We published a new paper!

Socio-economic research on genetically modified crops: a study of the literature“, this is the title of our new paper published in Agriculture and Human Values and co-authored by Georgina Catacora-Vargas, Anne Ingeborg Myhr, Brian Wynne and me.

This has been a long-lasting research, based on an extensive literature review (410 papers were analysed) on socio-economic impacts of GMOs.

Abstract: The importance of socio-economic impacts (SEI) from the introduction and use of genetically modified (GM) crops is reflected in increasing efforts to include them in regulatory frameworks. Aiming to identify and understand the present knowledge on SEI of GM crops, we here report the findings from an extensive study of the published international scientific peer-reviewed literature. After applying specified selection criteria, a total of 410 articles are analysed. The main findings include: (i) limited empirical research on SEI of GM crops in the scientific literature; (ii) the main focus of the majority of the published research is on a restricted set of monetary economic parameters; (iii) proportionally, there are very few empirical studies on social and non-monetary economic aspects; (iv) most of the research reports only short-term findings; (v) the variable local contexts and conditions are generally ignored in research methodology and analysis; (vi) conventional agriculture is the commonly used comparator, with minimal consideration of other substantially different agricultural systems; and (vii) there is the overall tendency to frame the research upon not validated theoretical assumptions, and to over-extrapolate small-scale and short-term specific results to generalized conclusions. These findings point to a lack of empirical and comprehensive research on SEI of GM crops for possible use in decision-making. Broader questions and improved methodologies, assisted by more rigorous peer-review, will be required to overcome current research shortcomings.

You can cite the paper as follows: Catacora-Vargas, G., Binimelis, R., Myhr, A.I. et al. Agric Hum Values (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-017-9842-4

Exploring the Art-Science-Sustainability nexus with poetic analysis

This was the title of the workshop I attended last Friday at the University of Vic with María Fernández Giménez, from the Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship at the Colorado State University. María is collaborating with different projects at the Chair on Agroecology at the University of Vic dealing with shepherds, traditional knowledge and adaptation to climate change, which are also exploring new ways of scientific communication using arts.

In the seminar, assistants shared their views and experiences on poetic analysis, defined by María Fernándex as one facet of the emerging field of arts-based inquiry through which social science researchers use artistic expression, including literature, visual art and perfomance throughout the research process. Poetic analysis can take several different forms:

a) representation of data in poetic form, in which the researcher creates poems from interview transcripts or other primary texts. In this form, poems are a means of data reduction, similar to other qualitative data analysis approaches;

b) poetry as a means of enquiry, where the researcher analyses poems (created by the researcher or a research subject) to identify themes, and reveal meaning and emotion; and

c) ethnographic poetry, in which the researcher writes ethnography or research results as poetry.

The workshop was attended by researchers working on agroecology, climate change and education (especially focused on videos, music and theater), and after a presentation given by María on different researches using poetry both as a research and communication tool, we did a practical exercise composing a poem using either interview quotations or by scientific articles. I enjoyed it a lot, and I found it especially interesting to read and listen to the different poems we wrote all inspired by the same original text.

Negotiating at the SEC AHTEG

Last week I participated in the Socio-economic Considerations AdHoc Technical Expert Group (SEC AHTEG) of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB). The meeting took place between Monday 9th and Friday 13th in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

The SEC AHTEG was established by the Parties of the CPB to develop conceptual clarity in the context of article 26 of the CPB. The SEC AHTEG composed of 20 selected representatives from the Parties of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, non-Parties countries (like Canada) and observers (this time Global Industry Coalition, Third World Network, GenØk and the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity).

Article 26 establishes:

The Parties, in reaching a decision on import under this Protocol or under its domestic measures implementing the Protocol, may take into account, consistent with their international obligations, socio-economic considerations arising from the impact of living modified organisms on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, especially with regard to the value of biological diversity to indigenous and local communities.”

In the last COP-MOP of the CPB the Parties decided to ask the SEC AHTEG to produce an outline for guidance on how to implement article 26. This is a voluntary article, so Parties have the right to apply it but there is no obligation to. The resulting guidance document will soon be published on the CBD webpage but here I summarise some of the main aspects:

– Socio-economic considerations in the context of Article 26 of the CPB may, depending on the national or regional circumstances and on national measures implementing the Protocol, cover the following aspects: a) economic, b) social, c) cultural/traditional/religious/ethical, d) ecological, and d) health-related aspects. The last two refer to those aspects that are not already covered by conventional environmental and health risk assessment procedures.

– The guidance document follows a process-based approach, i.e. to focus on how an assessment could be performed, rather than focusing on parameters to be assessed, as the latter highly depend on regional and national circumstances.

– The document includes an introduction and justification, principles that should guide the SEC assessment and a description of the assessment process: a “setting the scene” scoping, identification of impacts and assessment as well as communicating results.

– Specific methodological tools were not included in the document. There is only a short paragraph talking about quantitative and qualitative methods, including participatory ones. However, the document outlines the role of integrating local, traditional and indigenous knowledge as a source of data in the assessment process.

Documents of the SEC AHTEGs need to be adopted by consensus by the experts, and the resulting guidance document will be presented to the next meeting of the Parties for approval.

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Field work in Mexico

Last May and June, I went to Mexico to conduct field work trying to understand some of the socio-ecological and economic impacts that Mayan beekeepers are facing with the introduction of GM soy in their territory, and their struggle to defend themselves against it.

Below you can see some pictures of these days. Hopefully you will hear soon about the results of this research!

Seeds and sovereignty

Some days ago I was invited to participate in a seminar organised by the Xarxa de Consum Solidari and other civil society organisations linked to the food sovereignty and the agroecological movement in Catalonia. The seminar posed a very interesting question, that forced me to think on seeds and GMOs beyond my “comfort zone”: how a food sovereignty agenda should be included in the new Catalan constitution?

In the midst of a very hectic political moment in Catalonia, the political agenda for 2017 includes, in principle, the start of a constituent process to create new political and social models. Many questions remain unanswered. To what extent this constitutes a real opportunity for a grass-root movement to get involved and participate to guarantee deep social change is still to be seen. In despite of all these doubts, I thought it was for sure appealing to engage in a dialogue exercise for enhancing the imagination and discussion of the practical implications of a food sovereignty agenda.

In order to answer this challenge, the seminar counted with the participation of several social movements campaigning for food sovereignty and the right to food, politicians and lawyers that have actively participated in the discussions of constituent processes which included food sovereignty in other countries, and also representatives of different political parties and movements.

In particular, I participated in a round-table on how essential aspects of food sovereignty – such as the right to food or the access to seeds, land and water – can be part of a new constitution. The experience in Ecuador, shared by Alberto Acosta and Mario Aparicio, was very inspiring, arguing in favor of focusing not only on the proposals and contents (articulated as “spaces of possibilities”) but also on the processes themselves. I presented my talk on seeds and GMOs jointly with Ester Cases from Refardes, a project aiming at the conservation of the cultivated agrobiodiversity in Catalonia. I did a short introduction explaining the situation to the access to heirloom seeds globally and in particular in Catalonia while Ester focused on the legal aspects and concrete proposals made by Red de Semillas.

Although the public was rather scarce, the open discussion was focused on the possibilities of  both implementing a local policy based on our own food sovereignty, and accessing seeds based on the peasants’ rights. This led to acknowledge some of the opportunities and challenges of having a commons framework in the midst of the global international trade flows. Is it possible to be sovereign while being immersed in a capitalist economy? What kind of realistic proposals can we make? Which are our degrees of freedom? What is the role of the social movements?

Although the challenges are huge, to participate in this open discussion was really interesting for me, and also it was an opportunity to let the dreams flow and reflect on what kind of society -and consequently what kind of agri-food system- we want for the future.

Just Existing is Resisting: new paper and short movie published!

The Agri/Cultures team are proud and excited to announce that we have just published a new open access paper: Just Existing is Resisting: The Everyday Struggle against the Expansion of GM Crops in Spain. The paper reflects, based on empirical data, on the multiple forms of everyday practices of resistance by which different stakeholders linked to the maize sector in Spain challenge the expansion of GM crops. Below you can find the abstract and here the full text. Enjoy the reading!

Together with the publication of this article, and responding to the objective of exploring novel ways to making scientific results accessible to a non-specialised public, we have also produced a beautiful short animation movie based on this academic publication. Have a look at it and feel free to distribute among your own networks!

English version:

 

Spanish version:

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COPMOP8 in Cancun

On Sunday, the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 13) to the Convention on Biological Diversity, COP-MOP8 of the Cartagena Protocol and COP-MOP2 of the Nagoya Protocol began in Cancun. Fern and I are attending the meetings and participating in some of the sessions that take place in parallel to the negotiations. Here are some of the first impressions.

El domingo empezó en Cancún la 13ª reunión de la conferencia de las partes (COP 13) de la Convención de Diversidad Biológica, la COP-MOP8 del Protocolo de Cartagena y la COP-MOP2 del Protocolo de Nagoya. Fern y yo estamos asistiendo a las reuniones y participando en algunos de los actos que se realizan en paralelo a las negociaciones. Aquí podéis ver algunas de las primeras impresiones.

No women farming maize in Spain

dona-pagesa

During the last years working on alternative food systems and food sovereignty, I have had the opportunity to conduct research on agri-food systems from a gender perspective. In more concrete terms, during recent years I became particularly interested in aspects such as the role of peasant women in advancing socio-political changes like agroecology and food sovereignty, the situation of small-scale food artisan women in Spain and the links between food, environment and gender in alternative food systems in Spain (some of this research was done with my colleague in the Agri/Cultures Project Amaranta Herrero).

Unfortunately, it has, however, been rather difficult to link this previous work with women in agriculture with the work we are currently conducting in the Agri/Cultures Project. Basically this is because we are dealing with different cultures of agriculture for cultivating maize in this project and this is a task performed almost exclusively by men in Spain. After more than 15 years interviewing farmers producing maize in Catalonia and Aragón, I only heard from one woman cultivating maize commercially (who Amaranta had the opportunity to interview some months ago). We can also find some exceptions in the case of peasant women who are producing maize in backyards or small plots for the consumption of animals raised at home, but not at a commercial scale.

This absence could respond, however, to some of the conclusions of my previous research. First, maize production at a large scale is an expensive activity in Spain, with important investment costs in terms of seeds, irrigation, fertilizers, etc and the few available statistics indicate that women are usually not the holders of the land on family farms (the most common land tenure form in Spain) and when they are, they hold the smallest farms. They also tend to be in charge of non-mechanised tasks on these farms. We have also observed that women are usually linked to small-scale agricultural projects that prioritize quality, diversity and local food production, which is a very distant model from the highly mechanized and super-specialized commercial maize production in Spain in which maize is essentially considered a commodity used for the production of feed (around 85% of the maize in Spain).

It may be interesting to compare this situation in Spain with what we see in South Africa, although also there we see indications that women are the primary people running the farming activities when they are on a small-scale for subsistence but as soon as it moves into large-scale commercial business, it becomes a mans business. Does anyone else have any information on these kinds of gender issues and dynamics within maize farming in their own context?

In context trajectories: participation in an international symposium in Paris

Last Thursday (6th October) I participated in an international symposium titled “Studying the social, ethical and economic impacts of GMPs. Implementation of the EU Directive 2015/412” which was organised by the Haut Conseil des Biotechnologies of France. I introduced our proposal to use four different cartographies that represent the different journeys of a kernel of maize in GM, chemically-intensive, certified organic and agroecological agri-food systems in Spain, as a systems-based approach to assessing socio-economic and ethical aspects related to GMOs.

Screenshot from 2016-10-10 12-14-24The symposium was divided in two parts: the morning was devoted to the analysis of the implication of the Directive 2015/412, that allows EU Member States to restrict or prohibit cultivation of GMOs in their territory (or parts of it) on grounds that were not previously admissible. This includes grounds relating to public policy, socio-economic impacts or the impossibility of achieving “coexistence”. This session included presentations on different national approaches (France, Germany and the Netherlands) as well as a presentation on the position of the European Commission and a former representative of the World Trade Organization. Practical difficulties for applying the Directive were discussed. It was a very interesting debate, and it was really illuminating to see how the different countries related the Directive to their own contexts in practical terms. It was concluded that despite difficulties, the Directive opens the possibility to debate concerns on GMOs on another level and complements traditional risk assessment focused on health and the environment with other tools and approaches.disyuntivaThe second part of the symposium was devoted to presenting different socio-economic analysis methods. First, the recommendation issued by the HCB to the French Government was presented. It is a very valuable document worth taking the time to read. Firstly it was explained that this methodology should be seen as an analytical method (rather than an assessment methodology), thus it aims to create the opportunity to reflect on the socio-economic process in order to work towards a decision, instead of placing the focus only on the final product. Secondly, it adopts the “in-context trajectory” perspective: this is to say that impacts will be analysed in comparison to impacts of other possible solutions for a given problem (this requires a transparent problem formulation) in a specific context. Social and political values that are implicitly and explicitly embedded in a given technology’s trajectory should be made transparent. Thirdly, it is important to account for the existing uncertainties related to GMOs, and thus avoid the “quantification myth” that creates false security by  only using quantitative indicators. Finally, it is also important to keep in mind that the socio-economic and ethical analysis is complementary to environmental and health risk assessment.

In addition to the HCB presenattion and our presentation on using comparative cartographies for sustainability assessment of GMOs (based on our paper published in Sustainability), Sylvain Aubry presented a recent study conducted by the Office Fédéral de l’Agriculture of Switzerland. The study analyses GM crops in Switzerland from the point of view of sustainability using a multi-criteria model. It was interesting to see different perspectives on methodologies on the table, and to discuss and compare their applicability and approaches. It was also rewarding to hear that more proposals are trying to adopt systems-based approaches that could take into account the full agri-food system and allow for comparison of different cultures of agriculture in order to foster the discussion on the different possible futures of agriculture.

The symposium ended with a round table which included members of the HCB and stakeholders outside this body. The discussion focused on advantages and limitations of ex-ante socio-economic analysis and the role of stakeholders. This stimulated a dynamic debate in which members of the public also participated.

‘The social and political life of seeds’ at the AIBR Conference

Last week, Amaranta and I attended the AIBR Conference in Barcelona. AIBR stands for the Network of Iberoamerican Anthropologists, an international organisation of Spanish, Latin American and Portuguese anthropologists.

pachamama

On Tuesday 6th of September was the opening session of the conference, with an excellent presentation by the Colombian anthropologist Arturo Escobar. He is one of the most important Latin American anthropologists, with extensive work on political ecology, social movements and post-development studies. His talk introduced aspects such as the ethnic-territorial struggles in Latin America being ontological struggles for building a world in which all worlds have a place or the resurgence of the “commons” as a transitional discourse.

queremos un mundo donde quepan muchos mundos

After the opening, we presented in a panel titled “The social and political life of seeds“, coordinated by Susana Carro Ripalda and Marta Barba Gassó. In our presentation “Una perspectiva sistémica en la evaluación los OGMs: El viaje de una semilla de maíz transgénica“, we introduced the value of the systemic perspective for assessing GMOs using the multi-sited ethnography approach that we are implementing in Spain. This is also what we explained in our paper: Seeing GMOs from a Systems perspective. During the talk we also had the opportunity to present the cartographies of GM, chemically-intensive, certified organic and agroecological cartographies that we have recently developed using this approach.

During our session, other very interesting talks were presented, on topics like the cultural aspects of GM vs indigenous maize in Mexico, the story of how a tomato variety became a “traditional” seed in the Basque Country from a gender perspective, and the socio-cultural value of seed conservation in two study cases in Spain. All presentations shared the vision of seeds as entities that shape and are shaped, beyond their biological substrate, by the interests, values and visions that emerge in the contexts where they are developed and used. At the same time, seeds influence the discourses, practices, knowledges and skills of the other agents with whom they interact. The session was in fact very rich despite the fact that, as very often happens in academic conferences, there was too little time to discuss and share.

After the session ended, we discussed potential collaborations on this topic, which would give us the possibility to keep exploring these visions about seeds in the future.