organization adheres to the guidelines of the Matching Gifts Program.'
'Eligible organizations include, but are not limited to: Colleges and universities, private and public elementary and secondary schools, organizations that serve youth, museums, libraries, health and human service agencies, environmental, community and cultural organizations.' World Vision is one of the recipients of the 'matching gifts'.
Monsanto’s philanthropic activities are meant to not only improve its image, but also provide key relationships. It understands better than anyone that relationships, partnerships and network are the key for success of the company.
On November 1, 2006, in his 2006 IBM lecture at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, on 'Sabina Xhosa and the New Shoes: Introducing Technologies into Developing Countries', Hugh Grant, Chairman, President, and CEO of Monsanto, focused on agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa. He took Malawi as a model, where agriculture is the primary industry. According to Grant, 'seventy-two percent of the people’s caloric intake depends on maize, or corn.' Maize or corn is the staple food in most Sub-Sahara African countries.
Monsanto was seeking a foothold in the Sub-Sahara Africa. Grant said:
'We haven’t broken through in Africa in any of the Sub-Sahara African countries. So what do we need? We need one African country to say yes. One African country to start field trials. We need to start the field trials and start testing this in African soil, and at Monsanto we’re ready to work with an array of partners to make happen.'
Waiting to strike
The rights time for Monsanto came with the arrival of severe drought in Malawi in 2004. Any predator looks for a vulnerable prey. Malawi, after the drought, was just the kind of prey companies like Monsanto look for.
According to Grant, Monsanto held 'a discussion with relief organizations, non-government organizations, the Malawi government, and some of the relief agencies, particularly an agency called World Vision. We got together and said this is going to keep on happening unless we take a different approach. And that’s what we did.'
On December 20, 2005 Monsanto announced its intention to donate 700 metric tons of 'quality hybrid maize seeds' to farmers in Malawi. This 'high quality seed' was 'donated' to the farmers through 'some of the NGOs and government and relief agencies working on delivery and distribution systems.'
U.S. Ambassador to Malawi Alan Eastham praised Monsanto for its donation. He said, 'The donation of hybrid seed to local farmers will potentially have a significant impact on the quality of next year’s harvest and represents the best tradition of socially responsible giving by the U.S. private sector.'
A representative of World Vision Malawi, one of seven members of the NGO consortium, said, 'This donation is addressing both the short-term and the long-term needs of the people in Malawi, and fits very well with our programs in this country.'
The nexus between the US government and Monsanto is evident by not only the statement of the US Ambassador to Malawi, but also a highly positive report given by Charles Corey, Washington File Staff Writer. The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, US Department of State (Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov).
It seems pretty clear that Monsanto’s 'donation' of seeds to Malawi farmers through its partners like the World Vision was to get a foothold in the Sub-Sahara Africa. But what are its interests?
A poisoned chalice...
Monsanto pledges 'Growth for a Better World':
'We want to make the world a better place for future generations,' its website claims.
Increased yields are the core of this agenda. To achieve this Monsanto provides 'the products and systems' to farmers. Its main product is Roundup herbicide. Monsanto also produces GM seeds. The GM crop is resistant to the herbicide, Roundup, offering farmers a convenient way to spray fields with weed killer without affecting crops. These are known as Roundup Ready Crops. The genes contained in the GM seeds are patented.
Patenting means that farmers who buy GM seeds enter into a licensing agreement with Monsanto for the use of that particular gene. They are forbidden from saving seeds for the next season. They must buy new seed from the company each season. This denies farmers’ right to save seed. The implications of this are huge for poor farmers. Saved seed is the one resource that the poor farmers depend upon to carry them through the year. Denial of this right will greatly impact them economically, as they have to pay more each season to buy new seed. Although Monsanto purports to help farmers 'improve their lives' through the supply of GM seed, the reality is that it places unbearable economic burden on the poor farmers. Teresa Anderson says, 'Social and economic risks from GM crops are equally weighty. They will increase dependence on outside technologies, marginalize farmers from R&D, and consequently exacerbate the social and economic difficulties”¦.'
The implications of patenting of the gene in the GM seed go further than forbidding seed saving. If a GM crop cross-pollinates with a neighboring crop through the movement of wind, insects, birds, or accidental seed mixing, the neighboring harvest would be likely to carry the patented gene also. Monsanto could then claim that the neighboring farm has infringed their patent. The farmer, who was unintentionally contaminated by somebody else’s GM crop, would be breaking the law if he saved his seed and planted it. Monsanto goes after farmers, farmers’ co-ops, seed dealers or anyone it suspects may have infringed its patents of genetically modified seeds. Ever since commercial introduction of its GM seeds, in 1996, Monsanto has launched thousands of investigations and filed lawsuits against hundreds of farmers and seed dealers.
All this boils down to one dreadful outcome: Monsanto controlling much of the world’s food supply. Control of food supply leads to control of people.
Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds have transformed the company and are radically altering global agriculture. The company has produced GM seeds for soybeans, corn, canola and cotton. More products have been developed or are in the pipeline, including seeds for sugar beets and alfalfa. The company is also seeking to extend its reach into milk production by marketing an artificial growth hormone for cows that increases their output.
On April 25, 2009 Monsanto announced in India a special fellowship programme for research on rice and wheat plant breeding. Under the programme, the company will allocate $10 million to encourage young Ph.D. scholars to pursue their research in rice and wheat breeding. Edward Runge, Director of Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program, told that the company was looking at attracting students from India and China, two of the fastest growing economies and the largest populated countries. In these nations, rice and wheat are not cash crops; they are staple foods.
This is an edited version of a longer article, reprinted with kind permission of Dissident Voice newsletter. Read the full version here.