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Sent: 24 January 2005 14:03
Subject: 33: Information flow and impediments to skilling
Several statements on involving rural people in GMO policy refer to getting the "correct" or "objective" information to them. But what is correct or objective information is actually a complex problem that requires a lot more study. Here is one example from my own work (me being Glenn Stone of Anthropology and Environmental Studies, Washington Univ., St. Louis, United States).
I study cotton farmers in India, with an ethnographic focus in Warangal District, Andhra Pradesh. This was the scene of a rash of suicides by cotton farmers in 1998: several hundred farmers drank pesticides. This was just as India's first GM crop trials were starting -- Bt cotton -- and both the biotech industry (Monsanto) and their opponents (like Vandana Shiva) claimed the suicides supported their case. [Bt crops, e.g. Bt cotton, are GM crops producing Crystal (Cry) proteins of the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). These proteins from Bt are toxins that kill insects feeding on the plant by binding to and creating pores in their midgut membranes...Moderator].
The first Bt cotton was released in 2002: Monsanto's construct in Mahyco's hybrids. In 2004 another company's Bt hybrid was released, and more are forthcoming (all the same event).
My aim is to look at the agricultural system synthetically, as much as a social system as an ecological and economic one. The economistsí studies of effects of Bt cottons in developing countries are important, but are also very restricted in scope. So, for instance, I am focusing on the partly social process of "skilling" -- farmers learning how a technology works and integrating it into farm management strategy. Such skill can't be measured like the "indigenous knowledge" that has been measured in many studies (e.g., analyzing cultural consensus on species names). Itís not so much static knowledge as it is an ability to execute an agricultural performance (a point from Paul Richards). [Referring to Paul Richards, 1989. Agriculture as Performance. In Farmer First: Farmer Innovation and Agricultural Research. Robert Chambers, Arnold Pacey, and Lori Ann Thrupp, eds. Pp. 39-51. London: Intermediate Technology Public. More details in the weblink further down this message...Moderator].
These cotton cultivators had some serious problems in skilling before Bt. There is a long and incessantly changing list of hybrids, weak regulation allowing the sale of deficient seeds, a wide range of pests that fluctuate chaotically (and, of course, develop resistance to insecticides), an ever-changing list of insecticides, and ulterior motives in the advice given by input vendors. Farmers have had widespread problems in "skilling" for years, and many have developed the treacherous habit of trying a new cotton seed every year.
But Bt cotton has brought, along with limited agronomic benefits for some farmers, new problems in information flow and new impediments to skilling. For instance, farmers have received conflicting information on spraying (no spraying, spray only for sucking insects, spray only for Spodoptera, spray normally after 90 days) and on refuges (refuges are a barrier to bollworms, refuges are meant to concentrate bollworms for easy spraying, refuges are meant to show the effects of Bt, refuges are a government requirement that can't be questioned, refuges are unnecessary). They have been told they shouldn't plant Bt because it would make the bollworms stronger (this being a slightly garbled take on developing Bt resistance), and also that they should plant Bt quickly before the bollworms develop resistance. Company officials have given assurances that new Cry genes can be introduced if resistance appears -- which would just start the whole skilling process over again. Thus, in exchange for limited protection against 2 of the dozen cotton pests, Bt cotton has exacerbated breakdown of the social process of skilling (for details see http://artsci.wustl.edu/%7Eanthro/research/StoneHumanOrg2004.pdf).
Such considerations are important, I think my assessment is "correct" and "objective" (I am certainly not generally opposed to GMOs for developing countries -- e.g., I am optimistic about virus-resistant cassava being trialed in Kenya). This is one of many larger issues that should be put on the table if we want to discuss involvement of rural people, and an issue that rural folks are unlikely to raise on their own.
Glenn Davis Stone
Prof. of Anthropology and Environmental Studies
St. Louis, MO 63130
stone (at) wustl.edu
Sent: 24 January 2005 14:04
Subject: 34: Kenyan contribution
My name is Carol Keter and I am a development writer from Kenya.
It may be a good idea that FAO and other development agencies are thinking about ways to involve the farmers in developing countries in decision-making concerning GMOs but this does not mean it will be easy. Some developing countries have rejected GMOs altogether while the rest are not really sure what to make of it.
Some of the suspicions and mistrust concerning GMO has to do with the fact that the general population feels that the scientific world has failed to explain fully the disadvantages of GMOs both to our health and the environment, which are inarguably normal concerns. Others the scientists have been too enthusiastic of the breakthroughs and do not care to look for the dark side; and of course there are the huge profits that seed developers will reap.
Before we can consider how to involve this rural population, have we considered if they need GMOs? How will GMOs change their lives; eliminate hunger, poverty? We need to think twice. Using the example of African farmers who were impoverished when cash-crop (read western consumed crops with the prices set in the west) farming was given priority over farming indigenous crops that fed them. At the same time, local diets changed and research and development into the indigenous crops stopped and even in some cases there are no seed banks anymore of some of these crops.
It is a fact that many development initiatives in the developing world fail because the local population fail to "own" them and as soon as the donor moves they collapse. It is also true that if rural populations are to be involved in decision making then they have to have some control over the project (own it) otherwise why should they contribute. Question: How do we make them own the project and be part of it? Remember that in most countries the rural populations are not as emancipated as those who live in the cities and depend a lot on what the government says to them.
And then we have to avoid of course making them poorer like in the case outlined above. Question: Who owns the technology and how can it be made more affordable to countries? So that the 2-hectare farmer in Koriema, Kenya can afford the seeds! True technology is expensive but Ö.
Another aspect to consider: Many argue that GMOs will be the solution to Africaís hunger but no, hunger in Africa has not only been caused by pests, low producing species, but in part by corruption and mismanagement. Will GMOs wipe these out? I doubt. The same could still happen with GMOs. And interesting, one of the GMOs players has already proved itself notorious in its business; bribery allegations in Indonesia and in Canada suing a farmer over cross contamination.
As to how rural people can contribute to the decision-making, I will use the example of Kenya where we use local authorities that organize meetings (barazas) where usually government information is passed and local issues are discussed. The other most important group is the womenís groups (and women make up 80% of rural farmer population and more involved in feeding the family: very important!).
The radio and television are important tools and ownership of radios is (in case of Kenya) at a good level. And do not forget the teachers. Most teach in the rural areas and are more receptive to new information, are opinion shapers in their communities and are farmers too themselves (very important).
P.O Box 1901-0200
e-mail: cketer (at) yahoo.com
Sent: 24 January 2005 14:06
Subject: 35: Challenge of goverments in involving rural citizens
This is from Siaya district, Western Kenya. My name is Mallowa Sally Obura, an MSc. student at Egerton University in Kenya, currently in the field carrying out my research work.
I agree with Michel Ferry [Messages 3 and 27...Moderator] that it is important to address the issue of why the rural people need to be involved, achieving this is certainly going to be very difficult and expensive. We need to be convinced that they are actually involved to justify the expense. Most goverments consider it a priority to involve their citizens in decision making and the citizens always include the rural people. However, it is rarely directly but through representatives.
In Kenya, we are currently in the process of reviewing our constitution. To do this we used a local woman's name "Wanjiku" to imply that the common mwananchi (citizen) needed to be involved in this important process. Delegates were picked from all over the country to represent their people in this process. It turned out that the delegates were probably the most educated/exposed members of the communities that they represented. When they went for the review process did they really represent the view of Wanjiku ?
When the goverment will begin to address the issue of GMOs and involve the indigenous communities it will again face the challenge of who to train and whether this person will really be in a position to reach the rural people and whether, when he has been used, it will be possible to say that the rural people have been reached and can now be involved in this process?
Initially, it is the specialists who understand the situation, who should really be involved in making the decision on behalf of their fellow citizens. The rural people should only be brought in at the local level where they need to accept the GMOs for planting as they do for any other crop.
I am really enjoying the discussion and the different views being expressed which are quite challenging and relevant. Thank you.
Mallowa Sally Obura
P.O. Box 276,
email: mallowa (at) yahoo.com
Sent: 24 January 2005 14:06
Subject: 36: Costs // International legal instruments
I am Janaki Krishna from India again.
It is heartening to note the farmersí participation in this conference. Also, it is interesting to go through the discussion when people come out with frank opinions in open forums like this. The conference reiterates the importance of public participation and extension systems in dealing with issues of GMOs.
Here are some of my views with regard to following questions in Section 6 of the background document. [For those who have recently joined the conference, the background document is available at http://www.fao.org/biotech/C12doc.htm. It can also be retrieved by e-mail by Forum members sending an e-mail to email@example.com with the following one-line message:
send listlog/biotech-l.dec2004 ...Moderator].
It involves some money, if not very expensive when compared to the cost involved in developing these products. National and international funding agencies dealing with biotechnologies and emerging issues may bear these expenses as ultimately these facilitate decision making at policy level. Towards this, the funding agencies may engage appropriate organizations.6.l). "How important, implementable and relevant are the currently available international instruments relating to public participation and GMOs (see section 4)."
The three international legal instruments mentioned in the background document are very important while dealing with public participation and they are relevant in the international context. However, some nations still do not have any legal frameworks in dealing with these issues at their respective countries. As some participants expressed, [e.g. Edo Lin, Messages 10 and 13...Moderator], what freedom do these nations have in formulating their guidelines in the matrix of these already existing international agreements?
Moreover, implementation/enforcement of these laws is again a big issue. In India, though the legislation with regard to GMOs is very stringent, reports state that the illegal GM crop area grown under Bt cotton is larger when compared to the legally grown cropped area under Bt cotton (Nature Biotechnology, Vol.22, No.11, November 2004). In such situations, how responsible are these legal instruments. I feel the enforcement of law is as important as providing legal framework. The penalties for violating these laws look very minimal against the interests in pushing the technology.
P S Janaki Krishna,
Biotechnology Unit, Institute of Public Enterprise,
Hyderabad - 500 007,
Email: jankrisp (at) yahoo.com
Phone: 040 - 27097018/27098148
Sent: 24 January 2005 14:07
Subject: 37: Provide sound information // Extension // Simple language
I am Olusanya Olutogun, a lecturer in Animal Breeding and Genetics in the Department of Animal Science in the Faculty of Agriculture and at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. I am also the Coordinator of a non-governmental organization, the BIOGROW, a biotechnology and biosafety awareness growth for West and Central Africa whose major activity is the dissemination of sound scientific information on biotechnology and biosafety to the generality of the people of Nigeria and perhaps the West and Central Africa sub region. I was also a member of the Drafting Committee on Nigeria Biosafety Guidelines for the Government of Nigeria.
Firstly, I would like to congratulate the FAO and all the people connected with this globalization effort at sharing information with all the people of the world and in particular the developing countries on the crucial issue of GMOs.
My contribution has to do with providing some insights into some of the issues raised in the background document on the conference. On the issue of involving the rural people and the general public in decision making regarding GMOs, the first step is to provide sound information on the subject for sound judgment on the merits and demerits of GMOs. People must be told unequivocally that there is perhaps nothing that is risk free. But ignorance is the greatest enemy of mankind. This can begin by using all available information dissemination tools within a country and the government of such country must be serious about this task. All strata of the society can thus be informed using appropriate medium for each category of audience - the consumers, the rural farmers, the politicians, the media people,the primary, secondary and tertiary students within the country. The scare-mongers must never be permitted to feed the public spurious information without a challenge on the truth of the matter of GMOs. These scare mongers are already doing incalculable damage to this novel discovery in developing countries. It must be stopped by providing credible and true information to the people. It is an arduous job but it can be done.
The rural farmers should be included in decision making at the stage of deployment or release of GMO crops and livestock into the environment after proper briefings through the extension agents already available in some developing countries. The NGOs and other civil society organizations should be involved in the task.
Finally the quality of this debate must continue as most contributors are able to share their experiences and perceptions with all. There is so much to learn from each other.
I had written the above, when I read Message 22 from Patricia Farnese about the extension agents. I agree in toto that it is erroneous that the rural farmers cannot comprehend the science of GMOs if you employ the right and proper language to convey your ideas. We scientists use esoteric language in our work to keep out the layman and protect our profession but there is nothing wrong with employing simple language to convey our ideas and principles. In actual fact greatest lies only in simplicity. So it is possible to understand the science of biotechnology if the message is delivered in simple language that the layman can understand.
Olusanya Olutogun, Ph.D
Department of Animal Science
University of Ibadan
o.olutogun (at) mail.ui.edu.ng
o.olutogun (at) mdssolution.com
Sent: 24 January 2005 14:08
Subject: 38: Thoughts from the perspective of a development communicator
I am Cleofe S. Torres, associate professor at the Department of Science Communication, College of Development Communication, University of the Philippines, Los Banos. I handle a graduate course on environmental communication, which includes among others a topic on risk communication about GMOs. I also advise graduate students conducting research on communicating biotech. I have participated in some extension activities involving communication of biotech to its various stakeholders.
I just came in after a week's field work and was indeed overwhelmed by the variety of insightful opinions about why the public should be involved in decision making concerning GMOs. Based on the questions posted for discussion, I wish to also share my thoughts from the perspective of a development communicator.1. Do we involve rural people in decision making about GMOs?
By all means and at all cost, this should be done. If GMOs are to viewed as means towards achieving human development, then the humans or rural people that they would eventually affect deserve to know everything possible about such technology and make the final decision for themselves. We take the view that all developments should be rights-based and it is every human being's basic right to determine what they think is best for them.
But, as communicators, our role is to insure that they come up with informed or educated decision about GMOs. We need to proactively provide the information in a manner that is clearly understandable to them so that their decisions do not lead to self- or societal- destruction.
This is where the role of science communicators come in. In collaboration with the scientists, communicators need to transform the technical jargons and complex processes about GMOs into laymanized or popularized versions which the rural public can understand. Popularization itself is a science and art that requires learning of certain communication, education, sociological, and psychological principles. And perhaps the lack of active participation of science communicators has contributed somehow to the problem that afflicts the communication of GMOs to the rural public.2. How do we insure that relevant and reliable information is provided to the rural people?
Strategic communication requires an understanding of who the stakeholders are (in terms of socio-demography and psychography) and determining their level of knowledge, attitude and practices (KAP) concerning GMOs. Only when we know these can we develop the content and treatment of messages most relevant and suited to them. This would help us avoid the "hit-and-miss" approach in communicating.
But, communicating basically follows the principles of learning. We should give the information in a graduated manner (from the basics to the more complex ones), giving time for our rural people to digest and process knowledge. Giving more than what the people can absorb at one time will only lead to "choking' or information overload.
We should understand that since the scientific knowledge foundation of rural people is relatively low, then the process of learning may also take a while. But surely, they are capable of learning.3. What is the effective media to reach them and allow them to participate effectively in the decision making?
It is a basic communication principle that "there is no single best medium" even for the rural people. A complementation of media and channels is always more effective. However, as mentioned earlier, a baseline of where the rural people are in the KAP continuum should guide us on the proper media complementation. As a rule of thumb, we use more of the mass media (radio for rural people) and less of the interpersonal (face-to-face) communication when the rural people have yet to gain awareness and knowledge about GMOs. But as they move toward "liking" and eventually "accepting" the applications of GMOs, we reverse the combination - more interpersonal and less of the mass media.
Participation now goes down to the interpersonal level and would require more of the interpersonal approaches (meetings, dialogues, forum). This may be complemented by other communication materials such as radio, posters or community billboards. But because most of the rural poor are inclined more to the "talking culture" (as compared to the reading culture), then face-to-face mode always proves to be more effective tools for participation, though an inefficient one in terms of cost.4. Who should bear the cost for public participation?
It is but fair that the proponents of GMOs bear the cost of participation. After all, they are the ones "selling" an innovation. The public would have also given their share in terms of the opportunity cost they give up participating in the decision process.
A study done by Dr. Napoleon Juanillo (2002) for the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) could give us good insights about communication for GMOs. In his study on Public Understanding, Perceptions, and Attitudes Towards Agricultural Biotechnology (in Indonesia and the Philippines), he found that stakeholders exhibit dismal information-seeking behavior. This can be due to the following factors: they do not know where to go for information, the mass media does not adequately cover it, people do not talk much about biotechnology because it is too complex, and the issue has not yet reached a level of salience that can motivate people to seek additional information. [The reference here is presumably to a series of 5 country monographs (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam) produced through a collaborative study by communication researchers from ISAAA and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA, on "The social and cultural dimensions of agricultural biotechnology in Southeast Asia: Public understanding, perceptions, and attitudes towards biotechnology" - http://www.isaaa.org/kc/Publications/htm/articles/survey.htm ...Moderator].
We will be conducting a follow up study on the same issue this this year - two years after GMOs have actually been applied in the countries- and find out if change has occurred.
Cleofe S. Torres
College of Development Communication
UP Los Banos
Email Address : docle_2003 (at) yahoo.com
Sent: 24 January 2005 14:09
Subject: 39: The rural people need information, education
My name is Jackson Sitengu, a senior journalist, working as a Subeditor with the Zambia Daily Mail, a national newspaper here in Zambia. I am also a member of the Biotechnology Outreach Society of Zambia. I have written a few newspaper articles on biotechnology and I am interested in developments in the sector.
The need and importance of involving the public, especially rural people, on issues of biotechnology can never be overemphasized. The public are the end users of biotechnology products. If there are any side effects coming with the consumption of some products, it is the public that will suffer them. The participation of rural communities is also crucial. Most of these people are heavily reliant on agriculture as their mainstay. It follows, therefore, that any attempts at radical changes in the industry should involve them and needs their consent. However, the process of involving rural people is a painstaking one, especially for developing countries, that should be done over a long period of time. A number of things have to be taken into account.
The first and most important is that of information flow to these people. Governments should develop effective communication systems that fully involve rural people. These will ensure that they are kept in contact with what is happening and gives them a forum for discussion of issues that affect them, including that of GMOs.
The other thing that Governments must do is to provide education to rural people. This can be done through the promotion of education in the affected areas and ensuring that pertinent issues are included in the curriculum. This will provide them with the means to understand the issues that affect them and make decisions that best suit their needs. Without education, they will go with the wind and follow the opinions of their informants rather than making their own decisions.
The other thing governments can do to enhance the participation of the public, especially rural people, is to work with already established rural organisations such as agricultural coorporatives. Leaders of these groupings should be educated on biotechnology through seminars and workshops and their decisions later on taken to represent the communities from whence they come.
However, the cost of involving rural people may turn out to be too immense if the process has to be done properly. This is more of a question in developing countries where resources are always limited. It may follow that developing countries should look at more urgent needs than spending money on national seminars and workshops at the expense of other pressing issues like debt repayment, health and education just to get the decisions of the public.
In conclusion, The involvement of the public is crucial but should not be done hurriedly. Governments should start laying the foundation slowly through the promotion of education, developing effective mass media and developing working rural structures.
Jackson Sitengu (Mr)
Zambia Daily Mail
sitengu (at) yahoo.co.uk