Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Democratising Food and Agricultural Research

Agricultural research for food sovereignty in West Africa

As part of the Democratising Food and Agricultural Research initiative
 (see www.excludedvoices.org), a series of citizens’ juries have been held in Mali over the last seven years. Their aim was to allow ordinary farmers and other food producers, both men and women, to make policy recommendations after cross examining expert witnesses from different backgrounds. Three citizens’ juries explored the following themes:

1. GMOs and the future of farming in Mali.
2. What kind of knowledge and agricultural research do small scale producers and food processors want?
3. How to democratise the governance of food and agricultural research?

The citizens’ juries were guided by an oversight panel to ensure that the entire process was broadly credible, representative, trust-worthy, fair and not captured by any interest group or perspective.
Altogether, the farmer jurors made over 100 recommendations on the priorities and governance of agricultural research for West Africa. Recommendations covered issues such as models of agricultural production, land tenure and property rights, and food and agriculture markets, as well as issues of research funding, organisation, practice and governance.

In the follow up to this unique deliberative process, West African farmers asked to have a Policy Dialogue with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and its main donors. Farmers wanted a face-to-face discussion on research priorities with AGRA because it is a key player in setting the agenda for agricultural research for development in West Africa. This policy dialogue took place in Accra (Ghana) on 1st to 3rd February 2012.
The three-day event was chaired by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, and was also attended by representatives of farming communities in Asia, East Africa and Latin America.

 A video link with London allowed participation by UK donors and members of parliament. Both farmers and AGRA presented their vision for agricultural
research in Africa. Overall, farmers analysis and policy recommendations significantly differed from those promoted by AGRA.
For example, West African farmers were clearly against research that leads to the privatisation of seeds and proprietary seed technologies which allow companies to control the seed sector. They also felt that AGRA wrongly views farmers’ local seeds as unimproved, - thereby denying the plant breeding and seed selection work done by wo/men farmers.
Most notably, AGRA and the African farmers framed their respective research agendas within radically different visions of food and farming. The wo/men farmers argued that a vision of farming that de-links and separates crop production from other sectors (livestock, fisheries, forestry) is not acceptable. By prioritising crop production alone, AGRA is inducing an imbalance which farmers want to avoid in West Africa. Farmers reject AGRA’s development model and type of agriculture which, they feel , encourages bigger farms and the disappearance of small family farms, as well as the poisoning of the earth, water, and people. Instead, West African farmers called for a research
agenda that supports family farming and food sovereignty.
from here

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