Bill Gates responds on MSNBC to my criticisms of his farm policies 2022-09-13

Last night Bill Gates again pretended to be an expert on farming, while avoiding mention of water, soil, ecology, environment, or community. Many of the assertions he made about farming in the U.S. and Africa don’t match documented research.

He did seem to be familiar with my criticisms of his policies, and by his expressions he doesn’t like them much.

[Question and three Gates expressions]
Question and three Gates expressions

He says “all these areas, they evolve, they understand how to say use less fertilizer, which is both good economically and good environmentally.”

Well, his landholdings in Florida and Georgia did not evolve. And he’s now sold off many of them, so maybe they weren’t good economically for him.

Meanwhile, he has driven the size of farm landholdings up, driving out small farmers, and he continues to promote policies and seeds that use too much irrigation water and too much fertilizer, which leaches nitrates into our springs and rivers, causing algae blooms which crowd out plants and animals that should be living there.

Bill Gates On Why AI Will Change Everything And What We Owe Africa | MSNBC Intv W/ Ari Melber, September 13, 2022.

At 11:30 Ari Melber notes Gates is one of the largest landowners in the U.S.

Gates says he only owns

about one five thousandth of those farms. My investment group is investing in those farms, raising their productivity.

Ah, but, you know, you wouldn’t, it’s not similar to a farm in Africa. A farm in Africa has no tractor, you know, they have a tough time getting credit, so pretty different set of problems.

If his investment group is so successful at raising productivity (and therefore presumably profits), why have they already sold off much of that land in Florida?

This could describe Florida and south Georgia just as well. Exploring agricultural water challenges and opportunities in West Africa as climate change signals a new normal, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), May 9, 2022, by Olufunke Cofie, Country Representative – Ghana, Regional Representative – West Africa.

Food security is water security

Access to water in its various forms is fundamental in order to maintain food security. Groundwater in particular is a major source of irrigation for smallholder farmers

In West Africa, groundwater replenishment is largely dependent on the region’s seasonal rainfalls. But with climate change disrupting the frequency, timing, and intensity of the rainfall patterns across the continent, extended droughts and intensified flooding have become the new normal.

Maybe Bill’s investment people didn’t tell him about sinking stream and groundwater levels in the area of the Floridan Aquifer.

[Quarterman hoped Gates would help turn around ecological damages from big agriculture]
Quarterman hoped Gates would help turn around ecological damages from big agriculture; thanks to Kris Cathey for the screenshot.

At 12:22 Melber mentions “one environmentalist, John Quarterman”

At the mere mention of my name, Bill slaps his hand to his face, covers his mouth, and closes his eyes.

[One environmentalist, John Quarterman]
One environmentalist, John Quarterman

Melber continues:

You have all that land, true, different geologically, but you could try more techniques there, to reduce ecological damage from big farming, right, or some of the potatoes sold to McDonalds, or that kind of stuff.

[you could try more techniques there, to reduce ecological damage from big farming]
you could try more techniques there, to reduce ecological damage from big farming

And so because you have more than one role, is there a place to do that kind of work, environmentalism, to change the status quo on those properties, or you see that as business, and then you say they are sort of running the way they run.

At 13:55, Gates pauses for five seconds, and then literally throws his hands up.

[all these areas, they evolve]
all these areas, they evolve

Well, there’s, there are, you know, all these areas, they evolve, they understand how to say use less fertilizer, which is both good economically and good environmentally.

But if you looked at what the state of the art is, uh, in a U.S. farm vs. an African farm, the issues would be utterly different. I mean, they don’t have any mechanisation whatsoever. And their typical farm would be about a thousandth the size of an American farm.

And you know they’re basically growing food for themselves. Ah, you know when they have a bad year, they face malnutrition, and you know, fortunately, that’s not the case in the United States.

It’s interesting that Gates mentioned reducing fertilizer usage, because Melber did not. So apparently Gates is familiar with my criticisms from the June 8, 2021, NBC News story by April Glaser. And he has no answer other than “they evolve”. Well, your farmland didn’t evolve, Bill. You had the opportunity to do something helpful, and you didn’t.

At 13:45 they move on to talk about a new toilet, and Gates brightens up considerably.

Regarding malnutrition on farms in the U.S., see Food workers, rural Americans go hungry despite U.S. government farm aid, Reuters, 2020-10-27, by Christopher Walljasper, Gabriela Bhaskar.

GREEN BAY, Wis. (Reuters)—Yessenia Cendejas pulled up to a moving truck filled with donated food in northeastern Wisconsin, arriving at the mobile food bank straight from her job at a pizza-crust factory, to get sustenance for herself and five children.

Cendejas, 35, took a second job at a fast-food restaurant in Green Bay—whose county has Wisconsin’s highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita—after her factory employer reduced her hours, but says her income is now half of what it was.

“There were times we couldn’t work, so it was tough,” she said. “I’m more stressed out. You start thinking, ‘What do I do?’”

Just 15 miles (24 km) from where she picked up her food, a large-scale corn and soybean farmer received $1 million in coronavirus aid from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the largest amount in the state, federal data shows.

More people who harvest food, work in food processing and even own their own farms now need food assistance, according to dozens of food bank workers nationwide.

“A lot of these farmers have just had so much pride that they never thought about taking that trip to a local food pantry,” said Melissa Larson, who manages food programs for seven counties in northwestern Wisconsin.

Lest you or Bill Gates think rural hunger is just a Coronavirus phenomenon, See Farm Aid.

Since 1985


Farm Aid works year-round to build a system of agriculture that values family farmers, good food, soil and water, and strong communities. Our annual music and food festival celebrates farmers, eaters and music coming together for change.


Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp organized the first Farm Aid concert in 1985 to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on the land.

Gates never mentioned soil, water, or communities. He certainly never mentioned trying to keep farm families on the land.

According to USDA, “With 895 million acres of land in farms in 2021, the average farm size was 445 acres, only slightly greater than the 440 acres recorded in the early 1970s.”

Bill Gates owns about 250,000 acres of farmland. So his holdings are about 500 times the size of the average U.S. farm.

According to a recent study, farm size in Africa varies quite a bit among countries, but is growing most everywhere. Africa’s changing farm size distribution patterns: the rise of medium-scale farms, T.S. Jayne, Jordan Chamberlin, Lulama Traub, Nicholas Sitko, Milu Muyanga, Felix K. Yeboah, Ward Anseeuw, Antony Chapoto, Ayala Wineman, Chewe Nkonde, Richard Kachule, First published: 29 November 2016, Citations: 129

Among all farms below 100 hectares in size, the share of land on small-scale holdings under five hectares has declined except in Kenya. Medium-scale farms (defined here as farm holdings between 5 and 100 hectares) account for a rising share of total farmland, especially in the 10—100 hectare range where the number of these farms is growing especially rapidly. Medium-scale farms control roughly 20% of total farmland in Kenya, 32% in Ghana, 39% in Tanzania, and over 50% in Zambia. The numbers of such farms are also growing very rapidly, except in Kenya. We also conducted detailed life history surveys of medium-scale farmers in each of these four countries and found that the rapid rise of medium-scale holdings in most cases reflects increased interest in land by urban-based professionals or influential rural people. About half of these farmers obtained their land later in life, financed by nonfarm income.

100 hectares is about 247 acres, which is about half the U.S. average farm size. Even 10 hectares is about 24.7 acres, which is about 1/20th. So Gates’ “thousandth the size” is way off. He’s the one who owns enough farmland that the typical U.S. farm is little more than a thousandth the size.

That study continues:

The rise of medium-scale farms is affecting the region in diverse ways that are difficult to generalize. Many such farms are a source of dynamism, technical change, and commercialization of African agriculture. However, medium-scale land acquisitions may exacerbate land scarcity in rural areas and constrain the rate of growth in the number of small-scale farm holdings. Medium-scale farmers tend to dominate farm lobby groups and influence agricultural policies and public expenditures to agriculture in their favor.

Gates is the very model of an urban-based professional who obtained his land later in life, financed by nonfarm income. He is not only trying to influence agricultural policies and public expenditures to agriculture in their favor in the U.S., but also in Africa.

Ari Melber also plays a clip of Gates on Letterman way back when claiming he knew all about the Internet. Actually, Gates kept Microsoft out of the Internet for years, and when other executives convinced him to relent, the single-process nature of MS/DOS did not adapt well.

Now Bill Gates, an apostle of the Great God Efficiency, is blundering in another area he knows little about.

Earlier in the interview, 3:34, he said, “The seed market in the rich countries, you know, work very well.”

Sure, for Monsanto, because farmers have to eat price hikes. How dare African farmers use seeds they didn’t buy from Monsanto!

Bill Gates is basically a colonialist plantation owner who wants to solve farm problems with efficiency, mechanization, and proprietary seeds. He never mentioned environment until dragged into it by the interviewer, and changed the subject as fast as he could. He never mentioned water, soil, community, or ecology at all.

Is he someone who should be determining food or farm policy?

Thanks to Patsy Thompson Buccy, Kris Cathey, and Margaret Tyson for alerting me to last night’s interview. They, of course, are not responsible for my opinions.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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