Faith, Civil Entities Oppose Bill Gates’ “high-tech solutions” to Reduce Hunger in Africa

Credit: Caritas Internationalis

Faith and civil organizations focused on food sovereignty and justice worldwide have castigated Bill Gates for proposing “high-tech solutions” including genetic engineering, new breeding technologies, and digital agriculture to address the hunger crisis in Africa. 

In a statement shared with ACI Africa Wednesday, November 16, officials of the 50 organizations say African farmers and organizations are not short of practical solutions and innovations to address the crisis.

Officials of the organizations including the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute (SAFCEI), a multi-faith entity that includes representatives of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), say Mr. Gates proposed the technology solutions in the media.

“You make a number of claims that are inaccurate and need to be challenged. Both pieces admit that the world currently produces enough food to adequately feed all the earth's inhabitants, yet you continue to fundamentally misdiagnose the problem as relating to low productivity; we do not need to increase production as much as to assure more equitable access to food,” they say.

The leadership of the faith and civil entities add that Gates' idea that the Green Revolution of the mid-20th century needs to be replicated now to address hunger and that better seeds produced by large companies are required to cope with climate change are “distorted”.


Other distortions they highlight include the software developer’s suggestion to have “cheap fertilizer to ensure agricultural productivity” and to put money behind his critics who “aren't singing Kumbaya”.

They challenge the philanthropist's suggestion to have cheap fertilizer, saying, “Synthetic fertilizers contribute 2% of overall greenhouse gas emissions and are the primary source of nitrous oxide emissions. Producing nitrogen fertilizers requires 3-5% of the world's fossil gas. They also make farmers and importing nations dependent on volatile prices on international markets, and are a major cause of rising food prices globally.”

Instead of cheap and synthetic fertilizers, officials of the 50 faith and civil organizations say farmers and organizations in Africa have been developing biofertilizers.

“These products can be manufactured locally (thereby avoiding dependency and price volatility), and can be increasingly scaled up and commercialized,” they say. 

On the proposed Green Revolution, officials of the faith and civil organizations say the model “was far from a resounding success.”

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“While it did play some role in increasing the yields of cereal crops in Mexico, India, and elsewhere from the 1940s to the 1960s, it did very little to reduce the number of hungry people in the world or to ensure equitable and sufficient access to food,” they say. 

The officials add that Green Revolution “came with a host of other problems, from ecological issues like long-term soil degradation to socio-economic ones like increased inequality and indebtedness (which has been a major contributor to the epidemic of farmer suicides in India).”

Gates' support for a new Green Revolution “demonstrates willful ignorance about history and about the root causes of hunger (which are by and large about political and economic arrangements, and what the economist Amartya Sen famously referred to as entitlements, not about a global lack of food),” they say.

Regarding the philanthropist’s proposal to have better seeds developed by large companies, the faith and civil organizations’ officials say climate-resilient seeds are already in existence and being developed by farmers and traded through informal seed markets. 

They add that the seed development proposal, including those being pushed by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), a project of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “don't increase widespread innovation, but rather contribute to the privatization and consolidation of corporate monopolies over seed development and seed markets.”


In their November 16 statement shared with ACI Africa, officials of the faith and civil organizations also describe as “extremely disrespectful and dismissive” Gates’ assertion that his critics are “‘singing Kumbaya,’ rather than developing meaningful (and fundable) solutions.”

“There are already many tangible, ongoing proposals and projects that work to boost productivity and food security – from biofertilizer and biopesticide manufacturing facilities, to agroecological farmer training programs, to experimentation with new water and soil management techniques, low-input farming systems, and pest-deterring plant species,” they say. 

They add that Mr. Gates is “gas lighting – presenting practical, ongoing, farmer-led solutions as somehow fanciful or ridiculous, while presenting your own preferred approaches as pragmatic.”

“Your preferred high-tech solutions, including genetic engineering, new breeding technologies, and now digital agriculture, have in fact consistently failed to reduce hunger or increase food access as promised,” the officials say.

They tell Mr. Gates that “in some cases, the ‘solutions’ you expound as fixes for climate change actually contribute to the biophysical processes driving the problem.”

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Magdalene Kahiu is a Kenyan journalist with passion in Church communication. She holds a Degree in Social Communications from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA). Currently, she works as a journalist for ACI Africa.