PANNA: Forging a Science for the People


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Forging a Science for the People
October 18, 2002

"We, the delegates of the First International Peasant-Scientist Conference unite to strengthen peasant-scientist partnerships to ensure that science and technology serves the interests and needs of the people. Science of and for the people calls for partnerships between scientists and peasants, indigenous, and other marginalized, exploited and threatened communities." So concluded 95 participants from 13 countries who met in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in late September 2002 for the First International Peasant-Scientist Conference. The conference was held to advance "people-centered science," and to foster understanding and networking between the peasants' movements in Asia and the scientific and academic community. Participants included representatives from the most significant peasants movements in the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Nepal, scientists from Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, and local and regional NGOs, including representatives of consumer organizations.

Central to the discussions was the premise that agricultural science and technology is now often used as a tool to increase profits rather than as a way to achieve food sovereignty. Many multinational corporations present pesticides and genetically engineered crops as the "scientific" way to increase yields and farmers' incomes. However, these costly inputs often lead to serious health and environmental impacts and force small farmers into bankruptcy. At the same time, research at public institutions, including the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR*) increasingly reflects the interests of private funders at the expense of research for the public good. In contrast, people-centered science includes research that helps small farmers increase productivity and improves the economic well being of rural communities--such as research into biological control, organic production systems and other agroecological approaches.

According to conference participants, most innovations in agricultural biotechnology to date have been profit-driven rather than need-driven."The real drive behind developing these crops is not to make Third World agriculture more productive, but rather to create more profits for transnational corporations," noted Sarojeni V. Rengam, director of PAN Asia and the Pacific. For example, she explained, the majority of transgenic crops being grown today have been engineered to be resistant to an agrochemical company's proprietary herbicides, not to increase yields. Peasant groups from Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines have protested the field testing of genetically engineered crops in their countries because they view these technologies as merely an extension of the Green Revolution, a revolution that essentially bypassed small farmers throughout Asia and benefited large land owners.

Commenting on the successful outcome of the Peasants Scientists Conference Dr. Quijano, Professor at the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the College of Medicine, University of the Philippines in Manila, said, "The peasant struggle for land and social justice is truly strengthened by this partnership with people oriented scientists."

The conference concluded with a unity statement in which the participants pledged to challenge corporate-dominated science and the proliferation of agrochemical and genetic engineering technologies. "We are committed to unmasking corporate propaganda and tactics of domination, harassment, and repression. We challenge our institutions and universities to be free from corporate control; to develop genuine people-centered science curricula and programs; and to promote and develop community-based research."

The conference was organized by PAN Asia and the Pacific together with ERA Consumer, Tenaganita and the Malaysian Program on Sustainable Agriculture and Pesticides (MP SAP) and included participants from Australia, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, United Kingdom and United States.

*CGIAR is an association that supports agricultural research and related activities carried out by sixteen autonomous research centers, including the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Source/contact: Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Asia and the Pacific, P.O. Box 1170, 10850, Penang, Malaysia; phone (60-4) 657 0271 / 656 0381; fax (60-4) 657 7445; email panap@panap.net; Web site http://www.panap.net/.

PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don't always get coverage by the mainstream media. It's produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.

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