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Agricultural research should serve people and planet

A multimedia e-book book published by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) demonstrates that small-scale farmers around the world have effective systems for generating and sharing knowledge and making decisions about science, technology and innovation.

The e-book calls for farmers and food consumers worldwide to have a stronger say in how agricultural research is funded, designed, implemented and controlled, to ensure that the knowledge produced brings the most social and environmental benefits. A proposed new way of working is for policy makers, scientists and local people to set strategic research priorities together, and in which research serves local interests ahead of those of private companies and technocratic elites.

The e-book can be downloaded at www.iied.org

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Call for agricultural research to serve people and planet

Farmers and food consumers worldwide need a stronger say in how agricultural research is funded, designed, implemented and controlled to ensure that the knowledge produced brings the most social and environmental benefits.

So says a multimedia e-book published by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) today (6 May) to coincide with the annual meeting of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, which focuses heavily on agriculture.

The author and director of IIED's sustainable agriculture, biodiversity and livelihoods programme, Dr Michel Pimbert, warns that agricultural research is increasingly serving a powerful, private sector minority rather than bringing benefits to wider society and the environment.

"Democratic control and direct citizen engagement in research are now needed to develop sustainable and equitable food systems for the 21st century," he says.

"In many cases, publicly funded research ends up in private hands, meaning that corporations gain control over knowledge in a way that boosts their profits but does little to meet the needs of farmers and consumers."

"But the problem is not only how and for whom knowledge is generated," he adds. "It is also the very nature of the knowledge produced by mainstream research institutes and policy think tanks that needs to be fundamentally transformed to regenerate local food systems and economies."

The e-book notes that the recent International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) produced a landmark report on the future of agricultural research. But this intergovernmental process did not develop a mechanism to directly include the perspectives of local food providers and consumers.

The book shows that small-scale farmers around the world already have effective systems for generating and sharing knowledge and making decisions about science, technology and innovation.

These include farmer-to-farmer knowledge-sharing systems in the Peruvian Andes that are based on the concept of ayni (reciprocity) and citizens' juries used in West Africa to debate the introduction of genetically modified crops and frame policies for food and agricultural research.

Pimbert proposes a new way of working in which policy makers, scientists and local people set strategic research priorities together, and in which research serves local interests ahead of those of private companies and technocratic elites.

He proposes a two pronged approach. The first gives a more central place to farmers and other citizens in the actual governance and running of a strengthened public research system. The second seeks to expand horizontal networks of knowledge producers and users to enhance learning and action by, with and for people.

Organizations from a number of Asian nations will use the e-book in Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka in May, when they will meet regional media representatives in an effort to promote a fairer and more farmer and citizen controlled agricultural research system.

The publication is the latest in a series called Towards Food Sovereignty: Reclaiming autonomous food systems, which explores equity and sustainability in the food and agriculture sector through text, photos, animations and video and audio clips.

IIED produced it as part of a wider project called 'Democratising Food and Agricultural Research' with co-funding from Oxfam Novib and the Christensen Fund.

Ken Wilson, executive director of the Christensen Fund, says: "With breathtaking clarity Michel Pimbert and his collaborators have conveyed why the application of conventional science by powerful institutions often misses the complexity, dynamism and effectiveness of indigenous food systems."

"Even more importantly, and through practical examples and delicious multi-media imagery, the chapter provides a living blueprint for embracing the knowledge, vision and values of traditional food producers and thus genuinely partner with them to tackle the connected food, livelihood and environmental issues that are at the heart of the problems of our time."

Oxfam Novib states that "This book makes a vital contribution to the ongoing debate on ways to address the stresses on our local and global food systems, by exploring the roles and contributions of farmers as food producers, managers of biodiversity and source of knowledge."

"With admirable clarity, Michel Pimbert explores how a more democratic co-production of knowledge, jointly by farmers and scientists in agricultural sciences, can create more local and global synergies in our food systems. The innovative video links and audio files bring in the rich perspectives of local food producers worldwide".

Download the e-book

Contact

Mike Shanahan
Press officer
International Institute for Environment and Development
3 Endsleigh Street
London WC1H 0DD
Tel: 44 (0) 207 388 2117
Fax: 44 (0) 207 388 2826
Email: mike.shanahan@iied.org
www.iied.org

Notes to editors

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) is an independent, non-profit research institute. Set up in 1971 and based in London, IIED provides expertise and leadership in researching and achieving sustainable development.

Oxfam Novib, a member of Oxfam International, is fighting for a just world without poverty.

The Christensen Fund believes in the power of biological and cultural diversity to sustain and enrich a world faced with great change and uncertainty.

The Global Forum on Agricultural Research recently congratulated Dr Pimbert and IIED on the e-book series Towards Food Sovereignty, calling it a "very interactive approach to local innovation".

Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.

The UN states that major adjustments are needed in agricultural, environmental and macroeconomic policy, at both national and international levels, in developed as well as developing countries, to create the conditions for sustainable agriculture and rural development.

The Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) first reviewed these issues at its third session in 1995, when it noted with concern that, even though some progress had been reported, disappointment is widely expressed at the slow progress in moving towards sustainable agriculture and rural development in many countries.

The current CSD meeting runs from 4-15 May.

 


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