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Is Obama's Plan for Tackling Hunger Just Another Chance for Big Ag and Biotech to Cash In?

There's good reason to fear that Obama's new global food security effort may do more harm than good for the world's hungry.

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Going back to Gates, the president of the Global Development Program, the part of the foundation that leads its anti-hunger programs, is Sylvia Mathews Burwell. She held several senior posts in the Clinton Administration, including Chief of Staff to Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin, and as Deputy Chief of Staff to President Clinton. Rubin was famous for his belief in free trade, including policies that the IAASTD report call out as harmful to the poor in the developing world. Both Rubin and Burwell sit on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, of which Glickman, as mentioned above, is a member.

Could it be, then, that part of the impetus for the ideas put forth by the Gates Foundation and the Chicago Council come from a worldview held by the Council on Foreign Relations? The website TheyRule.net shows a map of each of the directors on the Council on Foreign Relations's board and all of the other corporate boards they sit on. Between the 14 members of the board, they sit on 32 different corporate, academic, and institution boards, including a nice array of financial companies (AIG, Citigroup, Fannie Mae, Morgan Stanley), oil companies (Chevron Texaco and ConocoPhillips) and everything in between. A look at various agribusiness companies finds that Monsanto has a board member in the Council on Foreign Relations (George H. Poste). Additionally, the Council has a number of corporate members, ranging from Big Oil to Big Pharma to Big Food to Big Money (financial companies).

What does this mean? It does NOT mean that a conspiracy is afoot, or that the individuals involved are necessarily taking orders from corporations to manipulate foreign policy disguised as aid to their own benefit. And, obviously, the vast majority of corporations involved are not agribusiness giants. The Center for Media and Democracy's Sourcwatch site notes that the elitism of the Council on Foreign Relations "doesn't necessarily preclude the ability to provide unbiased and useful service." However, the fact of the matter is that the United States government -- the Senators on the Foreign Relations Committee, if not Obama himself -- are ignoring the recommendations of a comprehensive peer-reviewed study (the IAASTD report) and instead taking advice that more or less maintains the status quo of our agricultural and trade system while creating new markets for multinational corporations in Africa and South Asia.

But the connections named above hint at the potential biases and the motivations of the people involved. Certainly anyone sitting on a corporate board, despite a true wish to help the world's hungry, will have good reason not to advocate any solution to hunger that may jeopardize the profitability of that corporation. A more direct link between the wishes of biotech giant Monsanto and the recommendations of the Gates Foundation can be found in Robert Horsch, the former Monsanto vice president for international development who now holds a senior position at Gates. While the Gates Foundation probably does have a genuine interest to help the world's hungry, they are carrying out their agenda by privatizing the means of food production in Africa (via technologies like genetic engineering).

The problem (for multinational corporations) with the agroecological methods advocated by the IAASTD report authors is that they are free. It costs nothing to save seeds, fix nitrogen in the soil with cover crops, rely on beneficial insects and biodiversity to deal with pests, or fertilize with manure. In addition to requiring no seeds, commercial fertilizer, or pesticides, these technologies require no oil or banks. And if the poor farmers of the world grow crops to eat or sell locally, then their crops will not benefit corporations who rely on cheap commodities sold on the world market.