GM Africa now

May 2016

Echoing GRAIN's 2014 Report that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's philanthropic endeavours are promoting an industrial, global market- and biotech industry-driven model of agriculture in Africa, while bypassing local social needs and knowledge [1], Global Justice Now released a similar Report in 2016.

It warns:
"the Gates Foundation is in effect preparing the ground for (the biotech industry) to access new profitable markets in hitherto closed-off developing countries, especially in Africa. The Foundation is especially pushing for the adoption of GM in Africa."
Gates has an aggressive corporate strategy and extraordinary influence across governments, academics and the media. It seems that, shielded by its unarguable philanthropic purpose, and by its connections to corporations and international development agencies, or its self-created 'partners' [1], and by the loyalties required to gain and retain its funding and patronage, healthy dissent and criticism have been stifled.

So what's happening on the ground in Gates' GM-Africa?

We know about the GM golden vitamin-A enriched bananas which have been a non-event in Uganda [2].

African countries are under intense pressure to adopt GM commodities, cotton and maize, but so far only South Africa has succumbed to both.

Kenya banned GM imports in 2012, but despite street protests, seems poised to start growing Bt insecticidal cotton.

In light of the increasing demand for non-GM food in the US and Europe's rising rejection of GM crops, the Ghana Export Promotion Authority (GEPA) is warning that:
"The potential economic harm would be incalculable if Ghana were to be labelled a GMO haven exporting GM crops to the world". 
Also, eighty percent of Ghanaian people surveyed totally rejected GM foods.

Burkina Faso started growing Bt insecticidal cotton in 2008, and, in terms of the number of GM growers, became Africa's most significant adopter of this GM crop. What it's growing is bollworm-resistant cotton created for it by Monsanto who back-crossed it's own prime brand of GM seed with local Burkina Faso varieties. Studies have shown increased yields, 50% more profit (despite the high cost of the biotech seed), and pesticide sprayings reduced from six to only two. Many farmers enthusiastically adopted the GM cotton which was celebrated as an example of how GM crops can help poor farmers.

Unfortunately, seven years down the line, Bt cotton is being phased out in Burkina Faso because the lint in the vast amounts of GM cotton being produced is too short for the machines to extract: this inferior quality means lower prices for the cotton companies who are now demanding farmers ditch GM.

Besides the established GM offerings, the biotech industry has got its hands on a particularly African staple, the cowpea. Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Malawi are set to grow 'Bt' cowpeas resistant to the pod-borer (one of the crop's six major pests).

Cowpea is one of the most ancient crops. In Ghana, 43% of farmers ranked the crops as the most important source of food. It provides a source of protein in the "hungry period" at the end of the wet season as well as important nutrients such a folic acid, calcium, zinc and iron, many of which are lacking in cereals. It is a very versatile grain used in many culinary forms. Also, it is an important woman's crop, an important food for children (both the leaves and the beans can be eaten), and is used for animal feed. Because it fixes nitrogen, is drought-tolerant, shade-tolerant, and can be intercropped with all other staple crops, cowpeas are very important to farmers.

Expensive patented cowpeas are the last thing Africa needs.

Wild varieties of cowpea can freely hybridise with domesticated varieties, making the spread of a patented trait uncontainable


No mention, of course, of the safety of the Bt protein, of the antibiotic-resistance gene GM cowpeas contain, nor of the whole novel food or feed.

Scarily, the Gates Foundation believes that "the role of philanthropy is to take risks where others can't or won't". The biotech industry if struggling to get its GM foot in the door in Africa, so it's using a little help from its philanthropic friend. Those put at this risk by this philanthropy are the people of Africa, and the risks are to their health and to their future.


  • How does the Gates Foundation spend its money to feed the world? GRAIN 4.11.14
  • Monsanto, US, & Gates Foundation pressure Kenya to reverse GMO ban,, 5.01.16
  • Matheiu Bonkoungou, Burkina Faso seeks $84 million from Monsanto over GM cotton strain, Reuters, 4.04.16
  • Dr Eva Sirinathsinghji, GM African Cowpea to Enter African Markets, Science in Society 68 Winter 2015
  • David Connett, Gates Foundation accused of 'dangerously skewing' aid priorities by promoting 'corporate globalisation', Independent 20.01.16
  • GMO Compass Database,, accessed 31.03.16
  • GMOs Set to Crush Export Markets for Farmers across Ghana, Sustainable Pulse, 5.01.16
  • Brian Dowd-Uribe and Matthew Schnurr, Why Africa's biggest adopter of GM crops changed its mind,

    Image: cowpeas/black-eyed peas from Creative Commons

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