Let the people decide: citizen deliberation on the role of GMOs in Mali’s agriculture

Michel Pimbert, Boukary Barry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
46 Downloads (Pure)


This paper describes and critically reflects on a participatory policy process which resulted in a government decision not to introduce genetically modified (GM) cotton in farmers’ fields in Mali (West Africa). In January 2006, 45 Malian farmers gathered in Sikasso to deliberate on GM cotton and the future of farming in Mali. As an invited policy space convened by the government of Sikasso region, this first-time farmers’ jury was unique in West Africa. It was known as l’ECID—Espace Citoyen d’Interpellation Démocratique (Citizen’s Space for Democratic Deliberation)—and it had an unprecedented impact on the region. In this Deliberative and Inclusive Process (DIP), the ECID combined the citizens’ jury method with indigenous methods for debate and dialogue, including the traditional African palaver. The ECID brought together male and female producers representing every district in the Sikasso region of southern Mali, specialist witnesses from various continents and a panel of independent observers, as well as resource persons and members of the national and international press and media. As an experiment in deliberative democracy, the ECID of Sikasso aimed to give men and women farmers the opportunity to share knowledge on the benefits and risks of GM cotton, and make policy recommendations on the future of GM technol- ogy in Malian agriculture. Designed as a bottom-up and participatory process, the ECID’s outcomes significantly changed national policy on the release of GM technology and have had an enduring influence in Mali. In this paper, we describe our positionality as action researchers and co-organisers of the ECID. We explain the methodology used for the ECID of Sikasso and critically reflect on the safeguards that were put in place to ensure a balanced and trustworthy deliberative process. The ECID and its key outcomes are discussed in the context of the political economy of GM cotton in West Africa. Last, we briefly highlight the relevance of the ECID for current international debates on racism in the theory and practice deliberative democracy; the production of post-normal transdisciplinary knowledge for technology risk-assessments; and the politics of knowledge in participatory policy-making for food and agriculture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1097-1122
Number of pages26
JournalAgriculture and Human Values
Issue number4
Early online date7 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

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  • African palaver
  • Citizens’ jury
  • GMO
  • Biosafety policy
  • Democracy
  • Agriculture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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