[For further information on the Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and
Agriculture see Forum website.
Note, participants are assumed to be speaking on their own behalf, unless they state otherwise.]
Sent: 21 January 2005 14:40
Subject: 30: Farmer participation - Cuba/Guatemala/Mexico
We have collaborated on a field study interviewing small-scale farmers in Mexico, Cuba and Guatemala about their practices, knowledge and values concerning transgenes and genetically engineered (GE) maize. We are:
Dr. D Soleri, Research Scientist in the Environmental Studies Program and the Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA;
Dr. DA Cleveland, Associate Professor in the Environmental Studies Program, U of California, Santa Barbara, USA;
Ing. M.Sc. F Aragón C, Senior Research Scientist, Genetic Resources, Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Forestales, Agrícolas y Pecuarias (INIFAP), Oaxaca, Mexico;
Ing. M.Sc. MR Fuentes L, Principal Research Scientist, Maize Program, Instituto de Ciencia y Tecnología Agrícolas (ICTA), Guatemala City, Guatemala;
Dr. H Ríos L, National Coordinator of Participatory Plant Breeding, Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Agrícolas (INCA), La Habana, Cuba.
Discussion of GE crops is polarized and while GE crop proponents and opponents often speak for farmers, farmers’ own voices are seldom heard. We wanted to investigate and document farmer practices, knowledge and opinions relevant to GE maize, and develop an example of a tool that could be used to quickly and inexpensively include farming communities directly in discussions and policies regarding GE that would affect them. Specific factors motivating our research and relevant to the topic of this conference are:1. The effect of all biological novelty, including transgenes, depends upon the specific biophysical and socioeconomic context in which it occurs.
We completed interviews with over 300 households in TBAS in Cuba, Guatemala and Mexico in October 2004. We are now analyzing the data, but want to share some preliminary findings with this conference:1. Some conditions and practices (e.g., limited availability of agricultural resources, small size of farms and fields, open seed systems, cultural importance of food crops) documented in our study contrast sharply with industrial agricultural systems. We found possibilities for transgene flow and for harmful consequences of this flow to be unique to some TBAS. This means that risk management processes developed for the industrial world may be irrelevant or ineffective in TBAS.
It seems to us that clarity in distinguishing empirically testable assertions and values statements (that cannot be tested) by farmers, scientists, economists, consumers and others is essential for balanced and representative decision-making that includes both empirical data and values. Ignoring farmers’ (or consumers’) knowledge and values is not only undemocratic, as mentioned by an earlier posting to this conference [e.g. Message 11...Moderator], it is also inefficient in terms of time and resources, as we have learned from past plant breeding efforts for TBAS. This seems an unwise approach to take for GE, particularly when the needs are so great and the investments being made in that technology so large.
Ultimately, farmers’ knowledge and values brought into the discussion through research like ours, or in other ways, will need to be evaluated as part of a larger analysis that includes benefits as well as costs of currently available GE crop varieties, compared with the benefits and costs of conventional modern varieties, farmers’ traditional local varieties, as well as with alternatives (transgenic local varieties, ‘organic’ varieties, etc). This means that if the goal is improving the welfare of farmers in traditionally-based agricultural systems, often among the poorest people in the population, the question of how the money spent on GE crops could otherwise be used is also very relevant. Such an inclusive and balanced analysis is the only way to ensure that the needs of TBAS farmers and communities will be met effectively, and that farmers will have access to potential benefits and be able to protect themselves from potential harm of GE crop varieties.
Environmental Studies Program and Department of Geography
University of California, Santa Barbara
2309 Girvetz Hall
Santa Barbara, CA 93106
soleri (at) es.ucsb.edu
Sent: 21 January 2005 17:54
Subject: 31: The main information needs of the rural people related to GMOs
Thank you for hosting the conference. Open discussion is valuable. My husband and I now farm over 10,000ha in Australia and run a large seed cleaning factory (and previously a contract crop spraying business) and I would like to comment on 2 more questions in Section 6 of the background document as GM crops and farmer rights is an area I have given priority to for many years.
Regarding question 6g), "What are the main information and communication needs of the rural people related to GMOs? How can local capacity be built to respond to these needs? What are the most appropriate approaches to respond to these needs?":
The main information needs of the rural people related to GMOs is liability as sustainability is dependent on fair allocation of liability. Governments need legal advice in order to consider a strict liability legislation to balance between farmers rights and corporate obligations as there is certainly a tradeoff for accepting corporate investment to plant breeding. While it is essential that farmers maintain long term sustainability, it is a legislated priority for corporate companies to maximise returns to their shareholders which has led to little consideration for the adverse impact caused by global exploitation of resources. Governments must investigate the liability issue thoroughly to determine who is legally liable for adverse impacts (economic, health or environmental) caused by the introduction of GM crops.
For example, it is not difficult to understand the rapid adoption of a soybean monoculture in Argentina when the corporate gift incentives of large machinery, seed, chemical and technical advise are used. However, if a third world country followed in the footsteps of Argentina by adopting a glyphosate resistant patented monoculture, who will be liable for supporting the displaced farmers and farm workers? Who will be liable if aerial spraying of glyphosate affects the ability for farmers such as Zakir Hossain from Bangladesh (Message 23, January 20) to grow their own food and remain sustainable? Who will be liable if there is a total monoculture crop failure (lack of diversity in potato crop varieties caused the Irish famine)? Will farmers be able to return to status quo if patented crops become economically unviable due to increased costs and a build up of resistances? Will farmers have access to free legal advice if seeking compensation?
As health testing is reliant on the companies concerned (e.g. Monsanto) and testing appears to be short term tests designed to assess any decline in market value for stock fed GM rather than assessing for human health, who would be liable if the health concerns from reputable scientists such as Puztai are realised? Will liability rest with the company concerned or will they deflect that liability claiming the government did not adopt a sufficiently stringent assessment regulatory process? Is it possible to recall a GM product from the food chain and who will be liable for recall of the GM product if required? For farmers, who will be liable if there is undisputable confirmation of serious health problems and there is instant global rejection for any trace of GM in food crops?
Public education and consultation is essential to establish if those expected to be liable for the implications understand the consequences and agree or disagree with that obligation.
Regarding question 6m), "Concerning requests for approval of individual GM products, what kind of information should it be possible to withhold from public disclosure?":
No information should be witheld from public disclosure as it is essential that all details are revealed in order to have transparent and reliable decision making based on facts, not promises.
Network of Concerned Farmers
Newdegate, West Australia
julie (at) non-gm-farmers.com
Sent: 21 January 2005 18:01
Subject: 32: Weakness of local people to influence
This is from Galo F. Jarrin, Ecuador, again.
I want to stress something about the involvement of the rural people on the issue of GMOs. In our country and probably in others of Latin America, the local people are very weak (or receptive) to the influence of many people or organizations with any specific criteria about some themes, in this case the GMOs. Despite the lack of a proper and objective information, the rural people use to support sometimes radical positions like a whole moratorium for GMOs, without the possibility to participate and expose their arguments in public forums, just only the instructions to say NO.
Probably, here we can identify a lack of the goverments, academic sector etc. to reach the rural sector with correct information about GMOs. Frequently, this attitude turn into an obstacle in the process of considering the opinions of civil society.
We would like to hear something about how to solve and work with this kind of radical positions, that usually involve the rural sector, in my country one of them, the indian people.
Galo F. Jarrin
National Project Coordinator
Development of the National Biosafety Framework Project
UNEP-GEF-Ministry of Environment of Ecuador
Fax: (593-2) 2563422
Email: gjarrin (at) ambiente.gov.ec