August 05, 1998

Grameen Bank and the Monster

Grameen Rejects Mean The American Home "Monster" is held at bay in Bangladesh - but who is going to monitor the micro-creditors? Since when is "empowerment through indebtedness" a solution for poor farming communities?

On 27 July 1998 Muhammad Yunus, managing director of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh was reported by the BBC to have cancelled the Bank's planned relationship with Monsanto Corporation (often referred to as the American Home Monster" following its announced merger with American Home Products earlier this year). The abandoned arrangement would have given the micro-credit bank U.S.$250,000 to provide loans to poor farmers to buy Monsanto's agro-chemical and biotechnology products. Grameen's capitulation follows a month of intense international pressure that began June 25th when Yunus announced the Monsanto grant together with the Corporation's CSO, Robert Shapiro.

RAFI's actions: On July 2, RAFI wrote to Yunus calling upon him to drop the deal and to throw the Bank's support behind the right of farmers to save, exchange, and develop their own plant varieties - a right that would be curtailed if farmers were forced to accept Monsanto's controversial Terminator Technology. When there was no reply from the Bank, RAFI released its July 7th news release ("Grameen Turns Mean?"). RAFI also copied its letter and news release to a number of persons influential to the Grameen Bank or with a history of agricultural cooperation with the Bank and Prof. Yunus. The list included a senior World Bank official. In mid-July, Prof. Yunus let it be known that he was consulting the World Bank official and that he would take the advice he received. Shortly thereafter, Grameen announced that the Monsanto agreement would be cancelled due to pressure from "environmental NGOs". "We believe that RAFI's move to involve key World Bank people in the negotiations was pivotal to Grameen's abandonment of the agreement," Pat Mooney, executive director of RAFI says. "The Bank was politically savvy enough to realize that the Monsanto connection was a blunder. It was in their own interests to get Grameen out of the mess," Mooney adds.


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