Monsanto - The World Food Prize?

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Monsanto – the World Food Prize?

Not everyone agreed in Iowa recently about the World Food Prize. This prize, like an agricultural Nobel Prize, is $250,000. It is for people who have helped to improve the global food system.

This year the Prize went to.... prepare yourself.... Monsanto.

Technically, the Prize was shared by three scientists, all leaders in genetically engineering crops. One of them, Robert T Fraley, is Monsanto’s chief technology officer. Another was an executive at the large biotech company Syngenta.

There have been problems with the Food Prize for a while. The headquarters are in Des Moines, capital of Iowa, and they are very proud of the award there. But from the beginning, the prize has been linked to a model of industrial agribusiness that has forced many American farm families to leave the land.


The World Food Prize started in 1986. Norman Borlaug, a Nobel peace prize winner from Iowa started it. People say he is the godfather of the ‘Green Revolution’. Many people say that this revolution saved millions of people in the Global South from starvation because of the introduction of high-yield (that produce a lot) seeds, petrochemical fertilizers, and synthetic (not natural) pesticides.

Production has increased. But famine and hunger continue. Small farmers have been cut off, local food systems have been affected, and the inequalities in society have increased. And the amount of production of food is not the biggest problem. We produce enough food to feed the world. But the hungry don't get food because of poverty and socio-economic inequality. The Green Revolution made people depend more on large agribusiness companies. And this has made those problems worse.

The World Food Prize has many friends in the big companies of industrial agriculture, including Cargill, ADM and Nestlé. In 2008, Monsanto gave a $5-million contribution, but they say they did not buy their award.

The Food Prize leaders say they have an independent group, not connected to the money of the organization, who decides on who gets the award. But many people don’t believe this. Big agriculture companies have a big influence over local government in Iowa.

Maybe GM (genetically modified) crops will one day help sustainable agriculture, but we need to fight against the abuse of power of Monsanto. A journalist from Des Moines, Rekha Basu, criticised the Food Prize and Monsanto.

‘Organic farmers in the US have problems when their crops are affected by genetically modified seeds, so it is difficult for them to sell them,’ Basu wrote, ‘And Monsanto then sues these farmers for using its seeds without paying.’

On 12 October there were “Millions Against Monsanto” demonstrations in more than 400 cities. This was the weekend before the Food Prize ceremony. Later that week, Iowan community groups and people fighting for family farms protested with two Haitians, Rosnel Jean-Baptiste and Rose Edith Germain, from organizations that had just won the Food Sovereignty Prize.

The Sovreignty Prize was created in 2009 as an alternative to the World Food Prize. It says no to business agriculture motivated by money. It gives the prize to groups that understand that power problems, eg. land reform and women’s rights, are very important to ending hunger. This year four peasant organisations in Haiti won the award. They work together as the Group of 4/Dessalines Brigade to build up Haitian agriculture after the 2010 earthquake. They also fight for small farmers, and save Creole seeds.

The organisers in Iowa will not give the World Food Prize to people like this. But there will be more protests in Des Moines next year.

Mark Engler is a senior analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus. He is writing a book about the evolution of political nonviolence. Contact:

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