The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was launched in 2000 and has $46.8 billion in assets (December 2018). It is the largest charitable foundation in the world and distributes more aid for global health than any government. One of the foundation’s stated goals is to globally enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty.
The Gates Foundation is a major funder of the CGIAR system (formerly the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research) – a global partnership whose stated aim is to strive for a food-secured future. Its research is aimed at reducing rural poverty, increasing food security, improving human health and nutrition and ensuring sustainable management of natural resources.
In 2016, the Gates Foundation was accused of dangerously and unaccountably distorting the direction of international development. The charges were laid out in a report by Global Justice Now: ‘Gated Development – Is the Gates Foundation always a force for good? According to the report, the foundation’s strategy is based on deepening the role of multinational companies in the Global South.
On release of the report, Polly Jones, the head of campaigns and policy at Global Justice Now, said:
“The Gates Foundation has rapidly become the most influential actor in the world of global health and agricultural policies, but there’s no oversight or accountability in how that influence is managed.”
She added that this concentration of power and influence is even more problematic when you consider that the philanthropic vision of the Gates Foundation seems to be largely based on the values of ‘corporate America’:
“The foundation is relentlessly promoting big business-based initiatives such as industrial agriculture, private health care and education. But these are all potentially exacerbating the problems of poverty and lack of access to basic resources that the foundation is supposed to be alleviating.”
The report’s author, Mark Curtis, outlines the foundation’s promotion of industrial agriculture across Africa, which would undermine existing sustainable, small-scale farming that is providing the vast majority of food across the continent.
Curtis describes how the foundation is working with US agri-commodity trader Cargill in an $8 million project to “develop the soya value chain” in southern Africa. Cargill is the biggest global player in the production of and trade in soya with heavy investments in South America where GM soya monocrops (and associated agrochemicals) have displaced rural populations and caused health problems and environmental damage.