The Pesticide Action Network explores the side of the story Gates left out last week.
If you assume that Bill Gates is so well informed about all his philanthropic targets that you take his word at face value, you would be in good company, but you might be terribly wrong. Organizations well versed in the agricultural issues facing developing nations are saying his annual letter, released last week, is completely mistaken when it asserts that a lack of support for GMO crop development is responsible, in part, for allowing world hunger to endure. We interviewed Heather Pilatic, Ph.D., co-director of the Pesticide Action Network North America PANNA, to show us the other, important side of the story.
TakePart: In the introduction to his letter, Bill Gates cites the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 70s, saying scientists created new seed varieties for rice, wheat, and maize, and that this resulted in increased crop yield and a decrease in extreme poverty around the world. Do you agree that this is a model to use moving forward?
Heather Pilatic: The Green Revolution is a story that some people like to tell, but it has little basis in historical fact. Take the Green Revolution’s origins in 1940s Mexico, for instance. It was not really about feeding the world; Mexico was a food exporter at the time. Rather, the aims included stabilizing restive rural populations in our neighbor to the south, and making friends with a government that at the time was selling supplies to the World War II Axis powers and confiscating oil fields held by Standard Oil a funding source for the Rockefeller Foundation, one of the key architects of the Green Revolution.
We can also learn from India, the Green Revolution’s next stop after Mexico. India embraced the Green Revolution model of chemical-intensive agriculture. Now it is the world’s second biggest rice grower with surplus grain in government warehouses. Yet India has more starving people than sub-Saharan Africa—at more than 200 million, that’s nearly a quarter of its population. History shows that a narrow focus on increasing crop yield through chemical-seed packages reduces neither hunger nor poverty.So no, we do not agree that the Green Revolution offers a promising model for addressing poverty.