Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Mali Farmers' Jury Reject GM as Threat to Farming Culture

As reported in The Independent, The Mali government is deciding whether to allow GM trials. But during a recent 5 day meeting in Sikasso (a major area for cotton production), Africa's first "farmers' jury" heard many concerns from local farmers. The farmers' jury is an important element of the participation of farmers in developments in agricultural industry, as reported by the Organic Consumers Association. In particular, it was made clear that the decision to trial GM was not merely a question of agricultural production. Rather, the decision must deal with more extensive questions of cultural identity and of traditional agricultural practices as integral to that identity. As stated by Birama Kone, a member of the jury, "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."

As well as the issues raised by local farmers, Dr Michel Pimbert (pictured) of the International Institute for Environment and Development (which also reported on the result) raised the question of the intrusion of patented products in the local agricultural industry, thus changing the landscape of agricultural communities and practices. Dr Pimbert also raised concerns about the possible dominance of the sector by seed companies: "The idea that the first link in the agricutural chain is controlled by a company is deeply disturbing to small farmers."

America's development agency, USAid, backs the development of GM technology in west Africa. However, the US continues to subsidise its own cotton farmers, directly affecting Mali's cotton industry, according to activists.

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