UN Food Summit boycotted by farmers over big business links

Among the key players shaping the controversial UN Food Systems Summit in 2021 are the World Economic Forum, the Gates Foundation, and private donors such as the Rockefeller Foundation. A protest movement of thousands of groups is opposing the Summit due to its dominant role for big agribusiness and agenda that many critics see as further entrenching harmful industrial models in the industry. 

The UN Food Systems Summit has confirmed that the Summit will take place on: Thursday, September 23, 2021. Agnes Kalibata, president of the Gates Foundation-funded Alliance for a Green Revolution for Africa (AGRA), is leading the summit. Her chief of staff is Adam Gerstenmier, formerly of AGRA and the Gates Foundation. Insiders at the UN have harshly criticized the summit process for ignoring human rights, marginalizing civil society, and re-calibrating the UN process to relinquish power to a few private sector actors at the expense of the committee on world food security. 

The Gates Foundation has spent approximately $6 billion on agricultural development, primarily focused on transforming African food systems. A number of groups have studied the foundation's contributions to agricultural development. Based on that research, the following themes emerge.   

Funding researchers and groups in the North, not farmers in Africa. A GRAIN research group analysis of 1,130 Gates Foundation agriculture grants between 2003 and June 2021 found that the grants heavily favor technologies developed by specialized research centers and corporations in the North for poor farmers in the South, ignoring the knowledge, technologies and biodiversity that these farmers already possess. GRAIN said that many of the grants went to groups that support industrial farming and undermine alternatives.

An IPES-Food report from 2020 found that when Gates Foundation funds are spent on agricultural research in Africa, they are typically allocated for industrial agriculture or targeting its efficiency. The foundation “looks for quick, tangible returns on investment, and thus favours targeted, technological solutions.” Just 3% of Gates Foundation projects included elements of agroecological redesign.

As the world's largest global agricultural research network, CGIAR (formerly the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research) has received the most Gates grants in the agricultural sector. Over $1.3 billion has been donated to the influential research centers by the Gates Foundation. With a letter dated July 2020, IPES-Food expressed concern about Gates Foundation's involvement in a "coercive" process to unify the CGIAR research network under "One CGIAR" with a centralized board and new agenda setting powers. IPES said the reforms "risk exacerbating power imbalances in global agricultural development."

Expanding the markets for commercial seeds and fertilizers: The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has received $638 million in Gates grant funding for agriculture to date. AGRA is primarily focused on increasing farmers' access to commercial seeds and fertilizers, which AGRA believes will lead to higher yields and lift small farmers out of poverty. An additional $1 billion in African government subsidies are used to support the "green revolution" technology package of commercial seeds and agrichemicals, but evidence suggests that these interventions have not delivered the increased yields or incomes promised (see "green revolution" section below).

Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA) is a World Bank program that guides policymakers in making pro-business reforms in agriculture. The Gates Foundation is among the top five donors (along with the US, United Kingdom, Denmark, and the Netherlands). In several reports, the Oakland Institute and GRAIN have discussed World Bank and its funder's efforts to promote large land acquisitions that benefit private actors, such as increasing private property rights.