The Gates Foundation’s Ceres2030 Plan Pushes Agenda of Agribusiness

by Jonathan Latham

by Jonathan Latham, PhD

(This article is reprinted from Truthout.)

“Whether the challenge is low-yield crops in Africa or low graduation rates in Los Angeles, we listen and learn,” states the website of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (the Gates Foundation). Even though it is the richest and most powerful organization in all of international aid, the Gates Foundation prides itself on listening to small farmers.

Its critics, however, have often accused the Gates Foundation of not living up to this goal. The importance of listening to farmers might seem straightforward — to avoid the risk of giving people what they don’t need. But underneath, much more is going on.

Historically, international development was funded not so much for the welfare of the poor, the hungry or the landless, but rather to fight the Cold War. Boosting allied governments, winning hearts and minds, and opening spaces for commercial exploitation by Western corporations were the priorities.

Those bad old days are behind us, according to the Gates Foundation. Their new wave of development interventions has left behind the tainted philanthropic foundations and their Cold War attitudes. Aid is now altruistic.

The logo of Ceres2030
The logo of Ceres2030

However, as long as the Gates Foundation continues its heavy-handed efforts to control the development agenda, so will the doubts.

If it doesn’t ask the farmers what they need, however, who does a development foundation ask? The answer, says the Gates Foundation, is science. The Gates Foundation has nailed its flag to the mast of big data and scientific rigor. It has aggressively pursued scientific data collection as the key to effective action in health care, education and now agriculture.

The problem with science, however, is that it is dissonant and contradictory. The scientific literature positively overflows with competing paradigms and answers for how to best help small farmers.

This then is the context for a new Gates Foundation endeavor, Ceres2030, launched at the recent gathering of the Committee on World Food Security in Rome, Italy, on October 16. Co-funded with the Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development with a starting grant of $3.1 million, Ceres2030 is a nonprofit based at Cornell University.

Ceres2030 is also a partnership with the International Food Policy Research Institute of Washington, DC, and The International Institute for Sustainable Development of Winnipeg, Canada — organizations, detractors will note, with solid neoliberal credentials and strong corporate connections.

Its press release describes Ceres2030 as a “groundbreaking data project to support smallholder farmers and end hunger.” It will “map the fullest possible range of knowledge in agricultural research, establish protocols for systematic review, create a risk-of-bias tool, and then drill down to find the most powerful interventions that can help end hunger.”

Its end product will supposedly “help donors prioritize investments by evaluating agricultural interventions and investment costs to achieve the UN’s sustainable development goal of zero hunger by 2030.”

In this way, according to Ceres2030 Co-Director Jaron Porciello of Cornell, who spoke about Ceres2030 at a seminar held at the university on November 8, the nonprofit “provides the tools, the framework and the opportunity” to build consensus on development.

More specifically, Ceres2030 will use “natural language processing” to computationally parse the scientific literature on agricultural interventions to find those of greatest benefit to small farmers. A “Global Advisory Board” will select authors and topics. These chosen authors will then write flagship review articles for a paid-for special issue of the prestigious Nature magazine (slated for early 2020). The reviews will then underpin a media outreach strategy whose intent is to sway G7 donor spending to better help those farmers.

Even before the exact nature of the “risk-of-bias tool” is revealed, this approach to consensus-building will raise alarm bells for those already doubtful of the disinterestedness of the Gates Foundation­.

For one, the definition of an intervention in agriculture, according to Ceres2030, is one that raises crop productivity. According to Porciello’s presentation, that means doubling smallholder output.

For productivity to be the key goal is highly significant. A focus on productivity sidelines at the outset numerous approaches to reducing hunger and helping farmers. Many types of potential interventions that could transform smallholder agriculture — such as targeted subsidies, commodity price floors, land distribution or food sovereignty, all of which don’t require yield increases — are automatically excluded by a narrow focus on production.

Productivism, as it is called, represents an agenda. It is a premise whose well-recognized effect is to remove the politics from hunger and poverty. More than that, it provides a ready-made entry point for certain other classes of solutions: the chemicals and GMOs of agribusiness, the promotion of which the Gates Foundation is rapidly becoming known for.

Alarms will sound still louder since Global Advisory Board members announced by Porciello include former Cornell University Dean Ronnie Coffman, who is Cornell’s Director of International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Science. As such, Coffman is Porciello’s boss at Cornell. Coffman, more than anyone else, is also agribusiness’s man at Cornell, as witnessed by his secretaryship of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, an agribusiness lobby group for GMOs based at the university.

In his role as Director of International Programs, Coffman is also the boss of Sarah Evanega (formerly Davidson) who is director of the Cornell Alliance for Science, also funded by the Gates Foundation. Despite its name, the Cornell Alliance for Science has become notorious for its near-exclusive focus on promoting GMOs for global agriculture, especially in Africa.

The stated goals of the Alliance are banal: “We provide accurate information” via a “global network of science communicators.” And through the Alliance, every year, a new cohort of 20-30 “Global Fellows” are trained in media work. The Alliance’s website though, much of it written by the fellows, reveals its agenda, with titles like: “Opposition to GM animals could leave millions hungry” and “Unfairly demonized GMO crops can help fight malnutrition.” Perhaps most revealing is this permanent text on the Alliance’s website:

“Farmers across the globe are struggling with the devastating impacts of climate change: disrupted rainfall patterns, drought, extreme weather events, pest infestations, plant diseases, crop losses, and hunger. Better seeds developed through genetic engineering offer hope. But regulatory delays are preventing millions of farmers from accessing this life-saving technology.”

Based on internal emails obtained from Cornell via the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), the nonprofit US Right To Know concluded that “The Cornell Alliance for Science is a PR Campaign for the Agrichemical Industry” which uses Cornell’s name as cover.

Jaron Porciello , bottom left, with Sarah Evanega, top left. (Photo credit: Cornell)

The other Cornell member of the Ceres2030 Global Advisory Board is Professor Prabhu Pingali. In 2015, through another set of FOIA emails also obtained by US Right To Know, Pingali was found to have conspired with Monsanto executive Eric Sachs and PR executive Beth Anne Mumford to place into scientific literature “subjects chosen for their influence on public policy.” (See the emails attached to this article.) That 2015 goal — infiltrating the scientific literature — is noteworthy for replicating, though on a lesser scale, the mission of Ceres2030.

Mumford subsequently moved to Americans for Prosperity, a right-wing lobby group funded by the Koch brothers, whose website boasts that Mumford “has spent her career learning how to educate the public, organize grassroots armies, and apply relentless grassroots pressure on wayward lawmakers.”

Comparisons between Ceres2030 and the Cornell Alliance for Science extend not only to the similar PR strategy of using science to advance specific ends, Gates funding, and reporting to the same boss, but even to sharing the same Cornell office.

The endgame for Ceres2030, according to Porciello’s Cornell presentation, is to publish “7 to 11” highly visible academic reviews in Nature magazine in early 2020 designed to showcase and promote science chosen by Ceres2030, the Gates Foundation, and behind them, it is harder than ever to doubt, agribusiness.

Whoever conceived it, the creation of a specific organization for the express purpose of buying into the scientific literature at the very highest level represents a highly sophisticated marketing and PR strategy. And it appears that Nature magazine is already lined up. Prestigious Nature has decided that pay-to-play is consistent with reputable science publishing. It is a business model that should remunerate Springer, its new owner, handsomely. The apex of the scientific literature is exceedingly valuable real estate.

No doubt the findings will buy priceless influence with policymakers — unless, that is, someone informs them exactly how it was achieved.

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Comments 12
  • I have spoken about this ‘big data’ being controlled by ‘big’ NGOs and corporates in the past. ICRISAT has floated a mobile-based app, to capture crop disease data under the guise of providing online solutions to farmers about pest attacks. Gates Foundation is collaborating with ICRISAT. With a upfront theory of helping farmers, many agro-companies with pro-active support from governments are promoting mobile-based apps. With data regulation being almost nil, Indian farmers are now increasingly becoming vulnerable to this combine of agro-chemical, science-linked business.

  • The Gates people have e record of being pro GMO for years. But I have not seen their scientific reason for the support other than other pro GMO people’s reports which are suspect. I suspect that the Gates people have been influenced by others whose agenda is mostly political and concerned with the TRUTH about GMO and glyphosate resulting in farmers deaths and showing up in the plantentas of women post child birth. “the truth shall se you free”. Is it time to find it?

  • Vandana Shiva has sent their new report:
    “The Future of our Daily Bread: Regeneration or Collapse”

    With the comment: “Gates is the biggest obstruction for a transition to Agroecology and the biggest promoter of the failed industrial ag model including its new GMO avatar CRISPR.

  • What do we DO about this???
    I don’t have billions to oppose big AG or Gates who probably doesn’t really know what this means.
    Who is the opposition, and do they have a voice, and is it being heard, and is anyone listening?

  • Extremely important article! Thank you Jonathan for this incredible work of exposing details of what I’d call, ‘agribusiness conspiracy’. Over the decades of GMO’s ‘enforcement’ Nature magazine played already a great role. Many of its articles which are anything else but the Nature show their real goal, a process which runs 180 degree away from Nature. If one could just analyze how did it came to that situation, that >90% of all soy and corn in USA turned into GMO’s, how and who brainwashed all the clueless farmers to commit the crime (by feeding populations with toxic chemicals), that would be also very useful, since the same criminal process will possibly be continued in other countries. And if anyone is aware of the ongoing geoengineering efforts which do deliberately contribute to the change of our climate, then one should not be surprised to see the name ‘UN’ in this new endeavor…

  • I think it should be obvious by now that Bill Gates is no philanthropist. Does he still own 500,000 shares of Monsanto stock?

  • It’s sad that the future of food and humanity is a competition of power and discourse, for whether we regenerate the planet, or continue with the current productionist path and collapse.

  • Well researched and well written article that deserves a wide audience.

  • Roundup is a killer. In Sleeswijk Hollstein has died thausends of kows who’s motoric system was damaged. Offspring of these kows were handicapted. In South-Denmark pig farmers had many offsprings handicapted. In Argentina in some regions it seems like Softenon deasease is back. The Danish farmer was a clever man and he could not find any danish labority who would help him. Only the University of Leipzig has done the labority tests and have found high doses of glyfosate in the offspring of pigs, in the uterus of the pig mothers, and in the kows, and the conclusion of the Leipzig professors was the death due to high levels of glyfosate in all this beasts . Also in Argentina the disabled babies were also victims of the roundup who has been spread by airplanes to very large soya fields as soya is a export product for Argentine

  • Reading this during the COVID19 pandemic.
    I believe the lockdowns are going to kill more people than they intend to save, and I also believe if the lockdowns are not lifted it will lead to agricultural collapse, one where people like Bill Gates and other big Agribusinesses can come in and hold sway over mass production for a world suffering from hunger and poverty.
    We will be left eating GMOs and whatever else those at the top have planned for us.

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