The triennial plenary of the Global Forum on Agricultural
Research (GFAR) was held in Dresden, Germany on May 21-23. Set up
in 1996 by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural
Research (CGIAR), GFAR is designed to bring together the various
stakeholders of agricultural research, namely
international agricultural research organisations, Advanced
Research Institutes from the North, National Agricultural
Research Systems from the South, donors, the private sector, NGOs
and farmers organisations. The following are excerpts from
a statement by Via Campesina, an umbrella organisation representing
many farmers groups, regarding the meeting:
Via Campesina expresses dismay that farmers were
effectively excluded from participating in the debate. Firstly,
representatives of peasants and small farmers were not invited as
presenters in the plenary and sub-plenary sessions. Conference delegates
only heard academics, theoreticians, and powerful institutions and
corporations such as the World Bank, CGIAR and corporations. Secondly,
the themes centred around technological solutions, ignoring the
more fundamental problems that farmers face in their daily lives.
Thirdly, the lack of translation in the small group sessions and
sub-plenaries effectively silenced non-English speaking farmers.
Moreover, many of the most critical themes were
excluded. The conference did not address issues such as the problem
of landlessness and the need for genuine agrarian reform, the displacement
of peasants and subsequent lack of access to and control over natural
resources; increased impoverishment of rural communities; the problem
of Third World debt and resultant distortions in food production;
the issue of Farmers Rights in relation to Intellectual Property
Rights; and perhaps most importantly, the need for food sovereignty
instead of just food security.
The very basis of GFAR must be questioned. There
is still a lack of recognition that industry-led research has been
a major contributor to world hunger. A new model of agricultural
research and rural development is needed which is farmer-driven
rather than industry-led. Farmers must be involved as equal partners
with research institutions, NGOs and government agencies in designing
and implementing the research. It is the responsibility of GFAR
to establish the necessary mechanisms to ensure the building of
these important partnerships.
Farmer-led research is based on traditional
knowledge systems. These systems are the result of local realities
and have time-tested qualities of environmental and cultural sustainability.
On-farm research is being carried out by Via Campesina organisations
around the world. Work is being done, for example, on land races
by the Movimiento Sem Terra in Brazil; the Karnataka Farmers
Association in India is working on organic and natural farming methods;
the development of farmers varieties of seeds is being carried
out by the KMP in the Philippines; and the Conseil National de Concertation
et Cooperation des Ruraux in Senegal is involved in research
on water management, livestock management and policy development.
Resources must flow to support such research and development projects.
Since GFAR acknowledges that farmers are key actors
in food production, we expect that concerns raised here will be
fully integrated in the GFARs final declaration and plan of
action. The future participation of the Via Campesina in the GFAR
depends on due recognition and integration of these concerns in
the functioning, governance, and future work of the GFAR.
Mr. Paroda, president of GFAR, stated that agreement
was reached amongst all stakeholder groups on the Dresden Declaration
of GFAR entitled "Towards a global system for agricultural
research and development." This is not the case: there was
no common position amongst the farmers groups present and Via Campesina
did not sign the declaration. In order to make GFAR play a useful
and active role it has to respect and act according to the following
* Agricultural research must be farmer driven.
The GFAR should facilitate discussions on farmers initiatives
to collaborate with indep endent and participatory researchers
in which farmers define the research agenda. There must be space
in the GFAR for farmers organisations and NGOs that work
in rural areas.
* GFAR 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.
* 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.
* 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.
For more information on GFAR, visit the following
1) GFARs electronic communication hub for
the long term: http://www.egfar.org
2) The official GFAR2000 site, where the papers are posted: http://www.fao.org/nars/gfar2000/index.htm
3) The NGO site for GFAR-related material: http://www.gfar2000-ngoactivities.de/