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Poverty in Africa: GMO’s and the Gates foundation

For many decades, the African continent has been at the center of analysis when it comes to poverty. The Worldbank established in its 2016 report on “Poverty in Africa” that the share of people living under $1.90 a day (2011 PPP), which is the poverty line calculated by the Worldbank, decreased from 57% in 1990 to 43% in 2012. This figure might seem encouraging, however, the number of poor people has on the contrary increased by more than 100 million over the same period (https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/22575) . Furthermore, 23 African countries are unlikely to meet the millennium development goals by 2015 which aims at eradicating extreme poverty (http://www.economist.com/node/10177981). Those figures are not as optimistic as one would want and this is why international concern has increased.

The $1.90 a day poverty line is here interesting to highlight; indeed people living under this line will not have enough resources to live decently and eat properly. This problem has thus been at the center of attention for many years by the United Nations and private/public Associations. Since the international community has failed to drastically improve the African conditions and avoid malnutrition and famine on the continent, many private and non-profitable organizations have tried to help Africans for basic needs. This is the case of the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation which targets poverty in Africa by trying to improve the agriculture conditions on the continent. This small blog-post analyzes the Gates foundation and assesses its effectiveness on the African Continent.

The Gates foundation started in 2006 and has since tried to improve conditions of farming on the African continent by helping small farmers who produce Africa’s food by helping them improve the soil quality, the water supply, and the quality of seeds (http://www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Resources/Grantee-Profiles/Grantee-Profile-Alliance-for-a-Green-Revolution-in-Africa-AGRA). This organization is called the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and was launched in joint relations with UN secretary-general Koffi Annan in 2006 in order to reduce famines in Africa. However many problems have been raised against this project in its effectivity to help local farmers.

First of all, the AGRA project increased the gap between small and big famers on the continent. Indeed, the promotion of industrial agriculture, the use of chemical fertilizers and expensive patented seeds often harms small farmers that must rely on debt to buy those goods. This has been a major problem of the foundation and has sparked criticism by many influential people such as Vandana Shiva who stated that the Gates foundation was “the biggest threat to farmers in the developing world” (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/gates-foundation-accused-of-dangerously-skewing-aid-priorities-by-promoting-big-business-a6822036.html).

Furthermore, the high subsidy given to farmers for pesticides and fertilizers has degraded the ecosystem and land in Africa. This has led to environmental, health and economic problems. Indeed, the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) has caused many environmental and economic problems in Africa. GMO’s are seeds that are modified in order to be resistant to insects, viruses, etc. Their modified DNA improves therefore the conditions of the final product and helps the population get more from the agriculture. However, this also comes at the cost of problems for the environment. Indeed, bees have been highly impacted by GMO’s because of the nectarless flowers in the agriculture and are now considered as an endangered specie. Furthermore, the soil has also been damaged due to the low fertility of GMO seeds. GMO’s have also economic negative impacts for the farmers due to the high reliance of farmers on GMO seeds. One of the problem of GMO’s is that since most of the GMO plants do not give seeds once grown up, farmers need to buy new seeds every year. This high reliance on private companies selling GMO’s might threaten the small farmers. Indeed, the strategy of the Gates’ foundation is to increase the role of multinationals in providing health and agriculture in the world over the long-term (http://www.globaljustice.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/resources/gjn_gates_report_june_2016_web_final_version_2.pdf).

The various problems highlighted here show that the nutrition problem in Africa has had a huge debate over the past decades. Even though the philanthropic will of Bill Gates might be to reduce poverty in Africa, it might in the end not result in the best solution for local people. Other solutions need to be taken and this might as well come from African institutions. The example of India provides an interesting argument in favor of democracy as a solution to end famines. Indeed, India as the biggest democratic country in the world has never experienced a famine since its independence from the United Kingdom in 1947 (http://public.econ.duke.edu/~psarcidi/lunchf08/besburgess.pdf).  In a very influential paper, Besley and Burgess suggest that “there might be an important role of democratic institutions and media in ensuring that preferences of citizens are reflected in policies” (http://public.econ.duke.edu/~psarcidi/lunchf08/besburgess.pdf). This might well be the solution that the international community should try to ensure in Africa where many countries are still under dictatorial ruling.

Robin, Lisboa 14th April 2017

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Author: studentnovasbe

Master student in Nova Sbe

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