THE PEASANT'S BANK AND THE MULTINATIONAL CORPORATION
It's not a combination I would ever have expected to see -- Monsanto
and the Grameen Bank. A huge corporation, one-time maker of some of the most
pernicious chemicals ever to hit the environment, now an aggressive pusher of
gene-spliced commodities, in partnership with a bank for the poorest of the
Here's an excerpted account put out by the Rural Advancement Foundation
International (RAFI) of Canada, one of many development organizations that
reacted to the news with outrage.
"The Grameen Bank's June 25th announcement that it will accept $150,000
from Monsanto Corporation to launch the Grameen Monsanto Center for
Environment-Friendly Technologies is stirring a storm of controversy. The
surprise move was unveiled jointly by Muhammad Yunus, Managing Director of the
Grameen Bank and Robert Shapiro, Monsanto's CEO. The company's initial grant
is for soft loans to Bangladeshi farmers to buy agricultural technologies
including Monsanto's herbicides and hybrid rice, maize, and cotton seeds....
Monsanto ... has spent $8.1 billion in the past two years buying biotechnology
companies. Its most recent acquisitions [make it] the world leader in cotton
seed sales -- an important Bangladesh export crop -- and number two in maize
"While Monsanto has stated that it will not provide transgenic crop
seed because Bangladesh does not have a regulatory framework for
genetically-modified organisms, the Grameen/Monsanto announcement is expected
to put pressure on the government to adopt biosafety rules amenable to
Monsanto's extensive line of herbicide-tolerant crops. Yunus and Shapiro have
said, however, that the joint venture will begin by selling hybrid seeds to
poor farmers. Hybrid rice and maize are incapable of breeding 'true' in the
second generation. The seeds are either sterile or they produce unwelcome
genetic 'throwbacks.' Although some scientists regard hybrids as a boon to
crop yields, there is a growing opinion that the real advantage is that farmers
are forced every year to buy new seeds."
"Traditionally, Bangladeshi farmers not only save seed for replanting,
but women breed diverse seed types suited to their immediate ecosystems and
economies. Hybrid seeds could more than quadruple seed costs as well as end
the process of farmers adapting plants to their resource-poor soils."
Muhammad Yunus started the Grameen Bank in 1983 by offering loans of
usually less than $100 to villagers, mainly women, who would never qualify for
commercial credit. The bank gives peasants an alternative to the exorbitant
interest rates of local money-lenders and encourages the purchase of chickens,
or a cow, or a rice-husking machine or materials for weaving mats. The
resulting small businesses often double or triple the income of their owners.
The loan repayment rate has been an astonishing 98% -- higher than that of most
RAFI goes on to say, "The Bank's success has turned Muhammad Yunus into
a kind of bankers' Mother Theresa. A World Bank-sponsored conference on
micro-credit in Washington last year accorded Yunus rock-star status, and
corporate gurus from George Soros to Ted Turner have flocked to his side."
Another who joined the flock, apparently, was Shapiro, who manages to blend a
noble vision of his company feeding the world with a calculated vision of
farmers dependent on Monsanto products.
Hope Shand of RAFI-USA says that by allying with Grameen, Monsanto
"bought a cheap distribution and finance system that not only reaches into half
the villages of Bangladesh but also guarantees that the poor will repay their
Since the announcement of the Monsanto deal, Mohammad Yunus has been
bombarded by criticism. Here is one example, an email message sent to him on
July 4 by Vandana Shiva, an outspoken critic of bioengineered seed:
"When a few decades ago, you gave a few hundred Takkas from your pocket
to rural women in Bangladesh who were in the grip of a famine, you started a
movement that used micro-credit to enable them to use their skills, their
knowledge, their resources to build local markets for their products.
"When you announced your Joint Venture with Monsanto, you took a step
to betray the interests of the women you have served so far. The ... scheme
... will create markets for Monsanto's products, not products based on the
creativity of Bangladesh peasants.
"Contrary to your announcement, Monsanto's technologies are not
environment friendly or sustainable. They pose a threat to ecosystems and
agriculture. They will push Bangladeshi peasants into debt as they have to
spend more money on herbicides, seeds, royalties and technology fees.
"You have made a name for yourself in the annals of history through
your innovation and commitment to the poor.... I am sure you will not want
your efforts to be hijacked as a marketing strategy by Monsanto. The $150,000
that Monsanto is giving to start the Grameen Monsanto Centre is a miserable 0.6
per cent of the $1.6 billion that it is spending in an advertisement campaign
against the consumers in Europe who have rejected Monsanto's genetically
engineered foods. I am sure you do not want to go down in history as the man
who took the side of a corporation against citizens worldwide."
On July 27, 1998, the BBC announced, "A bank which pioneered the
philosophy of small credit for the poor in Bangladesh has announced that it is
pulling out of a controversial joint venture with the world's largest
agrochemical company, Monsanto. The managing director of the Grameen Bank,
Mohammed Yunus, said he was abandoning the project because of opposition from
I would have preferred him to take his own responsibility for that
decision, but it was the right decision.
(Donella H. Meadows is an adjunct professor of environmental studies at