Well, according to a post at The Globalisation Institute's blog, it sounds like Monsanto is becoming the Johnny Appleseed of Africa. In all fariness, "How global business is inceasing crop yields in Africa," the title of the entry, merely reports on the results of a study by the Enterprise Africa! project, part of George Mason University's Mercatus Center. According to the report, "the 'combi-pack' - a package containing hybrid maize seed, fertilizer and herbicide for subsistence farmers - is helping to tackle hunger in Africa."
From the report's summary, the benefits of the combi-pack sound unassailable:
Farmers in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga provinces who use Combi-Packs along with no-till, or minimum-till, agriculture have increased maize yields. Now, the farmers raise enough maize that they can feed their families and then sell the excess, earning money to fix homes, buy clothes, and pay school fees.If you doubted the benevolence of the combi-pack, here's the clincher: "Farmers call the combi-pack 'Xoshindlala,' a Zulu word that means "chase away hunger."
Furthermore, Combi-Packs combined with no and minimum till agriculture have had beneficial effects for the environment, reducing erosion, and conserving water. Swelekile Alina Nkosi, a farmer in Mlondozi in rural Mpumalanga, enjoys these benefits. “I’m so happy with this way of farming. What will happen when I’m old I don’t know, but one thing is good, and that is now there’s no water cutting through, so my soil is conserved.”
But wait, what is the most incredible thing about the combi-pack?
The striking thing about the combi-pack is that it is not produced or distributed by aid workers - it is sold by the Monsanto Company to the farmers for a profit. Many critics of globalisation argue that multinationals will never help the poor, because it is not in their financial interests to do so - but Monsanto is proving them wrong. The sale of combi-packs is a mutually beneficial transaction: both parties are made better off by the sale than they would have been otherwise. It is also an excellent example of markets helping the poor.I don't want to be too cynical, so I'm not going to suggest that anything about this report is untrue. But with just a little digging, I discovered that among Enterprise Africa!'s partners are several free-market think-tanks like the Free Market Foundation and the Institute of Economic Affairs. With a little more digging, I wonder if one might discover that Enterprise Africa! gets a little of its funding from Monsanto or some of Monsanto's "philanthropic" partners.
And even if it is all true, the cynic in me is saying that there must be some sort of catch. At the very least, as these farmers earn income from the surplus that the combi-pack helps them grow, I suspect Monsanto will be right there waiting to sell them the next level of seed/fertilizer/herbicide pack, with the promise that they can grow, and earn, even more.
If the combi-pack is everything that this report makes it out to be, and if my suspicions are wrong, then let's hope Monsanto is developing a combi-pack for India's farmers. Oh, and as long as Monsanto is being so magnanimous, perhaps they can compensate all of the people around the world who have suffered the health effects of exposure to some of the toxic chemicals Monsanto has blessed us with.
Technorati tags: Monsanto, GMOs, agriculture