Agricultural research

(Dresden) For a farmer-driven research and real dialogue in the GFAR
On the occasion of the GFAR Forum being held on May 21-23, in Dresden, Germany, the Via Campesina presents its proposals for the establishment of a concept of farmer-driven agricultural research together with a real and independent dialogue among stakeholders.

The current GFAR appears to be inappropriate in its current state having narrowed its original idea of an open dialogue on agriculture and food production to a mere debate on technical agricultural research and is pushing towards an artificial consensus.

The GFAR has yet to arrive at a global vision. The Via Campesina wants an open dialogue on all important questions relating to agriculture. Such a global vision must reflect the needs, concerns and interests of small farmers and peasants around the world rather then merely legitimising further genetic engineering and patenting in agriculture.

Agricultural research in the hands of agribusiness research is more and more alienated from farmers’ realities; it is carried out in laboratories and effectively excludes farmers. In general, research is focused on increasing production, creating varieties that are less dependent on climate, and development of species that are resistant to pesticides and herbicides. For farmers this means purchasing more inputs and greater dependency on imported technology all of which only benefit industry.

Research programmes are increasingly influenced and dictated by the interests of agro-industry. Very little independent and public research is being carried out; public aid is shrinking and private funding influences the nature of public research. One of the concrete illustrations of this trend is the enormous amount of funds allocated to genetic engineering and export crops whereas the development of low input methods or environmental-friendly agriculture are ignored. Current agricultural research is first and foremost geared to increase ownership and control by agro-industry. The development of rice and maize hybrids and dead seeds (terminators) is clear proof of this.

No to life patenting One of the most serious challenges is the sustainable management of genetic resources, which is the patrimony of humankind. The current imposition of the concept of private property on these resources and the resulting destruction of agricultural biodiversity are unacceptable.

Biodiversity is developed by farmers and indigenous communities and the protection of and free access to these resources is a fundamental community right. Patenting of plant and life forms must be prohibited. IRRI and CIMMYT recently announced their wish to patent their research with the aim of securing free access to the fruits of research and thus avoid appropriation by industry. However, the very aim of patenting has been precisely to limit such access. Research programs must be geared to enhancing the cultivation and conservation of genetic resources rather than leading to the destruction of these resources. Therefore, the Via Campesina fully supports the actions taken by KMP and Philippine NGO’s against the IRRI’s approach, which has contributed to the destruction of rice species in Asia and sustainable family farming. -> page 2 Genetic engineering damages sustainable family farming Via Campesina believes that many national programmes and the current agenda of international agricultural research centres such as the IRRI and CIMMYT are to impose genetic engineering on the farming community. By establishing partnerships with the corporate sector CGIAR seeks to attract funding for implementation of this program.

Genetic engineering will lead to rapid destruction of agricultural biodiversity, irreversible ecological risks, loss in food quality and safety, and further marginalization of millions of farmers. This technology is destructive to farmers and consumers. We urge the CGIAR, IRRI, CIMMYT and similar national research institutions to stop research on genetic engineering. We strongly encourage research institutions to adopt participatory research programs that lead to community management of natural and genetic resources, and sustainable agriculture and food production.

For a farmer driven agricultural research Agricultural research and rural development must be farmer-driven. Farmers must be involved as equal partners with research institutions, non-government organizations and government agencies in developing and implementing the research. Mechanisms must be put in place to ensure the building of these important partnerships.

The Technical Advisory Committee’s (TAC) proposal for a CGIAR vision stresses the need to address poverty alleviation. The proposal contains no critical analysis of the Green Revolution technologies, indeed, it states that the Green Revolution was in general beneficial. However, over the years all high yielding varieties of rice (developed by the IRRI) have resulted in higher input costs, lower yields and loss of agro biodiversity. The TAC proposal claims that research should be oriented to the poor. Yet farmers do not have a positive role to play in the proposed vision. Indeed, because of their diverse and complex production systems small farmers have been defined as a " problem ", as a category that needs extra attention. But on the contrary the Via Campesina believes that these very diverse and complex production systems are at the heart of sustainable agriculture and food production.

The Via Campesina believes that the GFAR can play a useful and active role in ensuring participatory agricultural research but this requires a strong political will and resolve to act according to the following principles * Agricultural research must be farmer driven. The GFAR should facilitate discussions on farmers’ initiatives to collaborate with independent and participatory researchers in which farmers define the research agenda. There must be space in the GFAR for farmer’s organisations and NGOs that work in rural areas. * GFAR, or perhaps better yet, as a Global Forum on Agriculture (GFA), should deal with a full range of agricultural, social and cultural issues related to food production as defined by farmers such as the following: access to land, water and genetic resources, income and market policies, education and training, etc. * The GFAR must be a forum of open dialogue where differences can be fully expressed and explored. Building a common vision takes time and commitment to work together. Rushing through this process, as we have seen, results in covering up existing and potential conflicts on, for example, genetic engineering, patenting and access to resources in general (land, water, credits, etc.).

Research based on sustainable family farming
In order to design research programmes that really benefit sustainable farm production, the following conditions must be met:
1) It is important to make an effort to implement "in situ" the research results.
2) Agricultural research cannot be restricted to academic institutions. On farm research led by farmers themselves is an important and necessary contribution.
3) Access and control over research funds must be democratised.
4) Farmers must actively participate in the setting, implementation and assessment of research programmes. We need new participatory methods in research. An important step in research consists in defining problems in a broad social and economic framework, together with farmers and other sectors of society. Finding solutions should also be done collectively. We do not accept the imposition of technological solutions by corporate interests.
5) Research programmes should strive to better understand the critical role of farmers’ knowledge in traditional production models, their integration in the ecosystem and the role they play in the maintenance of local resources.
6) Research programmes are to respect and strengthen local dynamics and put forward solutions that are locally defined and applied.
7) Research programme funding must be independent and public. National authorities should increase their contributions and funds must actively support sustainable family farming models.
8) Genetic engineering is destructive to sustainable agriculture and food production. Research should be geared to the maintenance, conservation and creation of biodiversity based on traditional and local knowledge systems and production practices.
9) The scientific community has the responsibility and can play an important role by responding to farmers needs rather than serving the interests of agro industry.