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.



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.


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.

Gatekeepers of the maize web: dryers and silos

During our research we have repeatedly discussed how important dryers and silos are as part of the necessary  infrastructure in agri-food networks (see also previous post about the network of Spanish silos and our latest paper). In this entry I aim to share some of these thoughts with you.

Infrastructure is a major element of the global economy and manages the mobility of human and nonhuman entities through physical support facilities. In the case of commercial maize crops in Spain, since practically all maize is processed, dryers and silos become essential facilities to sustain the journey of maize through the agri-food system, specifically once it has been harvested in the fields and before it is sold to maize processing companies. The drying of the grains is a key activity for creating conditions for a good storage and further processing.

Dryer and silo infrastructure is very often found together in Spanish farmer cooperatives (which are at the heart of the Spanish maize production system). This means that, in order to dry it and store it, these cooperatives mix different types of maize produced in their surroundings. It is expensive to effectively separate GM, conventional and organic maize, so if there is some GM maize in the mix, the usual practice is that all maize is labelled as GM maize. In fact, we found that only a minority of farmer cooperatives in Aragon restrict the use of GM in their facilities and there are no specific dryers for organic maize either in Catalonia or Aragon.

Therefore these infrastructures exert a tremendous amount of power over both the possibilities for maize (e.g. for becoming an organic product for human consumption) and for the existence of different agri-food systems. Dryer and silos therefore act as a kind of gatekeeper in the journey of maize through the agri-food system.

Some organic maize farmers in Aragon have told us how the lack of existance of specific organic dryers is a huge problem for them, because it means they might have to invest more in finding an alternative, such as increasing transport costs to find a dryer in a different area that handles organic maize specifically; hiring a mobile dryer to come to them (which is more expensive), or try to dry the grain in the field (the viability of which is uncertain and subject to weather conditions).

Thus, it could be said that dryers and silos are political actants, as these infrastructures have a significant capacity for shaping both social and ecological realities in rural areas. They facilitate the existence (or lack of existance) of some forms of agri/culture over others, and can trigger explicit or latent conflicts among different agri/culture systems. For instance, one of the stories we were told was about a conflict between a farmer cooperative engaged in producing, drying and storing non-GM maize for human consumption and a local animal feed company. The former had been developing a strategy for convincing its members to not sow GM maize by ensuring them higher economic benefits. That meant that most of the local farmers were sowing non-GM maize for human consumption instead of GM maize for animal feed production. So the animal feed company tried to convince the farmers to return to GM maize by internalising and covering the drying costs, thus making it cheaper for farmers if they would grow GM maize.

Do you know of other rural stories in which infrastructure can be political?

Steps towards an interactive website of maize systems


At the Agri/Cultures Project we are starting to develop an interactive website to communicate some of the research we have been doing over the last 2 years.

We have now completed the layout of 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.

Now our plan is to move into the development of an interactive website based on these cartographies. On the one side, with this website we would like to offer the possibility of exploring each of the different agri-food systems, for instance by visiting certain locations or nodes and learning some of the aspects that characterize it (e.g some actors, legislation, history, co-technologies, other actants etc). On the other side, we aim to offer a way to be able to comparefield-trails these systems and facilitate the identification of their main differences.

Our working team on this elements of the project has expanded as we are working with a fantastic illustrator and great programmer and we expect to develop this interactive product together with them over the next year.

We have barely begun the planning and already we have to start thinking about server-related questions (e.g where should the site be hosted? how much space will we need? for how long do we want the website to be active?). Working with this is novel terrain for all of us but we are very excited to start developing this new stage of the project and think it can become an attractive and innovative way to communicate science. For this, we will be bringing our interdisciplinary research into the – also interdisciplinary – domains of science communication and art. We expect this collaboration to produce a useful tool for education purposes and to learn a bunch during the whole process.

Keep track of our next developments!


What does the Paris Agreement mean for the agri-food system?


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Action from Oxfam. Author: Ainhoa Goma/Oxfam

On 12th December 2015 the Paris Agreement was reached at the COP21 negotiations. I was in Paris at the time participating from the emerging global climate movement that took the streets during the weeks prior to the event, despite the state of emergency declared after the terrible terrorist attacks. Considered by many as an historical turning point in the global fight against climate change, while others describe it as an epic failure, this agreement brought together 196 parties (195 countries and the EU) to agree on a common long-term strategy on how to tackle climate change. Since the Agri/Cultures project is assessing different agri-food systems in terms of their contribution to sustainable development (as well as their social utility and ethical justifiability), we wondered, what does the Paris Agreement mean for the future of agri-food systems?

Agriculture is both profoundly impacted by and impacts climate change. The global agri-food system is responsible of an astounding 44-57% of global GHG emissions, including not only the farming component of the system but also the connected deforestation, food waste, transport, processing, packing, retailing and freezing involved.

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  1. Ambitious targets without a concrete plan

The overall problem of the Paris Agreement is that despite setting surprisingly ambitious targets to limit the temperature increase below +2ºC, or even +1.5ºC, there is no agreement on any actual plan to reach the target (which is important since the current national commitments do not collectively add up to the target emissions reductions.)

In December 2015, the world was +1ºC warmer and more humid than pre-industrial levels. In order to stay below a +1.5ºC increase, the world would have to stop burning fossil fuels by 2030, which would need measurable, strict and binding guidelines to achieve it. Regardless of such a significant change being required to meet the target though, the new agreement doesn’t actually take effect until 2020, so the window of possibility to achieve the +1.5ºC goal will arguably have passed if nations wait until the Agreement enters into force to act .

176 of the world’s 195 countries that went to Paris wrote down what their plans to tackle climate change were. However, even if all of these actions were taken, the world would still be heading for 3 degrees or more of global warming by the end of this century. This would put us in a dangerous and uncertain world, with floods, droughts, superstorms and permanent hostile weather conditions that will severely affect societies and ecosystems. Agriculture, thus, may be intensely impacted in the dystopian future we are heading to because even a difference of half a degree will make a world of a difference for the food we eat.

2. No new climate finance mechanisms

“Climate finance means paying developing countries to move beyond reliance on fossil fuels that made the U.S. and other developed countries rich. It also means paying for vulnerable communities and ecosystems to adapt to the climate change that’s already happening”, as Oscar Reyes, from the Institute of Policy Studies, puts it.

Not only have rich countries repeatedly failed to provide climate finance on anything close to the scale needed, but also, in the Paris Agreement there is no binding requirement for financial contributions from individual countries, only a new ‘collective’ financing goal of at least $100 billion per year set for developed countries. This is despite the estimated need, according to the Climate Fairshares tool, being upwards of $400 billion per year. This is especially relevant for farmers and subsistence communities from poorer and more vulnerable countries (often predominantly women), since in the years to come, their production will face increasing uncertainty due to instability in weather conditions and without support to adapt to the changing conditions, pursuing farming as a livelihood will become increasingly difficult and unappealing for younger generations.

3. There are no legally binding targets to reduce emissions

As Oscar Reyes states:While the now defunct Kyoto Protocol set binding targets for rich countries related to their responsibility for causing climate change (admittedly, with some considerable loopholes), the new deal takes an “anything goes” approach. Countries are free to promise whatever they want, and there’s no penalty if they break these promises”. The only obligation that is mentioned in the Paris Agreement is for nations to come together again in 2023 (and every 5 years) after this.

Through the lens of agri-food systems, this means that there are no clear pathways to or binding targets for change in this sector. This leaves the current trend of pursuing agricultural systems for increased production, trade and consumption of foods that are big emitters of GHG to continue. Tangibly, this means that models of  industrial farming oriented towards global export, with the accompanying long geographic and temporal production-consumption chains (i.e. requiring extensive processing, packaging, freezing and transport) will continue to be promoted as the ideal model for the future over local farms and food systems.

4. There is no reference or clear timeline for the phasing out of fossil fuels nor for GHG intensive agricultural systems.

Oil plays a major role in many dimensions of the agri-food system (e.g. in the practices of high input and highly mechanized industrial farms, as well as in transport, processing, packaging and freezing). To stay below the 2ºC target and have a chance of surviving in a disrupted future, it has been argued that we would have to leave 80% of fossil fuels in the ground. As such, it seems imperative to actively promote low-carbon agri-food systems. This would imply, among many other things, favouring small production-consumption trade dynamics, short supply chains, organic farming methods and cutting back on meat and dairy production, consumption and trade. Despite this, the only two mentions of food and farming in the Paris Agreement are not in the binding part of the text and are more vague references to care for food security and world hunger, with no real attention given to how food is produced or any mention of ‘small-holder farmers’, even if they produce around 70% of the food we consume. As Hilda Elver, UN Special Rapporteur of the Right to Food, puts it: “In most developing countries, agriculture is a major sector of the economy. It has become crucial to understand that the interests of the small-holder farmers and agribusinesses are not easily reconcilable.”

5. There are no guidelines on land use.

In short, despite high ambitions on the question of what level of temperature rise needs to be avoided, the Paris Agreement does not seem to provide enough details to support the kind of radical structural changes needed in societies to avoid dangerous climate change. For agri-food systems, which are a hugely important but very often overlooked or neglected contributor to climate change, this means effectively reinforcing the existing power dynamics of an industrial, globalised, concentrated and highly carbon intensive agricultural model.

In preparing this post, we struggled a little bit to find specific critical analyses of the interrelated themes of climate change and agri-food systems. Do you know of any good research or additional articles that further develop this topic? If so, leave us a comment and we will be very happy to look into them!