Presentación de la nueva web interactiva

El pasado día 17 de abril, en el marco de la Semana de la Lucha por la Tierra organizada por Aragón Hacia la Soberanía Alimentaria, CERAI Arazón y el Ayuntamiento de Zaragoza, presentamos -por primera vez- la web interactiva que estamos realizando en el proyecto Agri/Cultures. La web es una herramienta visual cuyo objetivo es empoderarnos para la toma de decisiones sobre nuestro sistema alimentaria a través de explorar las relaciones que esconden nuestras elecciones alimentarias diarias. La web presenta información recopilada a lo
largo de los cuatro años de The Agri/Cultures Project entorno a cuatro sistemas alimentarios de maíz: el agroecológico, el ecológico convencional, intensivo en químicos (lo que se conoce como “convencional” y transgénico. Al mismo tiempo, quiere ser una herramienta que permita experimentar con nuevas formas de comunicación científica para promover debates sobre nuestras complejas realidades alimentarias. Por lo tanto -y a pesar de algunos problemas técnicos- fue una gran oportunidad para nosotras poder presentar en público el prototipo de la web interactiva.

Tuvimos el gusto de poder compartir la charla con José Ramon Olarieta Alberdi, que presentó el libro “Transgénicos: ¿de verdad son seguros y necesarios. Evidencias cientificas que llaman al principio de precaución”, recientemente editado por La Fertilidad de la Tierra y Juan Carlos Simón, que nos explicó su experiencia de campo en relación a los efectos de la contaminación transgénica en el maíz ecológico de Aragón.

La Semana de Lucha por la Tierra se celebra el 17 de abril, día de la lucha campesina, en memoria y homenaje a 19 campesinos del Movimiento Sin Tierra de Brasil que fueron asesinados  en 1996 en la localidad de El Dorado dos Carajás, en el Estado de Pará (Brasil). Desde entonces en ese día se organizan actos en todo el mundo.

 

 

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.

“Resistance is Fertile! On Being Sons and Daughters of Soil”

Installation artwork by Bright Uguchukwe titled acid rain

Two weeks ago i attended a workshop in Cape Town called Resistance is Fertile! On Being Sons and Daughters of Soil. This was the beginning of an ongoing project that will culminate in a book on people and soils in the African Anthropocene that will be edited by Lesley Green, Nikiwe Solomon and Virginia MacKenny and has come to being through the Environmental Humanities South Program at UCT. the project has support from National Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences and the National Research Foundation, part of a collaboration with Vegkop Farm in the Phillippi Horticultural Area of Cape Town.

The project aims to explore issues concerning relationships with soil, land and life that “traverse both nature and society” and which are important in the context of the global south and on the African Context. It aims to develop a scholarship and group of people interested in finding ‘new’ ways of relating to, reading, and thinking about the future of landscapes in the South. This is vital where soils, land and landscapes have for so long been bound up, regulated and managed in ways that carry on colonial legacies and injustices.

The project brings together an interdisciplinary group of artists, farmers, academics who are working widely in ways connected to this theme. Leading up to the publishing of the book,  the group will come together periodically  and workshop ideas and concepts that run through the various work people are doing.

At the workshop we listened to presentations from all over Africa as well as form South America. These sessions included a diverse range of presentations which explored relationships with earthworms and microbes to the place of soil in African literature, languages, art and music, to issues of land restitution and acid mine drainage. The workshop stimulated amazing interdisciplinary conversations and material for “thinking with”. It is a truly exciting initiative which will continue to grow over the next two years! It provided a space to explore a number of themes that are very relevant for the agri/cultures project – thinking about how GMOs fit into agri/cultural landscapes in South Africa and the wider continent

Resilience for Development colloquium – on reading landscapes and imagining agri/cultural futures

 

Performative artwork titled Eland and Benko which was burned onto the landscape by artist Hannelie Coetzee as part of a science – at collaboration where scientists were studying burning of grasslands and the effect on grassland species and habitats.

Last week i attended the Resilience for Development Colloquium which was held in Johannesburg. The colloqium was organised by  GRAID (Guidance for Resilience in the Anthropocene: Investments for development) and SAPECs (Southern African Program on Ecosystem Change and Society) which falls within the Stockholm Resilience Centre. GRAID has been set up to “generate the latest knowledge on resilience thinking, synthesize and employ insights to assess and build resilience in the context of development across Global South”.

Busiso Moyo’s keynote provided a deeply insightful place from which to think about South Africa’s social-economic challenges rooted in the complex history of the country which underpins the current lived realities. Lorenzo Fioramonti’s key note speech on the ‘well being economy‘ provided an  introduction to imagining  development without the economic growth being at the centre of decision making in South Africa and globally. And finally Michelle Lee-Moore’s keynote provided an overview of the history of resilience thinking and how its is growing in appeal globally as tool for approaching the social-ecological challenges and oppourtunities were are faced with today in a development context.

The colloquium explored the importance of a resilience perspective within development and in finding ways to work collectively towards human and ecological wellbeing. It also focused on workshopping research methodologies and approaches towards monitoring and sustaining longterm resilience focused projects or “transformative development projects”. The program was extensive and comprised of 3 sets of 3 parallel session over 3 days. Therefore it was not possible to attend all the sessions but i was able to attend most of the ones that i was interested in and which i felt would be useful for the agri/cultures work. Themes of talks and workshops ranged from thinking about resilience in agriculture and food security, to marine ecosystems, and urban environments. A  number of practitioners who are exploring resilience as a lens in their work shared their experiences from around the globe. Some of the discussion focused on how a resilience approach has been interpreted widely by practitioners and it was agreed that while some tools and methodologies are valuable to guide practice,  tools must be flexible so as to be adaptive to different contexts.

The colloquium was a great opportunity to learn more about the resilience work being carried out and also learn more about the focus within this field on social-ecological connections and research and how practitioners are approaching this. In attending thecoloquium i was curious about how a resilience perspective may add insights to exploring agri/cultural futures in South Africa.  Within the PhD project i have been exploring changing social-ecological knowledge in agri/cultural systems and how agri/cultural knowledge of both farmers and scientists (involved in maize agri/culture) in South Africa has changed over time and specifically in relation to the introduction of new seed varieties and technologies. As new technologies are introduced agri/cultural knowledge shifts, leading to changes in social-ecologial relationhips and knowledge.  I am interested in how a resilience perspective may support the the growth of research and development that moves beyond the dominant models ( which are largely geared towards supporting industrial agri/cultural systems) and which take seriously diverse agri/cultural knowledges (which are ever changing) as vital for building social-ecological resilience for the future of agri/culture in South Africa.

The colloquium program also had a strong focus on interdisciplinary research methodologies as being important within the resilience field. It was an opportunity to share experiences with other researchers making use of visual and sensory data collection methodologies. Over the past year while i have been very excited about the interdisciplinary component of the project this has also been a challenging part to develop and often i have felt a bit disconnected from others working in this way and it is extremely useful to have the change to engage with other researchers experiencing similar challenges and excitement around the use of these methods.

I attended 3 sessions which explored the use of visual disciplies. One was on paricipatory mapping and “photo voice”, one was on photograpy and research and the final was presenting a case study art-scince collaboration between a team of ecologists and a fine artist (Hannelie Coetzee – see art work in the top image) who works with ecological materials and concepts. In the collaboration the ecologists had set out to explore the effect of annual fires on grassland ecosystems. In the process they would burn a patch of grassland annually and record data as the area evolved from the fires over time. Hanellie Coetzee joined up with this team of ecologists and designed an image of a human and an Eland antelope that would be burnt into the landscape (rather than a square). They described how the art science collaboration got each other thinking about their tools and methods in new ways and how it brought a new set of dialogues and a new audience to the project. This third session was an extremely powerful session and stimlated a great dialogue around the value of interdisciplinary work and the value art can bring to scientific research.  In recent months i have been contemplating the how people from different vantage points, interact and read landscapes in different ways – whether it be scientist or artist, farmer or researcher. I asked the   collaborators if they were inspired by each others reading of landscape/ or relationship with landscape and this evolve into a very interesting dialogue on how multiple knowledges may contribute to building more resilient futures.

 

Reorganising Power for Systems Change

Two weeks ago I participated at The EDGE Funders Alliance Conference 2017, as a member of the local host committee in Barcelona. EDGE acts within philanthropy to raise awareness and deepen understanding of the interconnected nature of the social, economic and ecological crises threatening our common future. EDGE works to increase resources for communities and movements creating systemic change alternatives for a transition to a society that supports justice, equity and the well-being of the planet.

The Conference gathered more than 250 progressive funders & activist partners. We had the opportunity to discuss systems change in the different thematic Engagement Labs, Workshops, Walking tours, Community Meetings, Dine Arounds and Plenary Sessions with inspiring speakers and an awesome facilitator.

I am still digesting the Conference and the different type of learning experiences I had. However, I’d like to share with you three of them I found especially useful:

  1. Just transition framework: The Conference started by setting a common framework for systems change analysis. It has been developed by Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project. According to them, Just Transition requires us to build a visionary economy for life in a way that is very different than the economy we are in now. Constructing this visionary economy calls for strategies that democratize, decentralize and diversify economic activity while we damper down consumption, and (re)distribute resources and power.

 

2. Fishbowl conversation: One of the most common methodologies used at the Conference for engaging in collective discussions was the fishbowl. It is a conversation in the form of a dialogue that allows the participation of many people. It involves having a small group of people (usually 5) seated in a circle, having a conversation in full view of a larger group of listeners. There’s an empty chair in theinner circle that can be occupied by someone from the outer circle when they have something they wish to contribute to the conversation. When that is the case, a person from the inner circle has to leave the conversation so that there is always an empty chair open for new people to join. Fishbowl processes provide a creative way to include the “public” in a small group discussion. They can actually be used in a wide variety of settings, including workshops, conferences, organizational meetings and public assemblies. Fishbowls are useful for ventilating “hot topics” or sharing ideas or information from a variety of perspectives. Although largely self-organizing once the discussion gets underway, the fishbowl process usually has a facilitator or moderator. During the Conference this was a very interesting way to foster conversations.

 

3. Agroecology on the rise:  There were multiple occasions and spaces at the Conference which tried to facilitate Agroecological conversations and further collaboration between philanthropy and civil society organizations to co-create sustainable food systems rooted in social justice. In fact, many people at the Conference were involved in movements or funds that conceive of agroecology as an already-working alternative paradigm that relates not only to agrarian reform, but to climate justice, post-extractivist circular economy and social justice (including indigenous rights). I had the impression that not only is agroecology powerful, but it is expanding, increasingly in fashion, and one of the ways to move towards a Just Transition.

The future of food

Last week I participated in an international colloquium organised by ICAS (Initiatives on Critical Agrarian Studies), Etxalde and Critical Agrarian Studies Colloquium of the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) on The Future of Food and Challenges for Agriculture in the 21st Century. The colloquium took place in Vitoria-Gasteiz where 450 researchers, farmers and activists working on agroecology and food sovereignty gathered over the two days.

Many of the plenary sessions  were very impressive and provided the opportunity to listen to a range of very well-known speakers such as Susan George, Raj Patel, Silvia Ribeiro, Peter Rosset, Raúl Delgado Wise and Harriet Friedmann. It was also a great opportunity to meet old friends and new colleagues. However, as very often happens in congresses, there was little time for discussion to develop and little room for new ideas from less high profile participants. I think this is a pity in the agroecological context where many new experiences and initiatives are constantly emerging and there has been a great effort to innovate with participatory pedagogical approaches and tools.

My participation in the colloquium was linked to the need for innovative teaching methodologies in the context of the transition to more sustainable food systems. After the creation of the Agroecology Chair at the University of Vic (Uvic-UCC, Barcelona), and in order to contribute to the development of this new paradigm in the university system, we initiated a process of creating a bachelor in agroecology and food systems. In the colloquium we explained how we did this by facilitating a bottom-up, multi-actor, participatory process using focus groups and interviews to gather information on the needs of the different actors of the sector working on agroecology and food sovereignty (e.g. from producers, consumers, local and regional government, students, researchers, CSOs) . This process helped to inform the development of  the new Agroecology degree. We also explained the main barriers and challenges currently faced by the project. We presented how the participatory process concluded that a bachelor of this kind built to support agroecological transitions, should not only equally address the three dimensions of agroecology (technical, socio-cultural and political) but also be very practical and rely on innovative teaching methodologies (e.g. learning by doing within meaningful learning contexts). It was also clear that it would require new forms of knowledge co-generation that considers farmers as important holders of knowledge alongside researchers and that sees agriculture not only as a productive activity, but also as an essential activity in the creation of sustainable societies.

Have you been involved in any courses or education programs like that? It would be interesting to hear what has been your experience?

The Verdict of the International Monsanto Tribunal

A day after the international peasant’s day, the Monsanto Tribunal has taken place in The Hague. The International Monsanto Tribunal is a unique “Opinion Tribunal” convened as a civil society initiative to hold Monsanto accountable for human rights violations, crimes against humanity, and ecocide. On the 15th and 16th of October 2016, five international and eminent judges heard different testimonies from victims, related to six main questions. Today they have delivered (livestreamed) in The Hague their legal opinion of the legal obligations and consequences of some of the activities of the Monsanto Company, following procedures of the International Court of Justice.

The Tribunal represents an important step to advance towards developing mechanisms to hold corporations accountable for social and environmental crimes. Organizing groups behind the Monsanto Tribunal include the Organic Consumers AssociationNavdanyaIFOAM Organics International, the Biovision Foundation and Regeneration International.

The tribunal has been developing its argumentation through different sections, each dealing with relevant questions related to the violations of 1) right to a healthy environment; 2) right to food; 3) right to health; 4) right to freedom for scientific research; 5) complicity in war crimes; and 6) the rights of the Earth or the crimes of ecocide.

Right to a Healthy Environment

Based on the evidence to answer Question 1, the Tribunal concludes that Monsanto has engaged in practices which have negatively impacted the right to a healthy environment. Specifically, it stated:

The Monsanto Tribunal hearings allowed for the gathering of testimonies related to various impacts on human health (especially on farmers), soils, plants, aquatic organisms, animal health and biodiversity. These testimonies also included the impacts of spraying crop protection products (herbicides, pesticides). In addition, the information collected also shed light on the impacts on indigenous communities and peoples in many countries, and on the absence of adequate information given to those concerned.

Right to Food

The Right to Food understands food as a fundamental right for individuals and communities. In this section, the Tribunal mentioned that the hearings accounted for negative impacts on production systems and ecosystems, the appearance of invasive species and the loss of efficiency of Roundup over time. The Tribunal highlighted some farmers were sentenced to pay royalties after their fields were contaminated by Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), while others stated that the corporation is taking over the seed market, even though Monsanto’s products are not as productive as promised. In response to Question 2, the Tribunal concluded that:

Monsanto has engaged in practices that have negatively impacted the right to food. Monsanto’s activities affect food availability for individuals and communities and interfere with the ability of individuals and communities to feed themselves directly or to choose non-genetically modified seeds. In addition, genetically modified seeds are not always affordable for farmers and threaten biodiversity. Monsanto’s activities and products cause damage to soil, water and to the environment more generally. The Tribunal concludes that food sovereignty is also affected and underlines the cases in which genetic contamination of fields forced farmers to pay royalties to Monsanto or even to abandon their non-GMO crops due to this contamination. There is indeed an infringement on the right to food because of aggressive marketing on GMOs which can force farmers to buy new seeds every year. The dominant agro-industrial model can be criticized even more strongly because other models – such as agroecology – exist that respect the right to food.

Right to Health

The right to health is intertwined with the rights to food, water and sanitation, and to a healthy environment. It encompasses not only physical health but also mental and social health (the latter being right to housing, access to safe water, etc). The Tribunal recalled that Monsanto has manufactured and distributed many dangerous substances, undermining on many occasions the right to health (e.g PCBs or persistent organic pollutants were exclusively commercialized by Monsanto between 1935 and 1979, despite the fact that the company knew about their deleterious health impacts). The Tribunal also gave special mention to the (somewhat contested) risks that glyphosate poses for health and mentions the lack of scientific consensus and the existing controversy about the impacts of GMOs on human health. On this latter point, it also pointed out that:

The controversy is embedded in a context of opacity on GMO studies, and even on the inability of researchers to conduct independent research.

For all this, the Tribunal concluded that Monsanto has engaged in practices that negatively impacted the right to health.

Right to freedom indispensable for scientific research

The “freedom indispensable for scientific research” closely relates to freedom of thought and expression, as well as the right to information. The Tribunal stated that:

Some of Monsanto’s practices mentioned in the testimonies of agronomists and molecular biologists have resulted in court convictions for the company. Among those practices are: illegal GMO plantations; resorting to studies misrepresenting the negative impacts of Roundup by limiting the analysis to glyphosate only while the product is a combination of substances; massive campaigns aiming at discrediting the results of independent scientific studies. These strategies led, for example, to the withdrawal of a study published in an international journal and to the loss of a job for a scientist working in a governmental health agency.

This has led the Tribunal to consider that Monsanto’s conduct is negatively affecting the right to freedom indispensable for scientific research.

Complicity in War Crimes

This section was dealing with the 70 million liters of Agent Orange (containing dioxin) which were sprayed on approximately 2.6 million hectares of land, between 1962 and 1973, in the context of the Vietnam war. This chemical caused great harm to the Vietnamese population. However, due to the current state of international law and the absence of specific evidence, the Tribunal could not give any definitive answer on this point. Nevertheless, it noted that if the crime of Ecocide would be added in International law, the reported facts concerning the responsibility of the harm induced by Agent Orange could fall within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Crime of Ecocide

The international community today understands that preserving the integrity of ecosystems and a healthy environment is vital for enabling society and securing a life of dignity for present and future generations. Therefore, attacks against the health and integrity of the environment are unethical human activities and subject to criminal opprobrium. Despite the patchwork of elements of criminal environmental protections established in domestic and international environmental law, as well as in international criminal law, gaps of protection remain. The Tribunal stressed that international law has yet to articulate in precise terms criminal responsibility for the crime of ecocide, whether committed in times of peace or in the context of armed conflict.

The Tribunal understands the crime of ecocide as “causing serious damage or destroying the environment, so as to significantly and durably alter the global commons or ecosystem services upon which certain human groups rely”. This definition identifies the specific elements of material conduct that arise in the crime of ecocide. In addition to these elements, the crime of ecocide also involves general criminal elements, including: knowledge and intent; complicity; and corporate criminal responsibility. Regarding Monsanto’s conduct in relation to ecocide, the Tribunal concludes that:

if such a crime of ecocide were recognized in international criminal law, the activities of Monsanto could possibly constitute a crime of ecocide. Several of the company’s activities may fall within this infraction, such as the manufacture and supply of glyphosate-based herbicides to Colombia in the context of its plan for aerial application on coca crops, which negatively impacted the environment and the health of local populations; the large-scale use of dangerous agrochemicals in industrial agriculture; and the engineering, production, introduction and release of genetically engineered crops. Severe contamination of plant diversity, soils and waters would also fall within the qualification of ecocide. Finally, the introduction of persistent organic pollutants such as PCB into the environment causing widespread, long-lasting and severe environmental harm and affecting the right of the future generations could fall within the qualification of ecocide as well.

Last but not least, the last part of the Tribunal’s argumentation was dedicated to problematising the existing and growing gap between international human rights and corporate accountability. It called for two urgent actions:

  1. The need to assert the primacy of international human and environmental rights law over international financial institutions.
  2.  The need to hold non-state actors responsible within international human rights law. Meaning that it’s time to consider multinational enterprises as subjects of law that could be sued in the case of infringement of fundamental rights.

The tribunal concluded that:

  • Monsanto has violated human rights to food, health, a healthy environment and the freedom indispensable for independent scientific research.
  • ‘ecocide’ should be recognized as a crime in international law.    
  • human rights and environmental laws are undermined by corporate-friendly trade and investment regulation.

The National Agricultural Research Forum -reflections on the future of agricultural research in South Africa

Last week i attended the National Agricultural Research Forum (NARF) annual meeting in Pretoria.  This is an annual governmental meeting open to all food stakeholders that aims to set research priorities for the year and ahead and work towards an integrated future of agri/cultural research in South Africa. Given the project’s interest in the changes that agricultural research and knowledge has undergone over the decades this meeting was an opportunity to understand better government’s interface with agricultural research and various stakeholders in the Research and Development (R&D) system in South Africa. It was also an opportunity to explore how agriculture and the agricultural research that supports it is being imagined for the future in South Africa and what kinds of knowledge are being prioritised. Over the last months in the field i have been interested in how ecological knowledge in agriculture is changing and exploring the theme of agri/cultural deskilling linked to the introduction of new seed technologies developed often out of context of where they are used and with little or no dialogue with farmers. I have been exploring this in the context of small scale maize agri/cultures as well as in the R&D system in South Africa. I have also been interested in the connections and disconnections  between science , research, innovation and small-scale farmers. The meeting allowed a space to explore how farming knowledge, especially that of small scale farmers was being prioritised or not on a national level.

The meeting started off with a keynote address by the Director General for the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries Mr.M Mlengana. He made reference to the Vision 2030 National Development Strategy as being the base document for the agricultural vision of South Africa in the context of the wider goals of the country as well as the Sustainable Development Goals which guide this. The 2017/18 National Agricultural Development Strategic Plan provides a roadmap to implementing this vision. The 2008 National Research and Development Strategy provides the baseline for setting the priorities in research to support this. At the meeting there was a launch of an APEX Body which will fulfill the role of coordinating agricultural research going forward as well as build capacity and partnerships in this area. Previously this was managed by the National Agricultural Research Forum NARF which was developed in 2002 to “facilitate consensus and integrate coordination in the fields of research, development, and technology transfer to agriculture in order to enhance national economic growth, social welfare and environmental sustainability”.  In his talk the DG stressed the importance of “building an inclusive rural economy”, focusing on “research and innovation” and agriculture contributing to rural growth. He stressed the importance of science for agriculture in a changing global climate and the need for research that will “unpack uncertainties” that we will be faced with. While smallholder farmers are widely acknowledged and mentioned throughout the The 2017/18 National Agricultural Development Strategic Plan they feature less in the The 2008 National Research and Development Strategy.

Globally there is an increasing recognition that small scale farmers are vital actors in the current production and future of food production. In South Africa there appears to strong drive in Policy and related developmental programmes to bring small-scale farmers into monocrop based agricultures while fewer opportunities for small-scale farmers to boost their farming systems in a way that focuses on diversity and alternative agri/cultural models which incorporate the knowledge and skills of farmers. This seemed to be reflected at the meeting which focused a lot on scientific research and technology development for agricultural growth and poverty reduction without much mention of other knowledge holders being key collaborators for future goals. There also appears to be a focus on science and technology as the primary answer to agricultural challenges in the future, while there not a wide exploration of how these technologies may deeply impact systems of agri/culture.

Historically farmers have been the primary keepers and innovators of agricultural knowledge. This knowledge was gained from experience and skills passed down over generations through families and apprenticeships and based on a knowledge imbedded in particular landscapes and ecologies. However from the early 1900s this began to change and scientists began to assume authority over agricultural knowledge. This went hand in hand with an increasing drive to turn agricultural produce into commodities and raw materials. And in the hands of scientists and researchers – through hybridization, seeds would also become valuable commodities.  Scientists who initially relied on farmer knowledge such as in choosing which varieties to focus on in the development of hybrid maize came to dominate the research and development of seed. Agricultural research on maize seed has expanded and shifted over time in relation to political and economic imperatives. During this process the knowledge of small scale farmers has been increasingly sidelined and undervalued and small scale farmers have become increasingly recipients of knowledge and technologies. In her 1993 paper ‘Deskilled: Hybrid Corn and Farmers’ Work’ Deborah Fitzgerald argues that “hybrid corn was an agent by which farmers were effectively deskilled” in the United States. The project here in South Africa has been tracing the introduction of new seed technologies and exploring how social-ecological knowledge in relation to maize agri/cultures may being lost or changed because of the introduction of seed technologies (Hybrid first and then Genetically Modified varieties).  Small-scale farmers are holders of agricultural diversity in the way of seed that has been passed down generationally, and attached to this seed is a wealth of knowledge around growing it in relation to ecological systems. However, this is not always recognised and in many cases is threatened by harmonisation of seed laws, introduction of new varieties such as GM seed and hierarchical knowledge systems and development schemes which promote small scale farmers abandoning traditional varieties and taking up new seed varieties to be grown as monocrops.

I will in the next weeks spend more time exploring the Policy environment and how R&D is envisioned in this in relation to small-scale farming and how this related to current focus of agricultural research. While i have begun to interview a number of government officials and researchers on how small-scale farming is connected to the wider R&D system i would like to interview more stakeholders on how they envision smallholder framer knowledge being incorporated into research and development for the future of food.

 

Impressions from our Stakeholders Seminar

As part of our project, during the 31st January and 1st February 2017 we held a stakeholders seminar in Tromsø, Norway on the topic: ‘Social and ‘Ethical Assessment in the Regulation of GMOs: Should we care?’

This two-day seminar aimed to explore the potential of a care ethics approach for social and ethical assessment in the regulation of GMOs. The objectives of the seminar were to a) better understand societal concerns and advance a systems approach for regulating GMOs, b) explore the extent to which a care ethics approach may provide useful guidance for operationalising the Norwegian Gene Technology Act and its requirement to assess sustainability, benefits to society and ethical justifiability, and c) to produce a short biosafety brief on the topic. Invited participants had a diverse range of profiles and interests in the issue, including farmers, processors, Norwegian regulators, consumer and environmental organisations, certification bodies and academic researchers.

After some introductory exercises that helped creating a friendly atmosphere, the first day focused on the presentation of perspectives and experiences from stakeholders in Spain, South Africa and Norway. We tried to innovate with the format, incorporating a very stimulating exercise after these presentations called “Collective Story Harvest“. Some of the academic researchers who were not asked to make any presentation were given instructions prior to the beginning of the seminar. Their role was to listen to the stakeholders experiential stories from the point of view of a specific theme we gave them. We chose 5 themes that are relevant for a care ethics framework: power, vulnerability, dependence, emotion and narrative. After listening to all the presentations, these participants shared with the rest of the group their lens analysis. They contributed to understand how these 5 concepts were enacted throughout the stories.

We learnt that power, vulnerability and dependencies were embedded in the structural aspects of the agri-food systems regarding, for example, the risk of GM contamination, the existence or inexistence of the necessary logistical facilities and even the way governance facilitates access to information. The latter aspect was actually key in many of the talks. Information and power are two sides of the same coin and lack of information availability regarding where GM crops are determines vulnerability and dependency. While paying attention to who is vulnerable, a participant noted those who take an alternative view to industrialised agriculture are definitely key victims, but also traditional crops and biodiversity. This is to say that not just people (such as farmers or citizens) are vulnerable  to the kind of choices that are being made through these power structures, but also ecosystems. She also noted the contextual nature of vulnerability, as South Africa and Spain (where GM crops are part of the rural realities) were clearly more vulnerable contexts than Norway.

Additionally, we also learnt about what role emotions can play in scientific analysis. Although the tendency is to think that emotion is the polar opposite of science, it is important to break these conventional boundaries and recognise that science is actually riddled with emotions. This recognition does not mean that we disregard science. It means that it is important to recognise that emotions are part of the realities studied by science and play a role in the stories. In fact, emotions were everywhere that day, channelled through words, images and non-verbal communication. For example, anger due to injustice came up in many different ways although was rarely directly expressed. One of the moments it was most present was during the description of the great difficulties organic farmers face to avoid GM contamination. Contrastingly, in a Norwegian presentation there was a picture of a consumer representative wearing a T-shirt with the following moto: “We Love the Norwegian Gene Technology Act”, representing how proud (and happy) certain Norwegians are about their current biotechnology legislation.

After this insightful exercise, we also had an intervention from policy making participants who also gave their thoughts on what the stakeholder participant experiences meant from a policy perspective. These participants highlighted how useful was for them to learn from experiences in countries that actually grow GMOs.

The second day focused on exploring the potential relevance of a care ethics approach for capturing the experiences and relevant issues we heard during the first day and incorporating these into regulatory assessment. We talked for hours and are currently preparing a policy brief on the topic that will be made public in some weeks.

As well as the good intellectual work, the workshop was also fun for networking and connecting with people. After the first day of work, we tried to chase the whales and the Northern Lights in an electric boat. Unfortunately, we did not succeed in this last mission but everyone enjoyed our time together and learnt a lot.