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9-Misc: GM crops on trial in Africa

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TITLE:  GM crops on trial in Africa
SOURCE: International Institute for Environment and Development, UK
DATE:   25 Jan 2006

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GM crops on trial in Africa

Ordinary cotton-growers and other farmers in Mali, West Africa, will
this week decide whether GM technology is the way forward for the
world's fourth poorest country. A "citizens' jury" will cross-examine
international experts, representing a broad spectrum of views on this
controversial issue, before reaching its decision.

The event starts on Wednesday 25 January with three days of witness
testimony, after which the jury, made up of 43 small farmers and medium-
size producers, will deliberate and deliver their verdict on Sunday 29
January. It will take place in Sikasso in southern Mali where two-thirds
of the country's cotton is produced.

The jury will question a wide range of agricultural specialists
including farmers from other poor countries who have first-hand
experience of growing GM crops. Though the jurors' decision is not
binding, it is expected to influence the future direction of
agricultural policy in Mali and across the region where most people rely
on subsistence farming.

Mali is the largest producer of cotton in sub-Saharan Africa, largely
grown by smallholder farmers whose livelihoods depend on it. At stake is
whether farmers should swap traditional seeds for those that have been
genetically modified and patented by corporations, which would mark a
dramatic break with current agricultural practice.

African countries are under increasing pressure from agribusiness to
open their markets to GM crops and industrialise their farming sector,
but the continent remains divided in its response. South Africa and
Mali's neighbour Burkina Faso have allowed the introduction of GM, but
Benin has said no.

The citizens' jury is hosted by the regional government (Assemblee
Regionale de Sikasso) and, to ensure a fair process, it has been
designed and facilitated by the London-based International Institute for
Environment and Development (IIED) and RIBios, the University of
Geneva's Biosafety Interdisciplinary Network, together with a wide range
of local partners in Mali.

IIED's Dr Michel Pimbert said: "This initiative is about making the
agriculture agenda more directly responsive to African people's
priorities and choices. It is vital that we redress the current
democratic deficit in which governments and big agri-food corporations
have far more say than farmers and other citizens about how land is
used, and what crops are grown. We must all recognise that local people
have the right to decide the food and farming policies they want. This
citizens' jury creates a space for farmers to reach an informed,
evidence-based view on this complicated and often controversial issue,
which can then be amplified to policy-makers."

For further information
Tony Samphier on +44 208 671 2911
Liz Carlile on +44 207 388 2117

Notes to editors

The International Institute for Environment & Development (IIED) is a
London-based think tank working for global policy solutions rooted in
the reality of local people at the frontline of sustainable development.

More information on A Citizens Space for Democratic Deliberation on GMOs
and the future of farming in Mali - A Citizens' Jury


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