king of the global food system?
A Growing Culture
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent nearly US$6
billion over the past 17 years trying to improve
agriculture, mainly in Africa.
is a lot of money for an underfunded sector, and, as
such, carries great weight. To better understand how the
Gates Foundation is shaping the global agriculture
agenda, GRAIN analyzed all the food and agriculture
grants the foundation has made up until 2020.
found that, while the Foundation's grants focus on
African farmers, the vast majority of its funding goes
to groups in North America and Europe.
grants are also heavily skewed to technologies developed
by research centers and corporations in the North for
poor farmers in the South, completely ignoring the
knowledge, technologies and biodiversity that these
farmers already possess.
Also, despite the Foundation's focus on techno-fixes,
much of its grants are given to groups that lobby on
behalf of industrial farming and undermine alternatives.
is bad for African farmers and bad for the planet. It is
time to pull the plug on the Gates' outsized influence
over global agriculture.
published a detailed breakdown of the grants made by
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to promote agricultural
development in Africa and other parts of the world. 1
Our main conclusion then
was that the vast majority of those grants were channeled to groups
in the US and Europe, not Africa nor other parts of the global
The funding overwhelmingly went to research institutes rather
They were also mainly
directed at shaping policies to support industrial farming, not
Much has happened since then.
For starters, Bill and Melinda Gates
announced their divorce in May this year, leaving the future of the
Foundation and its grant-making in doubt.
The news came as Bill
Gates himself came under fire for supporting Big Pharma's patent
COVID-19 vaccines, for effectively preventing people's
access across much of the world, and for how he treats - or
mistreats - women... 2
The Foundation's agenda
with agriculture has also been coming under increased scrutiny. A
2020 report from Tufts University concluded that its work in Africa
completely failed to meet the objectives that it had set itself.
The African Centre for
Biodiversity published a string of reports denouncing the Gates
pushing GMOs and other harmful technologies onto
Amongst all this, the US
Right to Know collective started a "Bill Gates Food Tracker" to
monitor the multiple initiatives that Gates is involved in to
reshape the global food system. 5
GRAIN wondered whether the Gates Foundation had been receptive to
the criticism of its food and agriculture funding.
So we set out to update
our 2014 report, downloaded the Foundation's publicly available
grant records and created a database of all of the Foundation's
grants in the area of food and agriculture from 2003 to 2020 - almost two decades worth of grant-making. 6
The results are sobering.
From 2003 to 2020 the Foundation dished
out a total of 1130 grants for food and agriculture, worth nearly
$US6 billion of which almost US$5 billion is supposed to service
There was no shift to try and reach groups in Africa
directly, no refocusing away from the narrow technological approach,
and no moves to embrace a more holistic and inclusive policy agenda.
Of course, the Gates
Foundation is about much more than just making grants.
The Foundation's Trust
Fund, which manages the Foundation's endowment, has big investments
in food and agribusiness companies, buys up farmland, and has equity
investments in many financial companies around the world. 7
These, and other
activities of Gates in the area of food and agriculture, are
illustrated in the infographic that accompanies this report: 8
by A Growing Culture.
Foundation fights hunger in the South by giving money to the North
Graph 1 and Table 1 provide an overall picture of GRAIN's research
Almost half of the Foundation's grants for agriculture went
to four big groupings:
agriculture research network of the Consortium Group on
International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)
the Alliance for a
Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA - set up in 2006 by the Gates
Foundation itself together with the Rockefeller Foundation)
African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF - another
technology centre pushing Green Revolution technology and GMOs
a number of international
Bank, UN agencies, etc.).
The other half ended up
with hundreds of research, development and policy organizations
across the world.
The Gates Foundation
claims that 80% of their grants are meant to serve African farmers.
But of the funding to these hundreds of organizations a staggering
82% was channeled to groups based in North America and Europe while
less than 10% went to Africa-based groups.
The breakdown of the NGOs that the Gates Foundation funds is even
worse. Almost 90% of this funding goes to groups in North American
and Europe whilst just 5% is directly channeled to African NGOs.
The Gates Foundation
seems to have very little trust in African organizations serving
African farmers. Not that we would want the Gates Foundation to just
send more of its grants directly to Africa if it comes with the same
corporate industrial farming agenda.
But it illustrates the point of
where the priorities of the Foundation lie.
For contrast, Oxfam spends over half of all its funding directly in
Africa, and over a third in Asia and Latin America, a lot of it
through local NGOs in these regions. 9
Foundation gives to scientists, not farmers
As can be seen in Graph 2, the single biggest recipient of grants
from the Gates Foundation is the CGIAR, a consortium of 15
international research centers launched in the 1960s and 70s to
promote the Green Revolution with new seeds, fertilizers and
The Gates Foundation has
given CGIAR centers US$1.4 billion since 2003. Another priority for
the Gates Foundation in its funding is to support research at
universities and national research centers.
Again, the vast majority
of the Gates' grants go to universities and research centers in
North America and Europe.
Together, all this
research gets almost half (47%) of the Gates Foundation's funding.
The Gates Foundation's support for Green Revolution-style research
extends beyond the scientists. One of the most significant
recipients of Gates Foundation funding is a high-profile advocacy
organisation called the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa
The Gates and Rockefeller
Foundations launched AGRA in 2006 as a "farmer-centered" and "African-led" institution.
The reality is anything but. AGRA
implements a top-down Green Revolution agenda with the main focus
being to get new seeds and chemicals developed by Gates funded
research centres and corporations into the hands of African farmers.
AGRA establishes, funds,
coordinates and promotes networks of pesticide and seed companies
and public agencies to sell and supply agriculture inputs to farmers
It also actively lobbies
African governments to implement policies that favour seed and
pesticide companies, such as patents on seeds or regulations that
allow for GMOs.
The Gates Foundation has given AGRA a whopping US$638 million since
2006, covering almost two thirds of its overall budget.
results are underwhelming to say the least.
In the countries where
AGRA is active, yields of staple crops increased only 18% over the
past 12 years - far short of AGRA's goal of doubling yields.
undernourishment (as measured by the FAO) increased by 30% in those
Instead of acknowledging that their data shows a complete failure to
achieve their objectives and changing their approach accordingly,
Bill and Melinda are doubling down. In early 2020 they launched
their own new research institute called "Gates Ag One".
This enterprise claims to
speed up the development of new seeds and chemicals and get them to
farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia more quickly. 11
Where will the institute
Not in Ethiopia or Sri Lanka but in St. Louis, USA, home
Monsanto and other
GMO and pesticide giants...
Foundation buys political influence
In many subtle and not so subtle ways the Gates Foundation grants
are used to push policy makers to implement its top-down industrial
2006 World Economic Forum
advising policy makers.
World Economic Forum
One recent example is the 2021 "High-Level Dialogue on Feeding
Africa" that was held on 29-30 April this year. 12
This forum, funded by the
Gates Foundation, and organized by a number of Gates Foundation
grantees such as the African Development Bank, CGIAR and AGRA, was
meant to launch a policy and funding agenda to further push the
Green Revolution into Africa.
The event attracted no less than 18
African heads of state and several other high-profile personalities.
But, most remarkable of
all, is that of all the international organizations with activities
in Africa on the long speakers list of the dialogue, virtually all
are Gates grantees.
The forum concluded with
a commitment to double agricultural productivity, something AGRA and
the Gates Foundation have been promising and failing to deliver for
the last decade and a half.
Of course, AGRA itself is also actively pushing the African policy
agenda. AGRA is among the key conveners of the annual Africa Green
Revolution Forum (AGRF) which calls itself the world's premier forum
for African agriculture and has been convening annual meetings for
the past decade.
Partners include some of
the main global agrochemical corporations, such as Bayer, Corteva
and Yara, and of course the Gates Foundation itself.
its agenda is clearly oriented to push government policies towards
more chemical inputs, fertilizers and hybrid seeds.
On its website, AGRF has
a special section it calls the Agribusiness deal room, which,
facilitated over 400 companies with targeted investor
matchmaking and hosted more than 800 companies to explore
networking opportunities". 13
This is clearly market
matchmaking serving corporate interests, not farmers.
While most of the Gates grants are aimed at pushing technological
solutions, many are also oriented towards policy change.
A total of 45 grants
address policy or policy makers. For example, Iowa State University
got a grant to support implementation of policy changes aimed at
increasing the supply of new seeds to farmers in Africa.
The World Economic Forum
received a grant to support a "policy platform for ag innovation and
value chain development", whilst the African Centre for Economic
Transformation got a grant to promote agricultural transformation in
Africa aimed at policy reforms.
In addition, the
Foundation is actively involved in bankrolling the "Enabling the
Business of Agriculture" project, implemented by the World Bank,
amongst many other initiatives. 14
Gates' enthusiasm for GMOs is made clear through its grant database.
Michigan State University received US$13 million to create a centre
in Africa that provides training for African policy makers on how to
use and promote biotechnology. The African Seed Trade Association
got a grant to increase farmers' awareness "of the benefits of
replacing their older varieties of crops with newer seed".
AATF got US$32 million to
increase awareness on the benefits of agricultural biotechnology and
another US$27 million to fund the approval and commercialization GMO
maize in at least four African countries.
So the Gates Foundation
is not only funding public acceptance of GMOs, it is also directly
funding the approval and commercialisation of GMOs in Africa.
Gates grantees are clearly carrying the Gates agenda and influencing
global agricultural policy. In just over a decade, the Gates
brainchild in Africa, AGRA, has managed to maneuver itself from
nowhere right into the centre of agricultural policy discussions
across the continent.
resistance to GMOs in Africa remains high, the AATF is managing to
get legislation adopted to accept GMOs, as seen most recently in
It's just as important to look at who the Gates Foundation is
supporting as who they are not supporting:
The Foundation provides
zero funding to support farmer seed systems, which supply 80 to 90%
of all the seeds used in Africa. Instead, it provides a lot of funds
to initiatives that destroy them.
Furthermore, the Gates
Foundation props up biofortification as a solution to malnutrition,
taking funds and attention away from much more practical and
culturally appropriate efforts to improve nutrition by enhancing
on-farm biodiversity and people's access to it. 15
Over the last decade or
so, the Gates Foundation has given US$73 million to biofortification
initiatives that essentially seek to artificially pack nutrients
into single crop commodities.
Then, of course, there is Bill Gates himself.
Sitting down with
heads of state, policy makers and business leaders, Gates tries to
convince them that his view of the world is the one to go after...
The world has gotten used
to pictures of him shaking hands or sitting shoulder to shoulder
with the leaders of the world. Indeed, many of those leaders seem
very eager to be in these pictures and heed his advice.
The most recent display
of this was at
Joe Biden's virtual "Leaders Summit on Climate" where
Gates shared his vision on how to fight the climate crisis. 16
His recipe to tackle the
climate crisis is very similar and equally dangerous to how he wants
to feed the world: develop new technologies, trust the market, and
put in place policies so that corporations can make it all happen
Gates clearly isn't listening to or learning from the people on the
So why should anyone listen to him? Rather than being
listened to, Gates and his top down corporate technology agenda must
be resisted and stopped in its tracks.
GRAIN wishes to thank Camila Oda and María Teresa Montecinos for
their help in compiling the database and to 'A Growing Culture' for
their feedback on the draft and their work on the infographic.
here to consult all the food and
agriculture grants of the
1: Gates Foundation agricultural grants by type of
The CGIAR is a
consortium of 15 international research
centers set up to promote the Green
Revolution across the world. Gates is now
amongst its major donors. Main recipients
include: IFPRI ($223 million), CIMMYT
($346m), IRRI ($197m), ICRISAT ($151m), IITA
($166m), ILRI ($74m), CIP ($91m), and
others. Most of the grants are in the form
of project support to each of the centres,
and many of them are focusing on developing
new crop varieties.
A total of 20
grants for core support and AGRA's main
issue areas: seeds, soils, markets, and
lobbying African governments to change
policies and legislation.
(UN, World Bank, etc.)
World Bank -
IBRD ($192m); World Food Program (WFP)
($99m); UNDP ($54m.); FAO ($88m.) UN
Foundation ($76m). The lion's share of the
grants to the World Bank are to promote
public and private sector investment in
agriculture ($70m), WFP is supported to
improve market opportunities for small
farmers, UNDP to establish rural
agro-enterprises in West Africa, and the
support to FAO is mostly for statistical and
Agricultural Technology Foundation) is a
blatantly pro-GMO pro-corporate research
outfit based in Nairobi. The bulk of the
Gates' support is to develop GMO
drought-resistant maize, a project that has
miserably failed according to
many. But it also gets support to raise
"awareness on agricultural biotechnology for
improved understanding and appreciation",
and to get legislation approved for allowing GMOs in African countries.
National Research Centres
quarters of all Gates' funding to
universities and research centers goes to
institutions in the US and Europe, such as
Cornell, Michigan and Harvard in the US, and
Cambridge and Greenwich Universities in the
UK, amongst many others. The work supported
is a mix of basic agronomic, breeding and
molecular research, as well as policy
research. A lot of it includes genetic
engineering. Michigan State University, for
example, got $13m to help African
policy-makers "to make informed decisions on
how to use biotechnology".
of the Foundation's grants are supposed to
benefit Africa, barely 11% of its grants to
universities and research centers go
directly to African universities and
research institutions ($147m in total, of
which $30m for the Uganda based Regional
University Forum set up by the Rockefeller
Foundation sees these as agents to implement
its work on the ground. They include both
large development NGOs and foundations, and
the activities supported tend to have a
strong technology development angle or focus
on policy and education work in line with
the Foundation's philosophy. A whopping 70%
of these grants end up with US-based
beneficiaries, and another 19% in Europe.
African NGOs get 4% of the NGO grants ($73m
total, $36m of which goes to groups in South
Africa, and another $13m for "Farm Concern
International"- an NGO based in Nairobi with
the mission of building "market-led business
models" for small farmers).
minor share of Gates' funding goes directly
to the corporate sector. Most of the grants
are for specific technologies developed by
the corporations in question. Major grantees
include the World Cocoa Foundation ($31m), a
corporate outfit representing the world's
major food and cocoa processors, for
improving marketing and production
efficiency, and Zoetis (a Belgium based
veterinary transnational - $14m) for getting
veterinary products to farmers.
Gates Foundation agricultural grant recipients, top
10 countries 2003-2021
grants to CGIAR, AGRA, AATF and International
The USA is by
far the largest recipient country of Gates
agricultural grants meant to benefit farmers
in poor countries: $1,657 million dished out
in over 400 grants. Recipients include US
universities and research institutions to
produce crop varieties and biotechnology
research for farmers in Africa (e.g. Cornell
University, a whopping $212m in 26 grants),
big NGO projects mostly oriented to develop
technology and markets (e.g. Heifer, $51m,
to increase cow productivity and Technoserve
Inc., $51m, to push new technologies), and
several policy and capacity building
projects to push the foundation's agenda in
Africa and elsewhere.
A total of 81
grants with a focus on research such as for
the University of Greenwich to work on pests
and diseases in cassava and other crops (10
grants totaling $73m), and for the Global
Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines
(9 grants totaling $169m) to produce
livestock medicines and vaccines sold by the
private sector to African farmers.
grants for the German Federal Enterprise for
International Cooperation (GIZ) to develop
supply chains for African cashew and rice
farmers and other projects ($57m), and
another three grants for the German
Investment Corporation to work on African
cotton and coffee farming ($47m), amongst
Total of 33 grants to a variety of grantees
including three grants to PRADAN ($34m for
women farmers training), and three grants to
BAIF ($16m) to give farmers access to the
latest livestock breeding technologies.
Mostly for five grants to the Wageningen
University for agronomic research on grain
legumes, supporting digital farming and
other projects ($57m).
A total of 20
grants mostly towards universities to ensure
adoption of new technologies, develop
commercial cassava seed supply chains in
Tanzania, and to produce vaccines for
livestock diseases, amongst other programs.
A total of 24
grants mostly to universities and research
centers (including $30 million for the
University of Queensland) to develop sorghum
and cowpea hybrids for Africa, and provide
genetically improved cattle, amongst other
Mostly for the
Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences
(two grants totaling $33 million) to
develop new rice varieties for farmers
across the world.
RUFORUM (two grants totaling over $30
million to support agricultural research
universities in the region). RUFORUM was
established as a program of the
Rockefeller Foundation in 1992 and became an
independent Regional University Forum in
Grants for Farm Concern International to
create market-oriented value chains for a
number of crops, and to a number of
agribusiness companies active in the region
to do the same.
Total top 10
billion, or almost half of all agriculture
funding from Gates went to grantees in these
10 countries: over 90% to countries in the