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A citizens' jury: The locals know what aid they need

Anjamma is a farmer who works four acres of land with her children. They have two bullocks, eight buffalo and no machines. She was one of 12 people chosen to take part in a citizens' jury of small traders, small and marginal farmers, food processors and consumers, funded by the Dutch government and the Rockefeller Foundation, to assess ambitious plans for farming in their area.

The chief minister of Andhra Pradesh in southern India, Chandra Babu Naidu, has been widely acclaimed for the state's modernising achievements with information technology. If IT, why not agriculture? US agricultural advisers were brought in and Vision 2020 was drawn up, to bring millions of poor farmers straight into the 21st century with massive consolidation of farms, mechanisation of agriculture, irrigation projects, new roads and the introduction of genetically modified crops. The state government claims that the programme will eradicate poverty.

The Citizens' Jury sat through days of evidence from politicians, seed companies, academics, aid donors and NGOs in June 2001. Three scenarios were presented and advocates for each tried to persuade the jury that their particular approach would provide the best opportunity to enhance livelihoods and food security in the coming 20 years. An oversight panel checked that each proposal was presented in a fair and unprejudiced way. The first proposal was the state's Vision 2020. The second was for environmentally-friendly farming to meet the northern demand for organic and fair-trade produce. The third was based on increased self-reliance for rural communities, low input, local food production and local marketing. The jury could either choose one of the pre-formed visions or derive their own unique view. Their verdict was very clear:

  • They wanted encouragement for self-reliance and community control over resources.
  • They gave priority to the maintenance of healthy soils (the farmers among them were conscious of the harmful legacy of pesticides and fertilisers).
  • They wanted to maintain diverse crops, trees and livestock.
  • They wanted to build on indigenous knowledge, skills and local institutions.
  • They wanted to maintain control of medicinal plants and their export.

And their opposition was clearly expressed:

  • They were horrified that Vision 2020's proposals would reduce those working the land from 70 to 40% in Andhra Pradesh. This would uproot 20 million people, leaving them with no livelihood (equivalent to a third of Britain's population).
  • They did not want genetically modified crops, specifically not `vitamin A' rice, nor `Bt cotton'.
  • They did not want consolidation of ownership into fewer and bigger farms for cash crops.
  • They did not want an increase in contract farming.
  • They did not want labour-displacing mechanisation.

The results of the Citizens' Jury were widely reported in the Indian press, and the British government came in for criticism because the major slice of UK DfID aid to India in 2002 is devoted to Vision 2020. Anjamma was asked what she would do if Vision 2020 goes ahead. "There will be nothing for us to do," she replied, "other than to drink pesticides and die."

Excerpted from The Little Earth Book by James Bruges, published by Alastair Sawday. To order a copy or for further details visit www.littleearth.co.uk

  Free trade: Comparative advantage for the corporations
  Intuition: Common sense, imagination and morality
  Patenting life: Wait a minute! Who made it?
  The Terminator: Corporate control of food for profit
  Population: More or less
  Pests and weeds: Biotechnology for profit, a nightmare
  A citizens' jury: The locals know what aid they need
  Imperial tribute: Why the rich are rich and the majority poor
  The WTO: Power in a moral vacuum
  Biomimicry: Science's exciting new frontier
  Water denied: A crime against humanity
  The first MNC: Little has changed
  Feeding the world: There is no shortage of money or food
  Ecological footprints: The rich wear big boots