Claiming that the continent of Africa is to this century what North America was to the 19th, U2 frontman Bono has become one of the biggest supporters of the recently announced G8 initiative that's sending $22 billion dollars in aid, supplied mostly by multi-national corporate conglomerates, to "lift Africa out of poverty" over the next ten years. One of the biggest tools being leveraged in this plan will be the use of controversial agricultural practices-mainly non-native genetically modified crops and the accompanying fertilizers and pesticides-under the moniker The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. Companies that have pledged their dollars and support through NAFSN include: DuPont, Monsanto, Cargill, Syngenta, Kraft, and Unilever.
According to the White House, the G8's announcement of NAFSN represents the "next phase of our shared commitment to achieving global food security." Under the guise of working with Africa's leaders to develop transparent "country-regulated" policies for food security, in his G8 speech, his ONE organization's blog, his interview with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, and in an article he wrote for TIME magazine aptly titled "The Resource Miracle," Bono repeatedly and not-so-subtly hints to the wealth of minerals laying just underneath the feet of Africans.
In his speech at the G8 summit held in May in Chicago, Bono jokingly refers to the African continent as "richer than rich; like 19th century America with elephants," adding that "the continent that contains the most poverty also contains the most wealth." Be that precious metals, gems or even (god help us) more oil-the message is a simple one to decode: Feed Africans and they will make you lots of money. (Besides, the Chinese are already over there doing it.)
Wal-mart, says Bono, has already invested more than $2 billion in development in Africa. And while he consistently avoids talking specifically about the plans NAFSN has to tackle the poverty issue, he does say the efforts are "way, way smarter" due to "the advances in science and technology." One only need to look at the companies funding the plan to read between the lines.
African countries have slowly begun opening the door to genetic modification in recent years. Just 40 years ago, African nations exported more than 1 million tons of food, but now, due to drought, war and famine, the continent must import more than 25 percent of its food supplies. And once staunchly resistant to the technology, countries including Kenya and South Africa now permit GMOs to help tackle their poverty and starvation issues. The multinational biotech companies, of course, see dollar signs all over the continent-not just in being able to sell peasant farmers patented gene technology and companion products-but also in the many resources Bono speaks to: Sixty percent of Africa is arable land, which could make it one of the premier biotech testing grounds in the world. What lies underneath the soil-the metals, minerals and oil-all have uses for the industry as well, from petroleum-based fertilizers to pesticide development and fuel for the trucks that transport and spray them.
If history is any indicator, what has happened to other areas of the developing world when genetically modified organisms are introduced as a means to sidestepping poverty, malnutrition and disease is no miracle. Hundreds of thousands of Indian cotton farmers have (and continue to) commit suicide because of failure to meet crop yield expectations and therefore failing to pay Monsanto and Bayer CropScience for what is, effectively, a highly faulty product.
More than 5 million Brazilian farmers are currently in the midst of a lawsuit tangle with Monsanto over unrealistic royalty expectations on crops, including genetically modified soy and corn, which have quickly outpaced the growth of non-GMO crops in the South American country, but at a cost the farmers claim was misrepresented and unrealistic. Not to mention that the rapid growth of GMOs in Brazil have been intrinsically linked with irreparable destruction of the Amazon rainforest and the vital species and cultures that have thrived in the world's most important ecosystem since it first sprouted eons ago.
Hybrid Monsanto seeds given to post-earthquake Haiti failed to produce crops and led to uprisings in the streets with protestors burning the faulty Monsanto seeds. Even here on American soil, farmers repeatedly find themselves struggling to meet yield expectations, battling Monsanto lawsuits over seed-saving or patent infringement if crops drift from neighboring farms, all while pests and weeds become more and more resistant to the harmful pesticides that the farmers were told they'd be able to decrease use of over time.
Over the last three decades, Bono has built a reputation as a humanitarian, an environmentalist, and a responsible artist. He helped build the ONE organization, which according to their website, is "a grassroots advocacy and campaigning organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa." He and his wife were pioneers in environmentally-friendly clothing (Edun) that encourages ethical trade in Africa, and even his band's music has come to overtly encourage listeners to live compassionate, authentic, and joyful lives-overcoming personal and global transgressions together.
Intending to combat the extreme conditions in Africa-drought, blights, poor soil quality, etc-the NAFSN roster of corporations continually make claims that GMO crops can handle these very issues, when similar circumstances repeatedly prove otherwise. This is why it's most confusing that Bono would be so vocal about supporting such controversial agricultural methods. When the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced support of biotechnology, it was disheartening, yes, but almost expected. The Microsoft guru is known for glitchy software and a generally geeky level of oversight.
But Bono was once the voice for the counterculture. He encouraged rising against the forces-political or corporate-that won't ever really take anyone's best interest to heart, no matter what kind of pandering they do. So why isn't he supporting organic farming and the further development of empowering community models like Fair Trade-both of which have shown tremendously effective and long-lasting results-instead of faulty, toxic and greedy mechanisms like genetically modified crops?
In his TIME article, Bono writes, "If I've learned anything in more than 25 years of making noise about this stuff, it's that partnership trumps paternalism," but that's exactly what he's supporting: a paternalistic corporate-political blunderbuss of misinformation and misguided intentions. Bono once asked the anthemic question, "How long must we sing this song?" Longer still, it seems...longer still.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
Image: maureen lunn
This article also appears on Organic Authority.