The USDA is not known for caring about black farmers. Here in the US, its massively discriminatory policies have resulted in reducing black farms from two million to less than 18,000 today.
"Black farmers have contended that white-dominated committees force foreclosures on black farms, which are then purchased by white farmers," reports Tamara E. Holmes.
The National Black Farmers Association accused the department of discrimination between 1981 and 1996, but even though they won a settlement for what was done to them, it never yielded compensation for a majority of the growers who filed claims. Payments were denied to 81,000 of the 94,000 black farmers who sought restitution.
Perhaps Vilsack was referring to the USDA's more than decimation of black farmers ("decimation" would have left 200,000 farmers) when, in listing his priorities the other day, he mentioned "finally closing the sad chapter of the Department's struggle with civil rights.... We need to do a better job of ... apologizing for mistakes when we make them...."
In the same breath, Vilsack spoke of "investing in programs that alleviate hunger and suffering overseas." Africa. Black farmers, again.
But Vilsack is not actually proposing helping them. The USDA did not suddenly become pro-black farmer (or any small farmer). "[I]nvesting in programs that alleviate hunger and suffering overseas" is Monsanto-speak. It is code for forcing genetic engineering and patents over seeds onto Africa (and India and others). What Vilsack says sounds so compassionate and appealing to those liberals listening for change from the Obama administration and watching Vilsack to see if he is it.
But while his words are a neat combining of missionary and humanitarian language, Vilsack is still Monsanto's boy and he is talking about colonizing Africa at the level of DNA. At that level, liberals miss what is going on. Everything is dressed up in science and humanitarian relief for needy Africans.
In his article "Starved for Science: How Biotechnology is Being Kept Out of Africa, Robert Paarlberg, a Wellesley professor (my alma mater) combines literal hunger with an utterly new concept - "starvation" for biotech. His choice of words neatly triggers those who legitimately care about Africans in need while actually suggesting stupidity and inadequacy on the part of Africans. Paarlberg says with apparently no sense of the immense condescension involved, "U.S. agricultural aid is needed to help African scientists to do their own modification of food crops. Let them get comfortable with the technology, and let them sell it to their governments." Click here.
Oh, dumb, dumb African scientists.
Vilsack uses this same approach. What he is pushing as a priority of the USDA is a take over of African agriculture and a subjugation of people to the foreign control of their food supply by Monsanto and other multinationals. One doesn't need guns and soldiers and visible take-overs. At the level of DNA, there are Monsanto laws and patents on seeds and lawyers and subtle or not so subtle elimination of access to normal seeds. All very neat and wrapped in humanitarian language. Science and suits come to Africa. But the end result is colonialism - farmers (and countries), against their will, becoming abjectly dependent and controlled from outside their country.
Mr. Obama is a Kenyan. Perhaps it would be appropriate for him to hear what Kenya farmers think about his new Secretary of Agriculture's plans to "alleviate hunger and suffering" by inflicting Monsanto's genetic engineering and the accompanying intellectual property laws and patents on them. And perhaps those who believe Africa is "starving for science" and too incompetent to think for itself, might listen as well.
THE THIKA DECLARATION ON GMOs
Statement from the Kenya Small Scale Farmers Forum 20 August, 2004
We, the Kenya Small Scale Farmers Forum leaders, representing crop farmers, pastoralists and fisherfolk, do declare today, August 20th 2004, that farming is our livelihood and not just a trade. Farming has been passed down from generation to generation, and is now threatened by Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
GMOs are a danger to food security and our indigenous gene pool. Patented GMO crops threaten farmers' ability to save and share their indigenous seeds which have stood the test of time. Thus they will reduce our seed security and food security, without the long and short term effects on our health and environment being known. GMOs will hand control of our food systems to the multinational companies, who have created these seeds for financial gain, and not for our need.
These new seeds may create conflict between farmers due to the risks of cross pollination from GMO to non GMO crops leading to contamination between farms.