According to The Land Report, a magazine for land investors tracking America’s biggest farm owners, Bill Gates is now the owner of some of the most covetable land in the United States. When this was revealed, people began asking whether he was pursuing a plan to help people, or could there be another explanation?
Currently the fourth richest man in the world, Gates’ portfolio includes around 242,000 acres of farmland and nearly 27,000 acres of other land across 18 states in the U.S. The land he owns is also abundant with moisture and unrivaled soil profiles, like the Eastern Washington farmland in the Horse Heaven Hills of Benton County he bought for almost $171 million – almost $12,000 per acre. The Horse Heaven Hills is also, a region prepped as a commercial hub for agricultural purposes: controlled atmosphere storage, state-of-the-art transportation infrastructure, and ready access to low-cost hydro-power. (Note: He is not the biggest private landowner in the US, he is the biggest farm owner).
Neither is he the only billionaire to be a huge private owner; Wonderful company co-founders Stewart and Lynda Resnick are number three on the list for largest farm holdings and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos owns 420 000 acres of land in West Texas.
The Lure of Land
According to Forbes, farmland is an attractive asset class for professional investors since it has had mostly positive returns from the early 1990s. This is because investors can make money from the annual cash rent that farmers pay to use the land and steady increases in land values. Professional investors in farmland also benefit from the supply versus demand ratio and the asset stability this produces. That is to say, the amount of farmland in the U.S. is shrinking at a rate of almost 3 acres per minute, yet the world’s population is increasing. Consequently, demand for food is growing, with farmland and freshwater viewed as increasingly valuable resources.
Gates‘ has other huge investments too. He invests in GMO crops, seed patents, synthetic foods, artificial intelligence including robotic farm-workers has holdings in food monoliths like “Coca-Cola, Unilever, Philip Morris (Kraft, General Foods), Kellogg’s, Procter + Gamble, and Amazon (Whole Foods), and in multinationals like Monsanto and Bayer that market chemical pesticides and petrochemical fertilizers.” He has energy holdings that include massive stakes in all the oil majors: Exxon, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell and contradict his stated hostility towards greenhouse gases. Gates also owns the world’s largest private jet company, and invests the Canadian National Railway and CSX Richmond – the largest coal transporter east of the Mississippi River. This is a lot of power for one person to have.
The Bill Gates’ philanthropy style has been criticized for promoting the idea that private finance can solve the developing world’s problems. In real situations, it could trap poor farmers in debt by insisting, they use chemicals, fertilizers, or tech underwritten by offshoots of the Gates foundation. By contrast, Gates’ point of view is that he wants to revive economies by transforming agriculture with super-fast AI and creating farms of the future. He said, “through better seeds, fertilizer, lots of things … AI will bring us immense new productivity.” To see the kind of problems this might bring, though, it is instructive to consider the recent farm unrest in India.
Indian Farmers Revolt
“When Bill Gates forced his ‘rescue’ technologies on Indian farmers, the only one to benefit was Gates and his multinational partners. He gave his money to the government and a company called Digital Green and made extravagant promises to transform Indian agriculture digitally,” said Indian farm expert Vandana Shiva. Then with the cooperation of his purchased government officials’ law introduced, it went against the interest of Indian farmers.
On January 26th, hundreds of thousands of farmers marched into Delhi, escalating the months-long protests over new farm laws passed by the Indian government last September. Laws that farmers say will decimate their way of life and ruin their livelihoods.
Farming employs 50% of India’s workforce, 85% of those farmers have small holdings of five acres or less, and India is home to 25% of the world’s farms. In 2019 alone, 10,300 farmers took their own lives, and it is difficult not to see those deaths as a result of the impact of globalization on a cultural system that is not compatible with. The new farm laws get rid of the government-controlled markets, which ensured farmers got a minimum guaranteed price. Farmers argue that this places them at the mercy of uncontrollable market prices and to the eventual replacement of them by giant corporations, and globalization – where opportunism, exploitation, and further centralization of power disempowers ordinary people.
Vandana Shiva, the expert, and author of Oneness vs the 1% has been a vociferous opponent of big multinational corporations, who have what she calls a “nefarious influence on agriculture.” She says the entry of corporations into agriculture is wrong, especially when some of the corporations, such as Monsanto, (now taken over by Bayer), are bringing poisons, developed during WW2 as chemicals/gases to be used by Hitler in the concentration camps. Shiva points out that instead of ceasing production of these chemicals after the war, the companies making them shifted to producing products for agriculture, i.e., to kill insects and pests, so they ended up making fertilizers in factories that had previously made explosives. Yet the composition of a life-threatening chemical does not change when you re-introduce as fertilizers to keep the corporations in business. In the case of Monsanto, it entered the Indian market, promising to increase farmers productivity and income with their new products to control pests, but now things like the Boll worms have become resistant, soil has been ruined, the groundwater has dried up, pollinators are gone and farmers are in debt.
By contrast, farming successes experienced in India took place in areas where global corporations were not involved. For example, in villages where organic cotton seeds were brought back, with Gandhi Ashram’s hand spinning and hand weaving it, economic growth increased tenfold. Suggesting a simple, local approach using traditional methods is more beneficial for Indian communities.
The problem Bill Gates posed for India is that he bio-pirated seeds that traditional communities saved, ones which can tolerate salts and floods, and claimed them as his own invention via patents. The consequence is that even though people deem Bill Gates a philanthropist, who does things like aim to eliminate Malaria, his involvement brings him power that is undemocratic. This fits with Joel Bakken’s concept of “Philanthro-Capitalists companies” that claim they are lifestyle companies and represent particular ideologies that are kind, not just in pursuit of profit. The problem is that their objectives become the accumulation of power and crush industries that already exist in communities, which cannot compete with global monoliths’ resources. Moreover, often the powerful global corporations are linked together through shared interests, which also align with the ideologies favored by corporate media, who then omit scrutiny and negative opinions of the global corporations. The objectives of globalists are therefore very powerful, and in a way, the extent of their power eliminates opposition.
Aims to Data Mine India
The globalists are not winning yet. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg tried to enter the Indian agriculture market, but a great backlash and protests from farmers have so far limited his aims to mine their data.
The purposes of data mining were summarized in a report from Grain –an international non-profit organization that works to support small farmers for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems. They say, once captured, this data can be “processed with powerful algorithms to provide farmers with data and real-time analysis on the condition of their soil and water, the growth of their crops, the situation with pests and diseases and the looming weather and climatic changes they may face.” Grain believes that while this is appealing for some farms and will provide advice on fertilizer application, pesticide use, and harvest times that is specific and often useful. Not all farms will be able to afford the high-priced data gathering technologies to feed information to companies analyzing it.
In addition, Grain notes, “developments in digital agriculture are not divorced from Big Tech’s aggressive moves into food distribution and retail.” In fact, building centralized production systems upstream will fuel Big Tech’s evolving operations downstream, “displacing the small vendors, hawkers, and other local actors who have long served to bring foods from small farmers to consumers.” Consequently, in the not too far future, the small farmers and vendors of today will be pieceworkers for Big Tech companies tomorrow.
Thus, the goal of corporations investing in digital agriculture is to integrate millions of farmers into a vast, centrally controlled digital network that will not help farmers share their knowledge or promote their diverse seed and animal varieties in traditional ways. “The platforms will emphasize conformity; participating farmers will have to buy the inputs that are promoted and sold on credit (at high-interest rates) follow the “advice” of a chatbot to qualify for crop insurance (which they must pay for), sell their crops to the company (at a non-negotiable price), and receive payments on a digital money app, developed by the same companies (for which there is a fee). Any missteps can affect a farmer’s creditworthiness and access to finance and markets. It will be contract farming on a mass scale.”
Bill Gates is positioning himself at the center of this kind of system.
As an illustration to make a case for their apparent superiority, elites at the 2021 World Economic Forum ran a strawberry growing competition between traditional farmers and AI, representative by data scientists. They found that through data analysis, intelligent sensors and greenhouse automation, the data scientists won since they were more precise at controlling the use of water and nutrients, compared with traditional farmers who had to do the same tasks by hand, only relying on their experience.
At the same time, LinkedIn, Coursera, and the World Economic Forum in the Future of Jobs Report 2020 estimated that, by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labor between humans and machines. “Displaced” sounds an awful lot like jobs lost. Although, they do say, “97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labor between humans, machines, and algorithms.”
People do not want to get rid of the progress technology makes possible or diminish the many benefits it can bring, it is the idea that these non-elected centralized forces, big tech CEO’s, philanthropists, and the like should not be trusted to run the show when they have an explicit interest in growing their power and generating profit. What see in India with farmers demonstrating, and in America where the MAGA movement is ordinary people realizing that their culture and way of life, built over generations of time, is being destroyed to allow big tech corporations to enter their lives, centralize power and usurp a non-accountable control, which does not have as its main goal, the interests of ordinary people.