The billionaire philanthropist has been quietly buying up farmland all over the country. Should we be concerned?
U.S. business magnate Bill Gates speaks during the One Planet Summit at the Plaza Hotel on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 26, 2018. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP) (Photo credit should read LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images)
What is Bill Gates? This might seem like an odd question to ask, but of all the questions being asked of the billionaire right now, perhaps it’s the most important. Is he a hero or a villain? A philanthropist or a pirate? Caring or contemptuous?
The answers to these questions depend on how you view Bill Gates. The Microsoft mogul has become America’s Rorschach test. Where some see a dangerous man who acts with impunity, others see a bespectacled saint in a knitted sweater.
The truth, one assumes, lies somewhere between the two extremes. In an age of conspiracy theories and extreme views, nuance, especially when discussing Gates, is often omitted from the conversation.
Right now, the press surrounding Gates is extremely negative in nature. But it wasn’t always this way. Before his divorce, Gates received largely positive coverage from mainstream outlets. Left-leaning journalists wrote gushing articles about him and his selfless desire to help the world become a greener, safer place. Considering the fact that the Gates Foundation has made numerous donations to news corporations like Al Jazeera, BBC, National Journal, ProPublica, the Atlantic, the Guardian, and the Financial Times, to name just a few, perhaps the eulogizing of Gates deserves a little more scrutiny.
The Great Land Grab
Whatever your thoughts on Gates, the fact that he is now the largest private owner of farmland in the United States is certainly worth exploring. Why does Bill Gates now own more than 240,000 acres across the country?
In April of this year, Reddit users had a chance to ask Gates this very question. The 65-year-old responded by declaring his interest in seed science and biofuel development. “The agriculture sector is important,” he assured the Reddit community.
Yes, it most definitely is, which makes his acquisition of so much farmland extremely intriguing.
Why has Gates placed so much of his focus on the purchasing land from “asset-rich, cash poor” small farmers, some of whom are struggling with the economic realities of today?
After all, major acquisitions of acreage are re-structuring the very idea of land ownership in the United States. Land, first and foremost, is a very solid investment. As Seth Williams, a savvy investor, writes, “when you buy a piece of land for the right price, there are no mortgage payments to make, no utility bills to pay, the cost of property insurance is nominal (if you have it at all), and property taxes are incredibly cheap. If you want to park your cash somewhere and forget about it, vacant land could be the investment vehicle you’re looking for.”
The right type of land, compared to industrial real estate, for example, requires little in the way of maintenance. When asking why Gates is buying up so much land, one must remember that he is a businessman, a ruthless one at that, and money has always been a prime motivator. Those knitted sweaters don’t come cheap.
Much of Gates’s fortune is handled by Michael Larson, the chief investment officer for the Gates Foundation. For more than 25 years, Larson, who has served on the Board of Trustees at Claremont McKenna College, has managed the tech mogul’s investments. When it comes to diversifying Bill’s portfolio, the acquisition of land appears to be an area of intense focus. Is there any reason for concern?
There is. As Joel Kotkin, America’s “uber-geographer” notes, this is the age of neo-feudalism, where “we are inexorably returning towards a more feudal era marked by greater concentration of wealth and property, reduced upward mobility, demographic stagnation, and increased dogmatism.” The gap between the serfs and the aristocracy is growing at an alarming rate. The great land grabs are becoming more frequent and more sizable in nature.
Having grown up on a farm myself, I am all too aware of the allure of land. It represents economic, political, and social power. The acquisition of land sends a clear message: I am more powerful than you. We may live in the same country, but I am the ruler of my own sovereign state.
The aforementioned Joel Kotkin is, arguably, the most qualified person in America to offer comment on why Gates now owns so much land. Thankfully, he agreed to answer some of my questions for this piece. According to Kotkin, a fellow in urban studies at Chapman University, “Lords need their estates.” More worryingly, he warns, people in positions of extreme power may be motivated to “shape” the ways in which the “hoi polloi live.”
So, if Bill Gates has a desire to shape American life, what might this “shaping” process look like?
Judging by the ways he has shaped other regions in the world, not pretty. Remember, this is a man who has spent billions of dollars on the dismantling of traditional systems of agriculture, directly affecting the lives of millions of people in need, many of whom already live in dire poverty. In 2020, researchers examined the influence of the Gates Foundation across the continent of Africa. The report, titled “False Promises: The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA),” found that in every one of the 18 countries the Gates Foundation operated in, and continues to operate in, the number of people suffering from extreme hunger has actually increased. Instead of helping millions of people, Bill Gates appears to be harming them.
In January of last year, the Gates foundation launched “Gates AG One,” more commonly known as “The Bill & Melinda Gates Agricultural Innovations LLC.”
Who leads Gates Ag One? Joe Cornelius, once the director for international development at Monsanto. Yes, that Monsanto, the company known for an awful environmental record, a penchant for dangerous pesticides, and a history of legal battles with local farmers. But Bill Gates just published a book titled How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. Why would he hire Cornelius, a man who appears to be the antithesis of everything he believes in?
It’s simple. Appearances can be deceiving. Gates is a man of many contradictions—an environmental activist with an annual carbon footprint of about 7,493 metric tons; a benevolent vaccine funder who refuses to share patent technology with the people most in need of vaccines; a philanthropist who gives away billions yet appears to get richer with each year that passes.
Gates assures us that he wants to start a “green revolution,” both at home and abroad, thus helping to feed more hungry people around the world. Ironically, this “green revolution” relies heavily on the use of harmful fertilizers and dangerous pesticides. More food will be created, meaning more profits will be created. But at what costs? What price will people around the world, including Americans, pay? Considering Gates owns hundreds of thousands of acres across the country, there are many reasons for Americans to be concerned.
After all, chemical fertilizers contaminate water supplies, and have been shown to play a significant role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease and hemoglobin disorders. Meanwhile, pesticides, which often ascend into the atmosphere shortly after application, can travel up to 8 kilometers in distance, settling on everything from playgrounds to porches, from laundry to lawns. As researchers warn, “pesticides have been implicated in human studies of leukemia, lymphoma and cancers of the brain, breasts, prostate, testis and ovaries. Reproductive harm from pesticides includes birth defects, still birth, spontaneous abortion, sterility and infertility.”
Now, though, as recent reports show, Gates’s obsession with the purchasing and cultivation of farmland appears to be a little clearer. The billionaire has always wanted a Nobel Peace Prize, desperately so, and what better way to secure this coveted award than by ridding the world of hunger (even if large numbers of people must suffer)? Interestingly, Gates is not only the most prominent landlord in the world, he now controls the world’s seed supply. Literally. Feed more mouths, garner more praise, and cement your legacy. Lie, steal, cheat—all’s fair when it comes to one’s legacy of greatness.
In writing this article, I also reached out to Vandana Shiva, an Indian scholar and vocal critic of Bill Gates, for comment on the matter. When asked why she thought the tycoon was acquiring so much land, Shiva responded, “both because land (like biodiversity) has been reduced to an asset in the billionaire’s portfolio and because it allows him to shape the future of agriculture as ‘digital agriculture’ (farming without farmers).” Shiva believes that Gates is laying “the ground for the new ‘fake green’ economy based on pseudo solutions to climate change. This includes ‘net zero,’ in which the polluters continue to pollute and also grab the land” from the less well-off.
Shiva is worried that “fake science” is joining with “fake accounting” to create “an empire in which all resources, including land, belong to the billionaires.”
In a nutshell, as the World Economic Forum (WEF) warns us, very soon, “you will own nothing.” Considering Bill Gates is a WEF agenda contributor, one needn’t be a wacky conspiracy theorist to question his motives.