[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: 28 January 2005 10:20
Subject: 53: Extension: Transfer of Technology and participatory models
This is from Anthony Dunn. I am an Extension academic and farmer in southern NSW, Australia. Sounds like a strange combination, you may say, but both careers are relevant to this conference.
My farming experience in the debate has been with canola. In 30 years of farming have adopted some innovations that I wished I had not, but GM canola is the first I have seen where even if I don't adopt it, I will still be affected by those who do. In the developing agriculture extension literature, I know about many innovations that either did not work or caused problems.
In the extension world there are (simplistically) two models of social change, Transfer of Technology (ToT) and participatory (e.g. Farmer-First, F-F). In the developed world, we learnt about F-F from the developing world where it was realised that some technologies either didn't work, and/or had deleterious longer term effects for farmers and/or the environment.
Previous contributors have pointed out that bio-technologies ('innovations' in extension-speak) cannot be judged desirable (or not) by scientists alone. For a start, change is a social process - province of the extension profession and underpinned by social science. About 30 years ago, extension researchers discovered that the diffusion and adoption change model had serious difficulties - namely it did not predict or explain non-adoption or the negative consequences of change - namely unintended consequences (bio-physical, ecological and social) to individuals and the environment.
Developing agriculture societies showed western scientists that 'their' technology exports were only one type of knowledge; the other was local (indigenous) knowledge which should be sought first and blended with outside knowledge. This is the basis of participatory approaches (F-F is one model) which now holds prominence alongside ToT.
There are problems, however, with participatory approaches. For a start, it takes much social training to understand and use them - despite the vast literature and well known proponents. Many extension people are trained first in the bio-physical aspects of agriculture and maybe post graduate training in social sciences or extension later. Some never make the transition; sales and marketing are more appropriate role labels.
So, even though ToT is the preferred mode of operation for most agricultural extension workers, a change of approach (e.g. to F-F) has been accepted. ToT does not work with environmental problems - an example being community consultation used to improve the problem of river degradation and declining irrigation resources. However, another problem for participatory (consultation) approaches is that the community has begun to mistrust them - some farmers call it 'insult-ation'!
While I advocate participatory approaches, it must be realised that each situation needs a tailored methodology so that people can learn before they change (or not change!). A typology of participatory methodologies was developed by Andrea Cornwell (Cornwell 1995, cited in Race and Buchy 1999) shows a continuum from tokenism to empowerment. [Race and Buchy, 1999 is available at http://www.csu.edu.au/research/crsr/ruralsoc/vol9no2.pdf . The A. Cornwall 1995 reference is entitled "Towards participatory practice: PRA and the participatory process". In: de Koning, K. (ed.) Participation and Health. Zed Books, London...Moderator].
For major changes - especially those with uncertain consequences - such as the adoption of GM crops, a democratic approach is advocated, but expertise and committed extension workers will be needed.
Senior Lecturer in Extension,
School of Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences
Charles Sturt University
Locked Bag 588
Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, 2678
e-mail: adunn (at) csu.edu.au
Sent: 28 January 2005 10:40
Subject: 54: Organizing regional groups // Representing rural populations
I am Bridget Hogg, College Lecturer, from the College of the Bahamas, again.
This discussion is proving interesting and informative. My contribution here addresses two of the discussion questions in the background document (6n. and 6j. respectively):
1. Could the information sharing/discussion be organized on a regional basis rather than national ?
If countries were prepared to work as regional units, money and other scarce resources could be conserved. Newsletters, email campaigns, regional meetings and productions (videos for public awareness) could be jointly produced. In the Caribbean region, for example, there is heavy reliance on North American imports. Thus, we have common food and livestock suppliers, and GMOs concerns. Since individual countries lack economies of scale, we could speak with a greater voice as an economic, strategic planning and policy making block.
There are already existing regional groups such as Caricom, The University of The West Indies, for example that provide interaction amongst several countries. [CARICOM is the Caribbean Community and Common Market - http://www.caricom.org/ ...Moderator].
2. Who is best to represent the rural people ?
Who knows the rural people better than the rural people? Who should represent them ? They should represent themselves. Every society, no matter how "primitive" or "advanced" (undeveloped or developed ??) has some form of social structure featuring leadership functions. These societal leaders already have the attention and concerns of their fellow citizens. They speak the language and understand the culture. They are in a position to interact with other communities and to represent themselves in the national forum. It is up to those outside these communities who wish to initiate GMO discussions to seek out these persons and make information available to them in an unbiased format, in a language and format that they can appreciate and present/discuss with their own community members.
On a general note: It is important to note that even as these discussions ensue, companies such as Monsanto continue to grow in their influence, swallowing up smaller companies or gaining majority control. I worry that one day soon the question of GMO or non-GMO will not even exist. Megacorporations may take the possibility of choice out of the hands of the rural and urban populations. As was mentioned previously, we in the smaller nations are largely subject to what our suppliers offer. If the only affordable, available food and feed is GMO-based, then there is no choice. Whether GMOs are good for us, bad for us or a mixed bag will be irrelevant.
The College of The Bahamas
adelphi (at) batelnet.bs
Sent: 28 January 2005 12:59
Subject: 55: Why and how to involve the rural people: Eritrea
I would like to express my appreciation for FAO for organising this discussion forum on GMOs and Rural people participation in Decision making. I am Yoel Mesghenna from Eritrea. I have worked for some years at the Ministry of Agriculture in Eritrea (on research), and am a plant breeder by profession (M.Sc in plant breeding and agricultural science) and worked as a plant breeder for about three years and on different variety evaluation for another three years before in Eritrea.
After all, my small country may not be able to enjoy such advanced technology in the near future but it is still difficult to stay free of GMOs when there is not much biosafety regulations and practices, almost unhindered movement of life materials with neighboring countries and too much food is coming every year as food aid. I have read some of the participant's messages. I enjoyed the discussion and the different ideas brought up here. I am happy to see that most of the participants think that the rural people should definitely be involved on the issue of GMOs.
One thing that should be noted is that clear and unhindered information should be transfered to rural people in the way they can understand! We should be able to use their "words" to do this. We don't need to scare them with endless unimaginable ideas but we need also to tell them that GMO is just another latest technology that will only work together with their cooperation and it is not a miracle! If we cannot make rural people understand the merits of GMOs then it is almost impossible to make any step forward. Maybe, depending on their circumstances, some areas may still feel that they have still too much "technologies" and systems on their surroundings that they should first make use of. Let them know and let them talk!
Let me give one example from my country. There was one initiative a few years ago by the name integrated farming system, where the small farms of individuals were cultivated together by using tractors, fertilizers, herbicides, harvesters etc. This project led to increases in yield in some areas and not in others, depending on the potential of the land and the rainfall. But at the end of the harvest, farmers were asked to repay the expenses. In the following years, farmers started to pull back from the project and I heard some farmers call this integrated farming - integrated cost. Some of these farmers preferred to get less yield with less input than a little higher yield with higher expense. Of course, it is understandable that the government also cannot provide all the technologies for free. But the government should have made it clear from the beginning that only those people who are willing to pay this "extra expense" get involved! One thing some of these farmers regret about this system is that long time traditionally developed terraces between and within their farms were destroyed for the sake of intensive cultivation and it is costing them time and money to regain it.
So let the rural people know all the OPPORTUNITIES, COSTS, RISKS of GMOs. Let them get as much information as possibly they can understand and let them have a say. If we cannot make them understand "all" about GMOs or if we don't want to tell them just because we feel it is too complicated, then the time they find out (for sure they will), there is a risk that these people will be suspicious of our motivations and start to pull back (unfortunately for GMOs this opportunity may not be there). So they will end up in hanging in the middle and keep on resisting implementation of not only the GMOs but also other development initiatives.
How do we make them understand GMOs ? Well as long as we consider them as partners there is always a means. Definitely, multi-disciplinary experts need to have discussions with the rural people to get an idea on different perspectives. But at the beginning we may need to make use of the existing social and administrative structures of the given society. For example in my country the elder people, religious leaders are very much influencial to the rural people, and when it comes to formal organizations there are extension agents, contact farmers, community leaders, etc. Make effective use of these people to transfer our HONEST AND CLEAR information. Of course, there is also the media, like radios (e.g. in my country "education by radio for the elderly program" in two to three languages which the rural people enjoy very much). These, of course, will make it easier for rural people to understand the message than a biotechnologist or a breeder going directly to the area and trying to talk to “every rural individual.
Yoel T. Mesghenna
e-mail: Mty1973 (at) yahoo.com
Sent: 28 January 2005 17:05
Subject: 56: Public GM debates can take different forms
This is Edo Lin, independent consultant.
The process of public consultation and decision making can vary from country to country and may be a reflection of the political environment and the level of openness in a given society. Most of the GM debates have been reported from Europe and it is maybe interesting to give some examples of how it was done in different countries.
In Germany, the debate involved 30 stakeholder organisations at national level. The participants appointed a Steering Committee and the debates/workshops were moderated by an independent consultant. In Switzerland, it included 28 lay persons (randomly selected) and 17 experts and interest groups. The process used is called a Consensus Conference and is aimed at social learning. The UK had probably the largest effort to include citizens in the debate with 675 meetings taking place at national, sub-national and local (village) level. This was followed by an e-mail conference during which 1200 contributions were made. In total, 20.000 people were involved in this UK exercise.
These examples illustrate the different forms public debates about biotechnology can take. In Germany it is quite common to consult national organisations of stakeholders and no individual citizens took part. At the other end of the scale, in the UK, citizens were actively engaged in the discussions, especially at the local level.
In all three cases, the questions addressed turned around the following themes:
- possible costs and benefits of the technology
- consumer choice
- health issues
- environmental issues
- ethical issues
- implications for developing countries
It is difficult to find the outcomes of the different debates. The UK debate is well documented and the final report can be accessed at www.gmnation.org.uk. In the German and Swiss cases, the debate was reported in the respective parliaments and can therefore be considered as informative to the legislative process.
Little is reported on changes in attitude towards the technology and none of the debates were efforts towards public decision making. A general observation is that these debates bring different stakeholders together, sometimes for the first time and that they facilitate the continuation of the discussion.
The cases above illustrate that depending on the country and its culture of public participation, different debates can be structured.
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