Indian farmers judge GM crops
Debates about genetically modified (GM) corps in India have largely centered on their benefits, as espoused by scientists, transnational corporations and the government, excluding the farmers who grow the crops. This video documents the process by which Karnataka farmers held a citizen's jury over 5 days, to assess potential advantages and disadvantages of GM crops. The jury comprised eight female and six male farmers, and was held in the village of Bommagondakare. The jury questioned witnesses from biotechnology companies, national government, NGOs and farmers' groups. Farmers were open to the advantages but questioned applications of 'expert' scientific knowledge in local contexts. They saw the dangers of less accountability from the private profit-making corporations developing the technology. Farmers stressed their knowledge, and seed saving and breeding techniques. They were concerned that GM seeds would leave them powerless. Women in particular, who have the final say in the choice of seed and how it is sown, may be marginalised. The poorest farmers were concerned that GM crops could threaten food security. As part of the verdict, farmers were asked to vote on the question of whether they would grow GM crops. Nine farmers said 'no', four said 'yes', and one was not sure. Most of the jury wanted a moratorium on GM crops until extensive field trials, which involved farmers, were carried out for 5-10 years. The jury made detailed recommendations about what would be required to increase their confidence in GM seeds. Their main priority was that traditional varieties known to be reliable are conserved. Action Aid, in facilitating the citizen's jury, focused on the need for poor people to have a voice in decision-making on matters that affect their lives. The citizens' jury on GM crops is one such example. Given the right information, farmers can make sophisticated judgements. Their voices should be at the forefront of the GM debate and in the decision-making process on how the technology is taken forward.