Skip to content
for a responsible, fair & sustainable food system

Gates Foundation “Swimming Against a Tide of Informed Opinion” Gates plan spends 40% of R&D funding on risky “silver bullet” GM projects with DFID help

Immediate release (31 Oct 2011)

Calls to: Pete Riley 07903 341065

Gates plan spends 40% of R&D funding on risky “silver bullet” GM projects with DFID help

As the world population reaches 7 billion GM Freeze says in a new report published today [1] that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s policy on agricultural development to tackle hunger is “swimming against a tide of informed opinion”.

The report reveals the Gates Foundation has allocated over 40% of its committed research expenditure from 2005 to 2011 on projects involving risky “silver bullet” GM technology.

The collaboration between the Gates Foundation and DFID, announced in February 2011, includes a commitment to carry out GM research into altering the photosynthesis of rice to make it more tolerant of drought. [2] This theoretical switching of rice metabolism has been described as “high risk” by many, including the Royal Society, because of the complex changes required to make it work and the high chance of failure. [3]

In contrast GM Freeze reveals that the Gates Foundation has only allocated some US$20 million (4% of the total budget of US$521 million) to all soil research despite acknowledging the poor state of some African soils. However the Gates Foundation has pledged nearly US$214 million to research involving GM techniques from 2005 to the present – ten times the budget for soil research.

The group’s report says the Gates Foundation and DFID are ignoring the recommendations of key research, including the unprecedented IAASTD report in 2008, endorsed by the UK Government, which recommended agroecological approaches to farming to restore natural resources, such as the soils, biodiversity and water and a switch away from fossil-fuel based artificial fertilisers and pesticides. [4]

GM Freeze also reveals the Gates Foundation funding of the Alliance for a Green Revolution for Africa (AGRA) to distribute artificial fertilisers to small farmers. AGRA plan to deliver 187,000 tons of fertilizer “to small farmers through wholesale and retail networks by December 2012” at a overall cost of US$164 million to the Gates Foundation – eight times their allocated expenditure on soil research.

The Gates Foundation collaborate closely with agri-biotechnology companies including Monsanto, BASF, Du Pont, Dow and the Syngenta Foundation in projects to develop GM seeds and promote fertilisers, pesticides and hybrid seeds to small African farmers through bodies such as African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and projects like Harvest Plus – both also funded by DFID.

Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

The Gates Foundation approach to agricultural development is swimming against of tide of informed opinion if it is serious about tackling hunger.

Instead of promoting proven, low-cost solutions, the Foundation is mimicking discredited high input farming that has cost millions in Northern countries due to pollution, soil erosion and disastrous impacts on biodiversity above and below the soil. DFID is meekly following this lead despite expert analysis showing that in a world with eroded natural resources, climate change and rising demand and costs of energy and fertilisers, a switch to agroecological approaches is urgently needed.

Offering small and family farmers GM technology will only lock them into expensive and failing intensive farming approaches that benefit big business.

If the Gates Foundation is genuinely interested in pursuing sustainable food, it should be very clear about how defines sustainable farming and urgently reassess how it allocates funding for agricultural R&D. It needs to move away from risky “silver bullet” approaches like GM and toward restoration of degraded soils, biodiversity and other natural resources. It also needs to support political, social and economic reforms to secure the necessary infrastructure, education and resources to enable farmers of both genders to prosper.

Each day it fails to do so only serves to highlight more clearly where the Foundation’s priorities truly lie.



[1] See GM Freeze briefing The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Biotechnology and Intensive Farming

[2] DFID, 2011. “DFID – Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) Strategic Collaboration Portfolio for Sustainable Intensification of Agriculture”.

[3] Royal Society, 2009. Reaping the Benefits. Science and the Sustainable Intensification of Global Agriculture.

[4] IAASTD, 2008. Agriculture at a Crossroads: Global summary for decisions makers.