Utter the words 'Bill Gates and Microsoft springs to mind and, for those who bother to take an interest in this grown up whizz kids actions, so too does his 'global healthcare project aimed at alleviating the problems of the worlds poor, if the 'Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation promotional literature is to be believed and now, providing that his gold plated heart can take the strain, its 'Look out Africa - you are next on his questionable agenda. 'Helping Africa is back in fashion: Not that it has ever been 'out sincewellsince the 'Dark Continent was first heard of and explorers from around the world rushed to assist its native inhabitants divest themselves of anything of value like gold, diamonds, copper, spices, lions, elephants, land, timber and just about anything else one can think of including that priceless commodity - the people themselves. Africa has always been ripe for exploitation by unscrupulous peoples with profit in mind; for unlicensed, therefore illegal, large-scale, live experimentation by drug companies so eager to get a new product on the market that playing with the lives of unsuspecting people doesnt enter their financial equation; for questionable international charities to garner donations for and to squander on highly suspect projects once, that is, inflated salaries and other perks of overseas postings have been deducted well in advance, as even charities must post a profit. Africa has had 'Live Aid with Sir Bob Geldorf and cohorts, 'Food Aid with Sir Bob Geldorf and cohorts, a school for scandal set up by Ophra Winfrey and both Madonna and Angelina Jolie have been occupied in hi-jacking its children. Dutch, German, French, Italian, British, Portuguese, and Spanish have long known the value of maintaining a foothold in Africa, and China is having a field day by flooding markets with cheap imports which, quite naturally, close down local industry, heap yet more millions on to the unemployment mountain and, ultimately, increase the poverty that Western philanthropists vainly attempt to stem. The cycle is vicious butso too are some forms of 'aid. The public face of Bill Gates African venture is all about helping poor farmers overcome climate change which, at first reading, sounds both plausible and laudable until, that is, one delves into the nitty-gritty of the details. According to Gates himself, the venture will combine practical aid such as improved seeds with better information for growers. The rat promptly emerges into the bright light of day By 'improved seeds Gates means that a very high percentage, not all, will be those nasty Genetically Modified Organisms, better known as GMOs, which helps to explain why his farming project has the full backing of Washington and the US Department of Agriculture that continually faces problems 'at home in trying to expand the existing areas of land already being used to cultivate GMOs on a largely experimental basis. GMOs are far from being everyones perfect cup of tea for a number of reasons: Seed collected form GMO crops cannot be harvested for use the following season, therefore, farmers much keep on purchasing expensive new stock, GMO crops have the potential to adversely affect indigenous species of plants and to knock local environmental conditions completely out of balance that has implications for all forms of wildlife, therefore human life, too. In addition to this, GMO crops must be treated, on a regular basis, with specified chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers manufactured by that powerful, piratical and wholly unsavoury American multi-national known as Monsanto which, surprise, surprise, also creates and markets GMO seeds. The long-term effect of the consumption of GMO crops by humans and by animals is not yet fully known and is the subject of a wide variety of ongoing tests, which is just one of the many reasons that growers in 'developed, as against 'developing nations, that are sensibly wary of the stuff. Despite negative publicity, GMO seeds, thanks to Monsantos perseverance and duplicity, are currently cultivated on approximately 10 percent of the planets arable land area, this area as defined by the United Nations, with 5 percent of this being in America itself. This state of affairs does not sate Monsantos voracious appetite and reports indicate that, in a matter of a very few years, countries in the developing world will be largely responsible for GMO crop production which, if allowed to happen, is extremely worrying indeed. It would appear that the 'developed world does have an understanding of the possible consequences of cultivating GMO crops so is foisting them, heavily disguised as aid, on to 'developing nations instead, of which Pakistan, along with countries comprising the entire African Continent, happens to be a member. Yet another interesting factor of Gates African intentions is that its 'initial focus will be on 'increasing production in potential grain growing centres such as Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Tanzania and Mozambiqueand what have American farmers stopped growing lately? Yes. Youve got itgrain. Their farmers prefer taking huge government subsidies to cultivate biofuels instead Gates, whose programme also includes 'putting up capital for easier loans to buy seeds and fertilizers so that poor African farmers can, like Indian farmers in the wake of that countrys 'Green Revolution, commit debt driven suicide, sums the situation up perfectly. We are very excited about what can happen when you help farmers to be more productive. Yes, Mr GatesI bet you are indeed n The writer is a Murree-based freelance columnist.