By Karrie Kehoe
LONDON, Nov 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has rejected accusations that too much of its funding goes to Western researchers, saying it is helping small farmers in African countries.
GRAIN, a non-profit group that supports small farmers, said in a report issued on Tuesday that the Gates Foundation pumps donations into agricultural research in Western countries and policy change in African states, but fails to help farmers in some of the world's poorest countries.
"Gates is not engaging with groups on the ground in Africa where a lot of experimentation and improvement in agriculture is possible and could take off with some support," Henk Hobbelink, co-founder of GRAIN, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
GRAIN analysed funding from the Gates Foundation since 2003 and found that of the more than $3 billion the charitable body gave in food and agriculture grants, just 5 percent of funds went to African groups besides the Nairobi-based Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).
AGRA, an international partnership set up jointly by the Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation in 2006, received 13 percent, and the AATF got 2 percent.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said the report was "deliberately misleading".
"The central assumption is that only organisations located in Africa can benefit African farmers - and we think that is incorrect," the foundation said in a statement.
The Gates Foundation, one of the world's largest private charitable organisations, pointed out that African groups are direct recipients of 20 percent of its agricultural funds.
Gates said it "invests directly" in the ability of national governments to execute their own agricultural strategies, and joins with national donors to fund those plans.
According to the foundation's website, the organisation has committed more than $2 billion to agricultural development efforts, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Researchers at GRAIN said the foundation focuses too much on science and research in Western countries, and not enough on helping small farmers in food-insecure countries adopt techniques that work for them.
"Much more, we see groups supported by Gates working on high-tech solutions and (they) have very little connection to farmers on the ground," Hobbelink said.
The foundation is "orientated towards bringing foreign technology into Africa and opening up markets to foreign corporations, rather than building on the possibilities, capacities and knowledge the farmers already have", he added.
The Gates Foundation maintains that farming in Africa is "back-breaking labour" and "science and innovation can make life easier and better for farmers by making farms more productive and sustainable".
In the 2014 Global Food Security Index of the 25 most food-insecure countries in the world, 19 are African.
The Belinda & Melinda Gates Foundation, established by Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates and his wife Melinda, has handed out a total of over $3 billion in 2014 alone.
(Reporting By Karrie Kehoe; editing by Megan Rowling)