By Philip Bereano

from GeneWatch 28-1 | Jan-May 2015

"Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems."



AGRA Watch, a project of Seattle's Community Alliance for Global Justice, hosted an Africa-U.S. Food Sovereignty Strategy Summit in Seattle October 10-14, 2014. The four-day meeting brought together a range of grassroots organizations, progressive funders, and international networks working towards food sovereignty in Africa and the United States.

The goal of the Summit was to deepen cooperation and develop a shared analysis of current public and private foreign interventions in African agriculture (e.g., pushing GMOs), most notably by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The shared premise was the empowerment of Africans and supporting what they have defined as necessary for agricultural policies and food sovereignty.


Background and Planning

The idea for a convening a meeting between U.S. and African food sovereignty activists was born several years ago, based on understanding the realities of the Gates foundation's interventions into African agricultural policies and programs. The Pesticide Action Network (PANNA) worked closely with AW to plan such an event.

The Gates Foundation's Green Revolution in Africa

The Gates Foundation has devoted over $3 billion to agriculture since its founding in 1997. Since 2006, it has partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation and chosen Africa as its main target of global market integration, founding the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

Yet, while AGRA serves as the local PR arm of the Foundation's work, it in fact receives only a small portion of the Gates Foundation's total spending on agricultural development. Rather paradoxically, North American and European institutions have received the greatest sum of total funds devoted to African agriculture. This money largely goes into the development of new biotechnology, like the GM banana developed for Uganda, and to promote these new technologies among African scientists so that they may promote them on a local level.

The organizations nominated to participate in the Summit were selected by an international steering committee comprised of both U.S. and Africa-based organizations. Ultimately, 14 U.S.-based organizations and 7 Africa-based organizations attended, representing a mix of national NGOs, international networks, small-scale producers and farmer networks, and community-based organizations (see listing at the end of this article).


"You come. You buy the land. You make a plan. You build a house. Now you ask me, what color do I want to paint the kitchen? This is not participation!"

- Simon Mwamba, East African Small-Scale Farmers' Federation at a forum on AGRA


The Summit Itself

Each morning, the Summit participants began their work by gathering in a mistica, a powerful practice originated by the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST). Delegates contributed seeds, banners of struggle, and other meaningful objects to the center of the room. Calling on ancestors, families, and joint moral and spiritual intention, this meditative activity cultivated a sense of trust and community among the U.S. and Africa-based organizations, strengthening their resolve to advance the struggle against philanthrocapitalism and the neocolonial scramble for Africa.

During the meetings, and over meals, there were discussions and exercises that helped everyone learn more about each other. The organizations shared the context of their work, the challenges they face, and the strategies they have adopted to resist corporate interventions and to build resilient, agro-ecological agriculture and food-sovereign communities. AGRA Watch provided a summary of our research examining the Gates Foundation's agricultural development programs which also analyzed the patterns of giving to discern the Foundation's true objectives and modus operandi.

Near the end of deliberations, the organizations attending the Summit adopted a joint statement representing a commitment to working together as well as some concrete ideas for campaigns and work moving forward (see below).

In addition to the daily meetings, African participants were featured in a large public event held at Seattle's Town Hall on Sunday, October 12. The event, "The Global Struggle for Food Sovereignty: A Discussion with African Food Leaders and Farmers," included a panel discussion featuring three of the attendees: Million Belay (Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa and MELCA-Ethiopia), Mariam Mayet (African Centre for Biosafety, South Africa), and Elizabeth Mpofu, (ZIMSOFF, La Via Campesina Africa, Zimbabwe). The panel was moderated by Eric Holt-Giminez of Food First. During the question and answer period, all of the African participants took the stage for a lively discussion. Each African participant described a bit about the situation in their countries and how the right to food is affected by international corporations and other actors. The event and reception beforehand drew an enthusiastic audience of over 400.

On the last day of the Summit, participants toured local urban and rural farms in the greater Seattle area as part of the Food Sovereignty Farm Tour. Our guests from Africa and the U.S. learned about our local food community while sharing ideas and making connections.


Summit Accomplishments

The group agreed to collaborate on several activities:

GM Banana Campaign: Genetically modified bananas are the first GM crop ever to be tested on humans in the U.S.; feeding trials are currently taking place at Iowa State University. While there are many other GM crops on the African continent that the Gates Foundation and other international organizations hope to introduce, such as Bt cotton, GM wheat, and "Water Efficient Maize for Africa" (WEMA), the GM banana offers a strategic opportunity to examine and intervene in a process that touches both Americans and Africans. Through the campaign we hope to expose the roles of the Gates Foundation, the G8 New Alliance, and USAID in forcing genetically modified seeds on Africans in order to open new markets for multi-national corporations.[1]

No to the G8 New Alliance Campaign: Obama's New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, adopted by the G8, is one of the most powerful threats to the African continent, seeking to transform the laws that govern African agriculture.[2] The Gates Foundation is very much involved in the Alliance, and interestingly, the retiring head of US AID, Rajiv Shah, had been a functionary of the Gates Foundation's agriculture development program. Participants recognized that there is no North American movement to challenge the role of the United States in the 'New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition' aspect of this powerful Alliance. We have begun steps to better educate North American NGOs so that they may join with African and European groups already mobilizing on this subject.

Research: Several participants volunteered to further develop research on AGRA and the Gates Foundation. U.S. partners will focus on identifying their funding trends while the African partners will focus on documenting impacts of AGRA and Gates Foundation funding.

Agroecology and Farmer to Farmer Exchange: The group proposed ways that urban and rural farmers, youth, women, farmworkers and others can share ideas for sustainable solutions through learning exchanges. Ideas included U.S. groups visiting Southern Africa next year, taking messages of agroecology, climate justice and GMOs to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 21) in Paris, and developing a hip-hop caravan in Africa modeled on African Peace Tours.


A statement was signed by all the participants at the conference indicating common ideals and plans to go forward.


Statement of the Africa-US Food Sovereignty Summit

We are brought together by a shared belief in just, sustainable and equitable food for all. We share a concern over the dangerous loss of agricultural biodiversity and of the loss of dignified and viable livelihoods in the countryside.

In great appreciation of the wisdom we each shared coming from our diverse cultures, struggles and experiences that are all a reflection of our shared humanity: We stand together against the corporate control of our food systems, the lack of accountability of global institutions like the G8 New Alliance For Food Security and Nutrition, the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), the United States (US) government's Feed the Future Initiative, the Grow Africa Partnership, the Gates Foundation and its Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and others, that are forcing their policies and institutions upon the farmers of the world to open up markets and create spaces for multinationals to secure profits; against the monopolization of our seeds that criminalizes the historical farm practices of saving, sharing, selling and exchanging seeds; against the displacement and dispossession of small-scale farm producers and workers from their lands; against the new Green Revolution, the global Free Trade Agreements, "climate-smart agriculture" and "sustainable intensification".

We pledge solidarity with the struggles of each of our organizations and with the global food sovereignty movement, and will work in mutual support to amplify the voices of the people on the ground fighting for food sovereignty, share information with the general public about food sovereignty and agro-ecology, and expose the myths underlying the false idea that corporate agriculture is necessary to "feed the world."


Africa-based Participants:

  • Mercia Andrews, Trust for Community Organization and Education, South Africa
  • Million Belay, Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa and MELCA-Ethiopia
  • Daniel Maingi, Growth Partners Africa and Kenya Food Rights Alliance, Kenya
  • Mariam Mayet, African Centre for Biosafety, South Africa
  • Herschelle Milford, Surplus People Project and Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty Campaign, South Africa
  • Elizabeth Mpofu, ZIMSOFF, La Via Campesina Africa, Zimbabwe
  • Bridget Mugambe, Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, Uganda


North America-based Participants:

  • Saulo Araujo, WhyHunger
  • Debbie Barker, Center for Food Safety
  • Ben Burkett, Federation of Southern Cooperatives, National Family Farm Coalition
  • Jahi Chappel, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
  • Georgia Good, Rural Advancement Fund, Rural Coalition
  • Jim Goodman, Family Farm Defenders
  • Heather Gray, US Africa Network
  • Lisa Griffith, National Family Farm Coalition
  • Eric Holt-Gimenez, Food First
  • Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Pesticide Action Network North America
  • Sara Mersha, Grassroots International
  • Darcey O'Callaghan, Food & Water Watch
  • Kadiri Sennefer Ra, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network
  • Karen Swift, Swift Foundation
  • Yeshica Weerasekera, International Development Exchange


AGRA Watch Team:

Bill Aal, Phil Bereano, Matt Canfield, Janae Choquette, Heather Day, Travis English, John Fawcett-Long, Bobby Righi, Saba Samdani


Phil Bereano, JD, was a co-founder of CRG and AGRA Watch. He participated in the negotiations of the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol, its Supplemental Protocol on Liability and Redress, and meetings of the UN's Codex Alimentarius dealing with GE food issues, such as labeling. AGRA Watch's work may be followed at




1. See, for example,

2. See


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