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Sent: 01 February 2005 17:40
Subject: 69: Public participation - vast power asymmetries
This is Karl Beitel. I'm the policy analyst with The Institute for Food and Development Policy, and have been following the discussion with great interest.
Regarding the issue of public participation, I believe that Joanna Goven (Message 59) and Prashant Joshi (Message 61) touch key issues. What needs further elaboration is the underlying realities of private market power and corporate business strategies driving the development and dissemination of GMOs. The question of how to insure meaningful participation by the rural poor in discussing the benefits and drawbacks of GMOs cannot be abstracted from vast power asymmetries that characterize global and regional food systems - in particular, small growers lack of access to land, cultural appropriate and scale-relevant infrastructure and technology, and market opportunities on fair terms. The manner in which GE technologies are developed reinforces these inequalities - techniques are selected on the basis of their promise to extend private proprietary control over seed markets and expand market shares for proprietary herbicides; these technologies are then "presented" to the poor as the means of insuring higher yields, with discussion limited to the virtues, or lack thereof, of their further application/dissemination. To the extend these techniques are adopted prior to an extended and informed public debate (as is the case in fact today), the effect is to spur further consolidation of multinational control over the global food supply chain. This in turn tends to impose a pre-emptive closure on the parameters of debate, given the restricted choices available to poor rural farmers and Southern governments that lack independent research and development capacity.
Choice - real democracy - always implies the existence of a meaningful alternative and access to economic resources that support farmer's ability to exercise choice in a meaningful manner. This is the crux of the issue. In the absence of shifts in the balance of power, even the most well-intended dialogue will tend to reinforce such inequities and will fail, once again, to eliminate hunger. The Green Revolution is a stunning example of this fact - introduction of better technologies, absent meaningful land reform and redistribution of income, did not eliminate poverty or hunger, and in fact worsened the level of social polarization within the rural sectors of most developing countries.
The typical - and reasonable - response of scientists to such objections is that they can't change social realities, but they can help produce better technologies that might offer real benefits to the poor. What this ignores, however, is the fact that GMOs are driving a heretofore unimaginable extension of corporate property rights over the basic substance of life. It strains credibility to assert that meaningful democratic participation in shaping crucial issues of public policy will be possible once this process is complete. I think that biologists working in this domain have a unique social obligation to insure that these techniques remain within the public domain, and are not developed as the private property of corporations. Only then will it be possible to consider how to structure meaningful participation by poor rural farmers (amongst others) in debating the relative merits and drawbacks of GE seeds. And even then, significant problems will persist in communicating the social realities of the rural poor to scientists, and insuring that the cutting edge frontiers of scientific research are developed in a manner that is relevant to the real problems and constraints confronting farmers.
Karl Beitel, PhD
The Institute for Food and Development Policy
398 60th Street, Oakland, CA 94608
Tel: 510-654-4400 Fax: 510-654-4551
kbeitel (at) foodfirst.org
Sent: 01 February 2005 17:41
Subject: 70: Grassroots involvement extension methodologies
From Tony Dunn.
I am not sure what Jorge Mayer (Message 66) means when he writes "The trend for “politically correct” grassroots involvement is, in my view, the result of anti-GMO activism seeking to block the process of adoption by creating the chaos that is inherent in a decision carried by millions".
If by ‘grassroots involvement’ he means Farming Systems Research, Sondeo, Rapid Rural Appraisal, Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and the whole range of extension and participatory research methods are just a politically correct social movement to ‘block the process of adoption’ of GMOs, then I disagree with him. In this context, I would recommend the excellent FAO publication: Collinson M (ed), 2000, A history of Farming Systems Research. FAO and CABI Publishing and the work done at the International Potato Center (CIP) on farmer-back-to-farmer – work done by Rhoades and Booth. Their paper also had an interesting and relevant sub title for this debate; ‘…a model for generating acceptable agricultural technology’ !
The literature and the experience of these methodologies has emerged over 30 years – well before GMOs were developed and it’s there for all to read and understand. I have alluded to seminal references in previous mails, and argued that GMO release is also a question for the social sciences, extension and other disciplines such as applied ethics. I would like to say that in Australia, the grassroots involvement extension methodologies acquired from the sources quoted and our own Landcare movement (also grassroots) are the driving forces for research and social change in complex problems such as land and water degradation. Aren’t we talking about a similar situation with GMOs?
Senior Lecturer in Extension
School of Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences
Charles Sturt University
e-mail: adunn (at) csu.edu.au