Seed and Desist

“Activists in Seattle and London held demonstrations on Monday to protest efforts by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and others to privatize seeds as part of a push to industrialize farming in Africa.”
From: Activists protest Gates Foundation plan for African farmers

Source: The always excellent Humanosphere blog

I get the activists’ concerns and I’m not a fan of Big Boss Organization Saves the World. But most communities in African countries depend on rural subsistence/smallholder farming, and there is no way to stop the disruption of that system.

Nor should anyone want to. Subsistence agriculture is horribly inefficient: it takes a lot of time, is very labor intensive, and it’s very dependent on things the farmers can’t control.

Governments need people to be fed, people want to live well, and companies want to make money. That’s what’s happening. It isn’t “colonialism” — doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about Monsanto and Beijing.

What’s going on is bad business. Monoculture and heavy chemical inputs aren’t smart even when they fill an immediate need for farmers, governments and companies (profit, boosted food yields, signs of economic growth). Shoving people off of their land is a good way to create political unrest; revolutions and coups are pretty bad for business.

The international aid industry is as much a part of this bad system as the for-profit sector: e.g. donated food and goods disrupting local suppliers. Never mind the bullsh*t messaging like what’s in the photograph.

I mean look at the signs in the picture. The “Corporate Takeover of Africa’s Food”? As if “Africa” was this magical cornucopia that can produce resources in abundance without any serious coordinated economic and social organization or technology.

After all it’s not really about food. Food is just one thing — one super important thing, but just one thing. More creation and exchange of goods and services is the real goal. More opportunities. More innovation.

Sh*t costs money, folks. Development means tools, capital, control of the narrative, and a whole mess of other things. That means markets, and structures to operate within those markets. Some of those structures are called companies and corporations, and African entrepreneurs are building them on their own.

That’s good. You want companies that are *grounded* in the community. That’s more likely to be stable, more transparent, more responsive to local conditions. Smart investors should want that too, since it’s less likely their money will go up in a blaze of PR disasters, accidents, armed uprisings or just stupid decisions.

That’s what it’s about: smart vs. stupid, good business vs. bad. Not James Bond Villains trying to take over the food supply.

(Background Image from original article: Activists protest Gates Foundation plan for African farmers)

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