COMMENT by Glenn Ashton in South Africa: Bill may be a smart computer wonk but he just does not get it re the new green revolution. In fact, he shows surprising ignorance, or perhaps his belief in technology creates a blind spot in his particular vision.
His portrayal of this whole process as being threatened by a turf war "between groups who disregard environmental concerns and groups who discount productivity gains could thwart major breakthroughs that are within reach," is extremely naive. He goes on further to say that we need both productivity and sustainability. Why then does he continue down the high tech, GM seed route, which has not shown or proven a single case of consistently increased yields to date, and not give proper credence to the numerous farming methods being developed in the regions in which he is working that have been shown to markedly increase yields while also improving sustainability?
The only reason that would explain this blind spot in a man who is by all accounts not stupid, is that he has been poorly informed, or perhaps more relevantly, misinformed. Who has misinformed him? Given that he has apparently pitted the GM crowd against the agro-ecological crowd it would appear that it is yet again the purveyors and supporters of GM technology and biotechnology as saviour cheerleaders, led by the Florence Wambugus and other vested interests like AfricaBio, who have been telling fairy stories about the success of GM technology and how it will save the world. Given how much of his money he has given to these players, it would seem that this conclusion is well founded.
I think that what Bill needs is a new set of advisors so he at least stops putting out press reports and 'vison' statements that make him look like a fool.
GMWatch's suggested reading for Bill Gates:
"Genetic engineering - a crop of hyperbole", Doug Gurian-Sherman, San Diego Union Tribune, 18 June 2008, http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20080618/news_lz1e18gurian.html
"Feeding the world?", Prof Jules Pretty, SPLICE, Vol. 4 Issue 6
"Organic farming 'could feed Africa' - report", Daniel Howden, The Independent, 22 October 2008
"Is ecological agriculture productive?", Lim Li Ching, Third World Network, November 2008
"IAASTD Report: GM crops not the solution to World Hunger", Fr. Sean McDonagh, SSC, Impact Mag vol.42 no.6, June 2008, http://www.scribd.com/doc/3804302/Impact-Mag-vol42no06
"Biotech has bamboozled us all", George Monbiot, The Guardian, 24 August 2000
Des Moines Register, October 15 2009
In what was billed as his first major speech on agriculture, Gates chided critics who he said are "instantly hostile to any emphasis on productivity” and ignore the challenges to food production posed by climate change.
"They act as if there is no emergency, even though in the poorest, hungriest places on earth, population is growing faster than productivity, and the climate is changing," Gates said, giving the keynote speech at the World Food Prize symposium.
Gates said transgenic crops "can help address farmers' challenges faster and more efficiently than conventional breeding alone."
His foundation has committed about $1.4 billion to agricultural development, with about 5 percent of that targeted to biotechnology projects, including one focused on developing drought-tolerant corn for us in east Africa. Gates said the seeds would be licensed royalty free to distributors so that there won't be any extra cost to farmers. The seeds could allow farmers to increase corn production by 2 million tons a year during a moderate drought, he said.
"Of course, these technologies must be subject to rigorous scientific review to ensure they are safe and effective,” Gates said. "It's the responsibility of the governments, farmers and citizens, informed by great science, to choose the best and safest way to help feed their countries."
Gates emphasized that his foundation is trying to address the needs of poor, smallholder farmers and working with their governments and other local institutions. He said it also is important to avoid the environmental degradation linked with the Green Revolution that took place in the 1960s when increased use of fertilizer and pesticides helped increase crop production in Asia.
The next green revolution “must be guided by smallholder farmers, adapted to local circumstances and sustainable for the economy and the environment.”
But he went on to cite a climate-related Stanford University study that predicted that farmers in southern Africa will lose 25 percent of their productivity with corn if they continuing growing the same varieties they do now.
“The charge is clear,” Gates said. “We have to develop crops that can grow in a drought; that can survive in a flood; that can resist pests and disease. We need higher yields on the same land in harsher weather. And we will never get that without a continuous and urgent science-based search to increase productivity, especially in the developing world.”
After his speech, Gates took questions from the 2009 World Food Prize laureate, Purdue University agronomist Gebisa Ejeta, a native of Ethiopia who developed varieties of sorghum that are more tolerant to drought and weeds.
Gates said other technologies in addition to transgenic seeds also could be helpful to poor farmers, including milk pasteurization and animal vaccines.
“We’re trying to get these smallholders to have twice as much output at a time when the climate is going to make that more difficult for them to achieve,” Gates said.