1.Indian farmers judge GM crops
2.The fake parade
3.The locals know what aid they need
4.Citizens' jury delivers 'no' to GM crops in Brazil
5.African farmers say GM not the way forward
NOTE: Here's another group of articles to celebrate 10 years of GM Watch. The first is a fascinating report by Hugh Warwick on a citizens' jury on GM crops in India. The second piece by GM Watch editor, Jonathan Matthews, shows how the biotech industry tries to create a false impression of popular approval and support which is diametrically at odds with the outcomes of genuine social engagement. The last three pieces are about ground breaking GM juries in Andhra Pradesh, Brazil and West Africa.
We've chosen them because yesterday judges in India's Supreme Court bowed out of scrutinising the regulation of GM crop trials on the grounds that this was something best left to 'experts'. Yet the judicial system by its very nature directly challenges such a technocratic perspective. Most studies of even the most highly technical court cases have shown that juries composed of ordinary citizens with no especial expertise are normally able to deal with technical issues when they have to and make judgements.
As Dr. Tom Wakeford of the University of Newcastle, an expert on public engagement in science, has noted, 'Even in cases where it is claimed that trial by jury is inappropriate because of the scientific nature of evidence, any potential problems can usually be overcome if the manner of presenting the evidence is given careful consideration.' (Genetically Modified Democracy) http://www.gmjury.org/democracy.html
For more on GM juries around the world
1.Indian farmers judge GM crops
The Ecologist, September/October 2000
Supporters of biotechnology have long claimed that GM food can be justified by the 'solutions' it will provide for the world's poor - and, crucially, for the 790 million people on earth who go hungry every day. But seldom are the people they claim to be helping consulted about the new technologies. This is why the development charity ActionAid set up the 'Farmers' Foresight' project. Organised by University of East London academic Dr Tom Wakeford during his sabbatical at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, it has built on the experience he gained when running a similar project in the UK two years ago. While the UK project was asking consumers what they wanted - and they decisively declared that what they wanted was not genetically engineered food - this time he was working much closer to the ground. These were the farmers whose very livelihoods depended on the success of what they grew.
The farmers consulted for this experimental project ranged across the social spectrum. Some were illiterate, some were land-less and some were relatively wealthy. They were all from Karnataka State in southern India, and they farmed in the area surrounding the village of Bommagondakere (known as BG Kere) in Chitradurga province.
Also attending the trial were two farmers from the UK. These were Edward Cross, the only farmer represented on the Advisory Committee for Releases to the Environment (ACRE), and Archie Montgomery, chair of the National Farmers Union’s Biotechnology Working Group. They had been invited as observers, to see that fair play was done. Though they were not witnesses for the jury, they were able to give an insight into the GE debate from a very different perspective.
The system worked very like a real trial with the farmers as the jury. Over three and a half days they listened to the evidence presented and then further questioned the seven witnesses before retiring to consider their verdict. The witnesses came from all sides of the debate. There was the research director of Monsanto India; a representative from the Government's Department of Biotechnology and members of development and environmental groups opposed to genetic engineering.
The arguments from both sides were eloquent and persuasive, and for some time the observers were not sure which way the verdict would go. But it soon became apparent that the farmers were not going to be fobbed off with simple assurances - or unjustified scare-stories. And while most of them started with very little idea about genetic engineering, they proved that, within a short period of time they had grasped many of the issues at stake. 'Even the poorest and most illiterate farmers on the jury showed a sophisticated understanding of the potential risks and benefits of new agricultural technologies,' explained Tom Wakeford.
What was so remarkable about the jury was the way in which they cut through a great deal of the rhetoric that so frequently surrounds the debate. They were open to change - and in many ways were looking for methods to improve the success of their agriculture. But they were sceptical of the promises made by the proponents of the technology. This scepticism was based on the reality of their lives. Many had been seduced by the easy gains promised of the green revolution - and many had suffered.
Repeatedly, the witnesses proposing a genetic future were asked why traditional knowledge was being abandoned in favour of an imported regime. And even though some of these farmers were very poor, there was a powerful belief in the power of traditional systems providing a solution where technology had already been proven wanting. Even the Karnataka State Agriculture Minister, Mr Jayachandra, speaking before the jury began, admitted that, 'Without biotechnology we can last another 20 years. Biotechnology is the last resort for us.' He indicated that the state’s and the country’s ability to feed itself lay with better governance of the existing resources, in particular the management of watersheds.
Perhaps the greatest test of faith for the jury was when Dr Munjunath, the Research and Development Director of Monsanto India, told them that genetically engineered seeds were being developed with the small farmer in mind, 'Transgenic technology is coming to the rescue,' he exclaimed.
There were some interesting admissions by Dr PK Ghosh of the National Government’s Department of Biotechnology. First he alarmed the coconut-growing members of the jury by informing them that there were Canadian scientists working on creating a mustard seed that generates coconut oil. And then he indicated that the introduction of GE in India would have been much easier if it had started with food crops - not cotton as is the case now.
The most powerful presentation came from P.V. Satheesh, of the Deccan Development Society, an NGO that works with the most disenfranchised people in India, the untouchables. He drew the link between India’s bloody struggle to keep possession of the barren wasteland along the border with Pakistan while at the same time, without debate, handing over the most fertile land in the country to the transnational corporations. 'This is the start of the new colonialism,' he said. 'It is an issue of control and national sovereignty. To achieve this the TNCs want to ensure that the people are de-skilled - and that the great body of agricultural knowledge and skill, that has been built up over millennia, is lost.'
The effect of the process on the two farmers from the UK was obvious. Both were impressed with the depth of questioning that took place. 'Such a complex amalgam of issues being addressed here,' said Archie Montgomery. Edward Cross saw the potential of the process. 'This could be taken anywhere in the world. People can work through the issues and form conclusions suitable to their own areas.'
And with nine farmers voting against the introduction of genetic seeds and only four in favour (there was one invalid ballot paper), the decision seemed certain. 'While Mr Blair and his advisors still maintain that we need to develop this technology to help the poor and hungry,' concluded Tom Wakeford, 'it is an illustration of the arrogance with which they habitually view the world that they have failed to ask the people who really matter. We have started a process that needs to be repeated globally so that the western political and scientific elite can no longer misrepresent their needs.'
2.THE FAKE PARADE
By Jonathan Matthews
Resurgence, 2003, ISSU 149/150, pages 2-4
Under the banner of populist protest, multinational corporations manufacture the poor
'Carrying his placard the man in front of me was clearly one of the poorest of the poor. His shoes were not only threadbare, they were tattered, merely rags barely being held together.'
So begins a graphic description of a demonstration that took place at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg. The protesters were 'mainly poor, virtually all black, and mostly women... street traders and farmers' with an unpalatable message. As an article in a South African periodical put it, 'Surely this must have been the environmentalists, worst nightmare. Real poor people marching in the streets and demanding development while opposing the eco-agenda of the Green Left.'
And seldom can the views of the poor, in this case a few hundred demonstrators, have been paid so much attention. Articles highlighting the Johannesburg march popped up the world over, in Africa, North America, India, Australia and Israel. In Britain even The Times ran a commentary, under the heading, 'I do not need white NGOs to speak for me'.
With the summit's passing, the Johannesburg march, far from fading from view, has taken on a still deeper significance. In the November issue of the journal
Nature Biotechnology, Val Giddings, the Vice-President of the Biotech Industry Organization (BIO), argues that the event marked 'something new, something very big' that will make us 'look back on Johannesburg as something of a watershed event - a turning point.' What made the march so pivotal, he said, was that for the very first time, 'real, live, developing-world farmers' were 'speaking for themselves' and challenging the 'empty arguments of the self-appointed individuals who have professed to speak on their behalf.'
To help give them a voice, Giddings singles out the statement of one of the marchers, Chengal Reddy, leader of the Indian Farmers Federation.
'Traditional organic farming...,' Reddy says, 'led to mass starvation in India for centuries... Indian farmers need access to new technologies and especially to biotechnologies.'
Giddings also notes that the farmers expressed their contempt for the 'empty arguments' of many of the Earth Summiteers by honoring them with a 'Bullshit Award' made from two varnished piles of cow dung. The award was given, in particular, to the Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva, for her role in 'advancing policies that perpetuate poverty and hunger'.
A powerful rebuke, no doubt. But if anyone deserves the cow dung, it is the Vice-President of BIO, for almost every element of the spectacle he describes has been carefully contrived and orchestrated. Take, for instance, Chengal Reddy, the 'farmer' that Giddings quotes. Reddy is not a poor farmer, nor even the representative of poor farmers. Indeed, there is precious little to suggest he is even well-disposed towards the poor. The 'Indian Farmers Federation' that he leads is a lobby of big commercial farmers in Andhra Pradesh. On occasion Reddy has admitted to knowing very little about farming, having never farmed in his life. He is, in reality, a politician and businessman whose family is a prominent right-wing political force in Andhra Pradesh ~ his father having coined the saying, 'There is only one thing Dalits (members of the untouchable caste) are good for, and that is being kicked'.
If it seems open to doubt that Reddy was in Johannesburg to help the poor speak for themselves, the identity of the march's organizers is also not a source of confidence. Although the Times, headline said 'I do not need white NGOs to speak for me', the media contact on the organizers' press release was 'Kendra Okonski', the daughter of a US lumber industrialist who has worked for various right wing anti-regulatory NGOs - all funded and directed, needless to say, by 'whites'. These include the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based 'think tank' whose multi-million dollar budget comes from major US corporations, among them BIO member Dow Chemicals. Okonski also runs the website Counterprotest.net, where her specialty is helping right wing lobbyists take to the streets in mimicry of popular protesters.
Given this, it hardly needs saying that Giddings' 'Bullshit Award' was far from, as he suggests, the imaginative riposte of impoverished farmers to India's most celebrated environmentalist. It was, in fact, the creation of another right-wing pressure group - the Liberty Institute - based in New Delhi and well known for its fervent support of deregulation, GM crops and Big Tobacco.
The Liberty Institute is part of the same network that organized the rally: the deceptively-named 'Sustainable Development Network.' In London, the SDN shares offices, along with many of its key personnel - including Okonski - with the International Policy Network, a group whose Washington address just happens to be that of the CEI. The SDN is run by Julian Morris, its ubiquitous director, who also claims the title of Environment and Technology Programme Director for the Institute of Economic Affairs, a think tank that has advocated, amongst other interesting ideas, that African countries be sold off to multinational corporations in the interests of 'good government'.
The involvement of the likes of Morris, Okonski and Reddy doesn't mean, of course, that no 'real poor people,' were involved in the Johannesburg march.
There were indeed poor people there. James MacKinnon, who reported on the summit for the North American magazine Adbusters, witnessed the march first hand and told of seeing many impoverished street traders, who seemed genuinely aggrieved with the authorities for denying them their usual trading places in the streets around the summit. The flier distributed by the march organizers to recruit these people played on this grievance, and presented the march as a chance to demand, 'Freedom to trade'. The flier made no mention of 'biotechnology' or 'development', or any other issue on the 'eco-agenda of the Green Left'.
For all that, there were some real farmers present as well. Mackinnon says he spotted some wearing anti-environmentalist t-shirts, with slogans like 'Stop Global Whining.' This aroused his curiousity, since small-scale African farmers are not normally to be found among those jeering the 'bogus science' of climate change. Yet here they were, with slogans on placards and T-shirts: 'Save the Planet from Sustainable Development', 'Say No To Eco-Imperialism', 'Greens: Stop Hurting the Poor' and 'Biotechnology for Africa'. On approaching the protesters, however, Mackinnon discovered that all of the props had been made available to the marchers by the organizers. When he tried to converse with some of the farmers about their pro-GM T-shirts, 'They smiled shyly; none of them could speak or read English.'
Another irresistible question is how impoverished farmers - according to Giddings, there were farmers on the march from five different countries afforded the journey to Johannesburg from lands as far away as the Philippines and India. Here, too, there is reason for suspicion. In late 1999 the New York Times reported that a street protest against genetic engineering outside an FDA public hearing in Washington DC was disrupted by a group of African-Americans carrying placards such as 'Biotech saves children's lives' and 'Biotech equals jobs.' The Times learned that Monsanto's PR company, Burston-Marsteller, had paid a Baptist Church from a poor neighborhood to bus in these 'demonstrators' as part of a wider campaign 'to get groups of church members, union workers and the elderly to speak in favor of genetically engineered foods.'
The industry's fingerprints are all over Johannesburg as well. Chengal Reddy, the 'farmer' that the Vice President of BIO singled out as an example of farmers from the poorer world 'speaking for themselves', has for at least a decade featured prominently in Monsanto's promotional work in India. Other groups represented on the march, including AfricaBio, have also been closely aligned with Monsanto's lobbying for its products. Reddy is known to have been brought to Johannesburg by AfricaBio.
And here lies the real key to the Vice-President of BIO's account of the march, and specifically to the attack on Vandana Shiva. Monsanto and BIO want to project an image of GM crop acceptance with a Southern face. That's why Monsanto's Internet homepage used to be adorned with the faces of smiling Asian children. So when an Indian critic of the biotech industry gets featured, as Shiva was recently, on the cover of Time magazine as an environmental hero, the brand is under attack, and has to be protected.
The counterattack takes place via a contrarian lens, one that projects the attackers' vices onto their target. Thus the problem becomes not Monsanto using questionable tactics to push its products onto a wary South, but malevolent agents of the rich world obstructing Monsanto's acceptance in a welcoming Third World. For this reason the press release for the 'Bullshit Award' accuses Shiva, amongst other things, of being 'a mouthpiece of western eco-imperialism'. The media contact for this symbolic rejection of neocolonialism? The American, Kendra Okonski. The mouthpiece denouncing an Indian environmentalist as an agent of the West is a Western mouthpiece.
The careful framing of the messages and the actors in the rally in Johannesburg provides but one particularly gaudy spectacle in a continuing fake parade. In particular, the Internet provides a perfect medium for such showcases, where the gap between the virtual and the real is easily erased.
Take the South-facing website Foodsecurity.net, which promotes itself as 'the web's most complete source of news and information about global food security concerns and sustainable agricultural practices'. Foodsecurity.net claims to be 'an independent, non-profit coalition of people throughout the world'. Despite its global reach, however, Foodsecurity.net's only named staff member is its 'African Director', Dr. Michael Mbwille, a Tanzanian doctor who's forever penning articles defending Monsanto and attacking the likes of Greenpeace.
The site is registered to a Graydon Forrer, currently the managing director of Life Sciences Strategies, a company that specializes in 'communications programmes' for the bio-science industries. A piece of information that is not usually disclosed in Graydon Forrer's self-presentation is that he was previously Monsanto’s director of executive communications. Indeed, he seems to have been working for the company in 1999 - the same year the site of this 'independent, non-profit coalition of people throughout the world' was first registered. Foodsecurity's 'African Director', Dr. Mbwille, is not, incidentally, in Africa at the moment. He is enjoying a sabbatical observing medical practice in St. Louis, Missouri ~ the hometown, as it happens, of the Monsanto Corporation.
Foodsecurity.net forms but one of a whole series of websites with undisclosed links to biotech industry lobbyists or PR companies, as our previous research has demonstrated. But despite the virtual circus oscillating about him, if the President of BIO were really interested in hearing poor 'live, developing-world farmers... speaking for themselves', he need look no further than Chengal Reddy’s home state of Andhra Pradesh. Here small-scale farmers and landless laborers were consulted as part of a meticulously conducted 'citizens' jury' on World Bank-backed proposals to industrialize local agriculture and introduce GM crops. Having heard all sides of the argument, including as it happens the views of Chengal Reddy, the jury unanimously rejected these proposals, which are likely to force more than 100,000 people off the land. Similar citizens' juries on GM crops in Brazil and in the Indian state of Karnataka have come to similar conclusions - something that the Vice President of BIO is almost certainly aware of.
But rainchecks on the real views of the poor count for little in a world where 'something new, something very big' and 'a turning point' in the global march towards our corporate future, turns out to be Monsanto's soapbox behind a black man's face.
3.The locals know what aid they need
Citizens jury holds UK Government to account
Natasha Walter The Independent, 21 March 2002
'In the West, leaving the land might sound like liberation, but to Anjamma it spells only destitution'
This week ministers from rich and poor countries have gathered in Monterrey, Mexico, for the United Nations conference on development finance. Although we hear so much talk about 'winning the peace' and the 'new internationalism', the conference isn't yet packing in the media. War is a lot sexier than peace, and commandos make for much better photo opportunities than aid workers.
If you're being optimistic, you could say that something is beginning to change - that there is a growing desire, voiced by politicians and ordinary people all over the world, that the war on terrorism should be accompanied by a new assault on global inequality. Indeed, those recent pledges of increased aid, $5bn from the US and $7bn from the European Union over the next few years, have received plaudits from all sides
If you're being pessimistic, however, you'd say that these great new pledges are rather dwarfed by, say, the $400bn that the US will spend on defence in 2003. And you'd wonder if the fact that EU countries donate only 0.3 per cent of their gross domestic product to aid means that Europeans can blamelessly castigate Americans for being isolationist. You'd also say that this debate isn't just about the amounts of money that are being pledged. Because sceptics have long argued that, although development projects always sound as though they will lead only to happy-ever-after endings, aid money too often gets diverted into the pockets of politicians and corporations, while the poorest lose out.
Indeed, even as she left for Monterrey, Clare Short was caught up in a struggle to stop British aid money being pulled away from the poorest people in Tanzania. She has bravely defied her own government's line by suspending aid to Dar es Salaam while an international review takes place of whether the Tanzanian government should be spending money on a British-made, British-financed military air-traffic control system.
Good for Clare. But love her as we might, that doesn't mean we can't hold her department's actions up to scrutiny. For all its many praiseworthy goals and delivered objectives, there are times when it's still hard to see through the dreams to the realities. For instance, one development project to which her own department has chosen to pledge money is running into increasingly vocal protests over its potential effects on the very poorest of the poor in India. A planned development project in Andhra Pradesh, called Vision 2020, has been promised £65m in British aid.
At first sight, this project looks as if it's got the happy-ever-after thing completely sussed. It's a vision that aims to bring millions of poor farmers straight into the 21st century with massive consolidation of farms, mechanisation of agriculture, irrigation projects, new roads and the introduction of genetically modified crops such as vitamin A-enriched rice. The state government says the programme will 'eradicate poverty'.
But earlier this week some farmers from the region turned up in Westminster to bring their scepticism to the British Government. In an airless conference room, a woman called Anjamma was asked, through an interpreter: 'If this project goes ahead, what does she think she will do?' 'There will be nothing for us to do,' Anjamma replied, 'other than to drink pesticide and die.'
This woman is exactly the kind of person that we in the West dream of seeing lifted out of poverty by our government's aid cheques. She is a farmer who works four acres of land with her seven children and her two bullocks and her eight buffalos, and no machines. She had never travelled from her village before she came to Britain for this protest.
The planned development project for her region would - in the eyes of the state government and the corporations and management consultancies that have planned it - liberate millions of people from the endless toil that Anjamma has experienced all her life. No wonder the World Bank and the British Government feel that by pouring tens of millions of pounds of scarce aid money into the pot, they will be helping some of the poorest people in India. Why, then, is Anjamma so vociferous in her opposition?
If the project goes ahead according to plan, the number of people who make their living on the land will fall from 70 per cent of the population to 40 per cent. This drop of agricultural workers means that an estimated 20 million people will have to find alternative sources of income - as if a third of Great Britain were to lose their jobs in one massive restructuring and redundancy package.
In the West, leaving the land might sound like liberation, but to Anjamma it spells only destitution. As an illiterate woman whose knowledge and whose power is vested in her ability to grow her own crops on her own soil, she believes that if she loses her farm, she loses everything.
And Anjamma isn't speaking out of ignorance. She was one of 12 farmers who were chosen to be part of a citizens' jury set up by a couple of non-governmental organisations to scrutinise the development plans. That meant that she has sat through days of evidence from GM-seed company executives, from politicians, from academics, from aid donors. That was why her certainty was all the more impressive. She doesn't want aid money to be spent the way that foreign governments and the World Bank and her own state government want it to be spent. She wants something quite different - true empowerment.
'If money comes to us,' she said, 'to our own associations and unions, we can spend it in the way that we know will work for our land. We know how to increase the fertility of our land. We could be completely self-sufficient. But this is going to be denied to us in the name of modernisation.'
What I heard from Anjamma was not a plea to be left alone - she was clearly eager for the West to share its knowledge and its resources with farmers like herself - but a plea to allow her and her peers real control over how these resources should be spent. She had come to London to protest against the Government's plan to help to refashion her society according to the projects of corporations and politicians rather than women like herself. She had a vision of progress, but it differed fundamentally from the vision that she had heard about from the development professionals.
Anjamma may be right, or she may be wrong, about what constitutes progress. But surely she has a right to decide which kind of progress the money spent in her name should be used for. This may still be a tough idea for us to swallow - that the rich could choose not just to share resources with the poor, but also power. But unless that happens, development may remain a fairytale for too many people.
4.The seeds of revolt
Citizens' jury delivers 'no' verdict to GM crops in Brazil
The Guardian, May 23 2001
Antonio Lopez runs the community seedbank, a collection of five oil drums stored in a ramshackle outbuilding of the one-room house where he lives with his wife and seven children. Antonio cultivates 40 hectares of arid outback land in the state of Ceara in north-east Brazil. For the farmers and their families who live in the remote community, the seeds he stores - safe from mice and damp - mean life. Without them, they cannot plant crops, there will be no harvest, they will have no food to eat and nothing to sell at the local market.
It is hardly surprising that he and the other peasant farmers of the region take the subject of seeds seriously. And seeds - particularly the genetically modified variety - are a hot issue right now throughout the country.
Brazil is Europe's last major source of GM-free soya; supermarkets in Britain, including Tesco and Asda, rely on it to supply increasingly GM-sceptical consumers in the UK.
The US and Argentina, the two other main soya exporters to the EU, have switched much of their production to GM crops, and Brazil is now a key target for the powerful GM companies who are seeking to dominate the world soya market. If they have their way, Brazil will soon join the GM club and European importers seeking GM-free products will have nowhere left to turn.
But for the subsistence farmers of Brazil, it is about more than food choices on the supermarket shelf. If they cannot afford GM seeds they will be oustripped by bigger producers, putting at risk traditions passed on through generations for saving and exchanging seeds, choosing pesticides and harvesting methods.
It was in this confrontational atmosphere that a groundbreaking citizens' jury - during which GM crops were put on trial - took place in the north-eastern Brazilian city of Fortaleza last month. The aim of the exercise, run by the charity ActionAid, was to bring to the GM debate the voice of the poor and marginalised farmers who are likely to bear the brunt of the change.
Citizens' juries are not a new concept; they can be traced back at least as far as Gloucestershire and Worcestershire during the 18th century, when bread was regularly put on trial if the price in the market climbed too high. But if ActionAid has its way, they will be at the forefront of a campaign to galvanise the peasants of Brazil into becoming involved in the GM debate.
Eleven farmers and urban consumers, all of whom were unaware of the GM debate, were randomly selected to hear arguments for and against transgenic crops from a host of experts, including some of the country's leading biotech scientists. During two days of combative argument, the farmers heard six witnesses tell them of the benefits they would see from GM seeds and six witnesses explaining the potential downside. The result was unanimous: a resounding 'no' to GM.
But many people in Brazil fear that the battle against GM may already have been partially lost. Rio Grande do Sol - the main soya producing area, where the leftwing government is in the frontline of trying to keep Brazil GM free - is heavily contaminated by GM seed that has been smuggled over the border from Argentina, where 75% of the crop is genetically modified. Meanwhile, Monsanto, the world's largest biotech company, has bought up 60% of the country's maize seed suppliers, presumably in anticipation of the day when Brazil relinquishes its GM-free status. It has also begun building a £35m plant for making pesticides, to go with its genetically modified seeds, in the state of Bahia.
Farmers unions and other anti-GM pressure groups have accused the Brazilian federal government of being in the pocket of the multinational companies by investing £90m in the Monsanto plant and by unconstitutionally trying to change Brazil's biosafety laws. The government was challenged in the federal court by IDEC, the Brazilian consumer protection organisation, and by Greenpeace, on the grounds that no environmental impact study had been carried out. They won the case, ensuring that, for the time being at least, Brazil remains mostly GM free.
But there are fears that the day when GM arrives in force in Brazil may not be too far away. David Hathaway, an American GM expert who has spent the last 25 years living in Brazil, says: 'The government is trying to ride roughshod over the laws. It may already be too late; you can no longer guarantee GM-free soya in the south of the country and nobody really knows what GM tests are being done elsewhere.'
In the 'sentence' the citizens' jury passed, they demanded that 'there should be nothing hidden from workers and peasants'.
Critics of Monsanto and the federal government claim both have been relying on farmers' lack of knowledge and information to railroad GM through. It was telling that Monsanto, despite numerous invitations from the organisers to take part in the jury trial, refused to participate.
ActonAid plans to hold four more citizens' juries - from Amazonia to Brasilia - on GM in Brazil in the next 12 months in an attempt to open up the argument even further and to make sure that if Brazil does adopt GM crops it will not be because of the ignorance of the farmers.
5.African farmers say GM crops are not the way forward
International Institute for Environment & Development, January 29 2006
Ordinary cotton-growers and other farmers have voted against introducing genetically-modified crops in a 'citizens jury' in Mali, which is the world's fourth poorest country. Instead, the jurors proposed a package of recommendations to strengthen traditional agricultural practice and support local farmers.
The five day event (25-29 January) took place in Sikasso in the south of the West African country, where two-thirds of the country's cotton is produced. Mali is the largest producer of cotton in sub-Saharan Africa, largely grown by smallholder farmers whose livelihoods depend on it.
Birama Kone, a small farmer on the 43-strong jury, said: 'GM crops are associated with the kind of farming that marginalises the mutual help and co-operation among farmers and our social and cultural life.'
Basri Lidigoita, a woman farmer on the jury, said: ' We do not ever ever want GM seeds. Never.'
Brahim Sidebe, a medium-size farmer on the jury, said: 'Farmers do not want GM crops and do not want public research to work on GM technology in Mali.'
The jurors cross-examined 14 international witnesses representing a broad range of views on this controversial issue. These included biotech scientists, agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation and farmers from South Africa and India with first-hand experience of growing GM crops.
African countries are under increasing pressure from agribusiness to open their markets to GM crops and industrialise their farming sector, but the continent remains divided in its response. South Africa and Mali's neighbour Burkina Faso have allowed the introduction of GM, but Benin has said no.
Though the jurors' decision is not binding, it is expected to influence the future direction of agricultural policy in Mali and across the region where most people rely on subsistence farming.
The citizens jury was hosted by the regional government (Assemblee Regionale de Sikasso) and, to ensure a fair process, it was designed and facilitated by the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and RIBios, the University of Geneva's Biosafety Interdisciplinary Network, together with a wide range of local partners in Mali.
IIED's Dr Michel Pimbert said: 'This initiative is about making the agriculture agenda more directly responsive to African people's priorities and choices. It is vital that we redress the current democratic deficit in which governments and big agri-food corporations have far more say than farmers and other citizens about how land is used, and what crops are grown. We must all recognise that local people have the right to decide the food and farming policies they want. This citizens jury has provided a safe space for farmers to reach an informed, evidence-based view on this complicated and often controversial issue, which can then be amplified to policy-makers.'
Kokozie Traore, President, Assemblee Regionale Sikasso, said: 'This citizen space for democratic deliberation has allowed farmers to learn about the potential risks and benefits of GM in the context of Malian farming. As a learning process it has created many synergies between all actors in our province, from the very local to the regional level. The citizens jury has been an eye-opening process and has made possible a cross-fertilisation of local, regional and international opinions on GM and the future of farming.'
One of the local organisers, Dr Togola, Research Director of the Sikasso Agricultural Research Station, said: 'I am very satisfied. I know that during the last five days our farmers have been sufficiently informed and empowered to make the choices that best suit them on GM and farming options.'
For further information
Tony Samphier on +44 208 671 2911
Liz Carlile on +44 207 388 2117
Notes to editors
The International Institute for Environment & Development (IIED) is a London-based think tank working for global policy solutions rooted in the reality of local people at the frontline of sustainable development. www.iied.org
More information on A Citizens Space for Democratic Deliberation on GMOs and the future of farming in Mali - A Citizens' Jury http://www.iied.org/NR/agbioliv/ag_liv_projects/GMOCitizenJury.html