The Gates Foundation puts a new spin on altruism
Amy Leech - 19 July 2012
It 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.