Claiming that the continent of Africa is to this century what North America was to the 19th, U2 front man, 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 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 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. Be they 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.)
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 pay Monsanto 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 and led to uprisings in the streets and hungry protestors burning Monsanto seeds rather than planting them. 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 herbicides and 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, a responsible artist. He helped build the ONE organization, which according to its 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 that encourage ethical trade in Africa (Edun), 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 makes claims that GMO crops can handle these very issues, when similar circumstances repeatedly prove otherwise. Which 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. 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, Sir Bono… longer still.
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