In a decision outraging campaigners for food sovereignty and agroecological approaches, the Gates Foundation has awarded a $10 million grant to develop genetically modified (GM) crops for use in sub-Saharan Africa.
The grant is for the John Innes Centre in Norwich, which hopes to engineer seeds for corn, wheat and rice that will fix nitrogen (take nitrogen from the air) so that the crops would not need fertilizers. But GM Freeze, which campaigns against GM food, crops and patents, says that "nitrogen fixing wheat and other cereals have been promised by the GM industry for several decades" and that other, non-GM methods are the solution. Pete Riley, campaign director GM Freeze, adds that "GM is failing to deliver."
This approach sets up a highly profitable scenario for seed makers, as farmers would be reliant upon these companies to continue buying their seeds, and would not be able to save the patented, modified seeds.
Commenting on the Gates Foundation grant, Mariam Mayet of the African Centre for Biosafety in South Africa said: "GM nitrogen fixing crops are not the answer to improving the fertility of Africa's soils. African farmers are the last people to be asked about such projects. This often results in the wrong technologies being developed, which many farmers simply cannot afford. We need methods that we can control aimed at building up resilient soils that are both fertile and able to cope with extreme weather. We also want our knowledge and skills to be respected and not to have inappropriate solutions imposed on us by distant institutions, charitable bodies or governments."
Speaking to Bill Moyers on Moyers & Company, eco-activist Vandana Shiva said that Bill Gates is "so totally wrong on this assumption that genetically modified seeds produce more. In India, Monsanto came in with a claim of 1,500 kilograms of cotton per acre with their genetically engineered cotton. The average yields are 400 kilograms. Our studies show that. The government studies confirm this."