The Gates Foundation puts a new spin on altruism

Amy Leech - 19 July 2012

Field of wheatIt didn’t come as a surprise to hear that billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates had decided to throw £6.4 million at a problem that doesn’t need solving. Bill’s spent all his life looking for quick technical fixes - why change the habit of a lifetime for the sake of a bit of common sense?

No seriously, thanks Bill. On behalf of the UK Government and the GM companies - thank you. Because our cash strapped researchers (who are already getting just £42m from the UK taxpayers) and 'our short of just about everything' Government, really need your support. We’re desperate to lead in scientific research you see, it’ll help us get out of the recession. And as for the GM companies, they can’t afford to do their own research, so it’s great that you’re paying for it for them.

It’s an interesting spin on altruism Bill. Giving money to the well fed, so they can make even more from the hungry by selling them a ‘solution’ to problem that doesn’t exist.

Scientist: “Let’s create a crop that fixes nitrogen from the air”

Scientist 2: “Haven’t legumes been doing it for years?”

Scientist 1: “Shhh”

Scientist 2: “But rotation crops help keep pests at bay too, so it helps support pesticide and fertiliser free farming”

Scientist 1: “We’re in the business of finding a problem to fit our theoretical solution. If you accept there are no problems to solve we’ll be out of a job.”

The IAASTD report, which involved 400 scientists and has been approved by over 60 countries, re-affirmed that farmers don’t need new, different or expensive seeds to feed the world. A more recently published UN report found that agroecological methods increase yields and household incomes using locally available and low cost inputs, resources, and knowledge. It concluded: “organic agriculture can be more conducive to food security in Africa than most conventional production systems”.

I met a farmer called Charles from Uganda last week. He, with help from Send a Cow, had learnt to feed himself, his family and the local community by farming using locally available and cheap inputs. He doesn’t need or want artificial fertilisers or pesticides; he uses manure and crop rotations to build fertility and fight pests: “I feed my soil, and it feeds me” he said. All he needed was knowledge.

Charles is looking to build a community learning centre, where he’ll teach others to grow food like he does. Charles is technically shooting himself in the foot. By teaching his community to grow he’ll reduce his own income from ‘farm gate’ sales. The only people that stand to profit from his generosity are his community, who will leave equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to feed themselves.

Charles could teach Bill a lesson or two – in altruism, and growing food.

Amy is Research Assistant at the Soil Association.

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Kenneth Dickson
19 August 2012 09:54

I heard of a honey farmer in Germany who had to dispose of his crop since the bees had taken nectar from GM crops. Well - you can NOT control where your bees are going to fly! As a small scale guy with bees I really felt for him, there is little discussion of this threat to our environment.

s kirkpatrick
16 August 2012 16:38

Earlier this year, the Gateses purchased a great number of shares in Monsanto. This company has no benevolent interest in feeding the poor, or it would have not sold GM seed to millions of Asian farmers, many of whom have committed suicide because they have been forced to continue buying seed rather than saving their own. The link between the Gates Foundation and this company makes frightening levels of control over population and food. Small, independent, organic is surely the way to go.

Keith Dancey
16 August 2012 15:00

I think the Soil Association (and Amy) have lost the argument, here. There is no science in inventing specious arguments: "Scientist 1: “Shhh”" Really? How dumbed-down is that? Dr Coupland has touched on the root of the problem facing humanity: uncontrolled human expansion. That is a critical issue which needs to be dealt with, because the planet cannot indefinitely sustain our current population, let alone an increasing one. The problem with GM is that it can be either benign or malicious. I think the Soil Association needs to discriminate between these, and support benign research. Making a suitable cereal leguminous is a worthy research aim. But having said that, it is still not the long-term solution to the problem alluded to by Dr Coupland, so population control also has to be addressed. Leguminous cereals simply alleviate the future loss of oil. And such cereals which also naturally repel aphids, also alleviate the loss of oil. There is an environmental benefit to be gained here. But GM crops which are tied to the commercial interests of oil-based pesticide manufacturers are MALICIOUS and need to be exposed and opposed.

16 August 2012 14:42

Complimentary medicine is claimed to be unsafe despite years of feedback from successful treatments. However, these same scientists are willing to take a complete gamble on the unknown long term effects of changing the gene pool. Clearly, money speaks louder than reasonable thought.

Dr. Philip Coupland
16 August 2012 14:08

Although the motivations of the Gates’ Foundation are in themselves worthy, it seems to me that their action in this case is – perhaps ironically – short-sighted. The GM technology concerned is cutting edge in itself, but ultimately will be just another patch to keep an ultimately doomed system afloat a little while longer. It would be wiser to fund research that looks beyond liberal capitalism’s dependence on ever widening consumption and continual growth to an ecologically sustainable economy, at the centre of a wholesome and joyful society. Organic research has historically been starved of funds, major support from bodies like the Gates’ Foundation could make a dramatic contribution to the long-term common good.

Prof. M.S.C
16 August 2012 13:04

My wife and I support the Soil Association in a variety of ways. With that in mind it is distressing to read this Blog post. While we agree with aim of Amy's critique, styling the engagement as a rant rather than a thoroughly reasoned argument only harms the Soil Association and the efforts to combat this sort of investment. If the organic position is perceived to stand on such emotional grounds then its aims are very easy to dismiss by investors, scientists, and the governments that rely upon logic rather than sentiment.

kathy sutton
16 August 2012 10:13

It is an absolute no brainer, natural is best, we've been doing it for years, centuries, decades, generation after generation. What a shame Bill isn't on the other side, with all that money and power he could really make a difference in the right way. Great blog. KAthy

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