In recent times, civil society groups, led by the international farmer movements have upheld the concept of “Food Sovereignty” as against “Food Security” which was the buzzword during the ‘90s. The term Food Sovereignty powerfully posits the primacy of control by farmers of their food production systems. This concept has already taken root in Latin America; and over the last decade has been spreading into Asia too.
In the same vein, it has become very important to stake farmers’ claim over agricultural research. For a very long time, agricultural research had been thought as an Expert Domain and hence farmers were only at the receiving end of the research outputs. And every time something failed, farmers were blamed for their “ignorance and inability” to handle their agriculture. Never was the question asked: Was there something wrong with the research itself? As people say, the research had all the right answers but did they have the right questions?
Agricultural Science is what farmers in the South Asian region have developed for millennia. Some of the innovations of farmers in agronomy, soil fertility and plant protection in the South Asian region are breathtaking. The dryland biodiversity in the Deccan farming is a huge wonderland of innovations. Similar is the fish-rice-duck farming practice in Eastern India, and so are the Spice Gardens in Malnad area. Each of these farms is a university for biodiverse agriculture. When farmers have so much to offer, why is it that they are denied participation in agricultural research?
It is this realization that has driven many South Asian and Asia-wide civil society coalitions to take several steps to dialogue, debate and discuss farmer-led research as well as to initiate grounded actions involving frontier research where communities and farmers are involved directly in designing, data collection and analysis of agricultural research.
As Dr Michel Pimbert of the International Institute for Environment and Development [IIED] of UK puts it, “Throughout the world, publicly-funded research shapes the choices that are available to farmers, food workers and consumers, and the environments in which they live and work. There is an increasing need to explore ways of democratising the governance of science and technology, ensuring that it continues to serve the public good rather than narrow economic interests”.
A series of conversations with farmers, pastoralists, indigenous peoples, policy-makers and representatives of social movements between the years 2005-2007 led to the formulation of a major multi-country initiative to enable citizens to exercise their democratic imagination to decide on the kind of food and agricultural research they want. This international initiative has now become an action research proposal: Democratising the Governance of Food Systems. Citizens Rethinking Food and Agricultural Research for the Public Good. Rather than offering ready-made solutions, this project supports a decentralized and bottom-up process whereby farmers and other citizens can decide what type of agricultural research is needed for food sovereignty, and also organize to collectively push for change in policies and practice.
This participatory process was initiated in 2007 to create safe spaces for small-scale farmers, indigenous peoples, nomadic pastoralists, food workers and other citizens in four regions, with one country acting as host for each region: West Africa (Mali), South Asia (India), West Asia (Iran) and the Andean region in Latin America (Bolivia/Peru).
As part of this international initiative, each regional coordinator works with the global coordinator in the UK-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). In South Asia, the process is titled ADARSA.
ADARSA, in South Asia is coordinated by the Deccan Development Society an Andhra Pradesh based civil society organisation which has been working for the last 25 years with very small, dalit women farmers. At the South Asia level, ADARSA collective includes USC – Nepal, Green Movement and MONLAR, Sri Lanka, UBINIG and Nayakrushi Andolan, Bangladesh and Indian partners.
This action research builds on earlier work by DDS and IIED on deliberative and inclusive processes to enhance citizen voice in policy-making and agenda-setting for science and technology. These new experiments with deliberative and inclusive processes offer opportunities to broaden citizen and non specialist involvement in decisions around science and technology as well as policy making, resource allocation and institutional choices. For example, earlier work on the governance of food systems and biodiversity in India aimed to link local voices and visions on the future of food, farming, environment and rural development with national and international policy making. Prajateerpu was devised as a means of allowing those people most affected by the government’s “Vision 2020” for food and farming in Andhra Pradesh to shape a vision of their own. This deliberative process included marginalised small farmers, women and indigenous peoples, and combined elements from established techniques such as citizens’ juries and scenario workshops with safeguards such as an oversight panel, video scenario presentations and witnesses.
The following donors fund this multiregional process: The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGIS), the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC), NOVIB-OXFAM and The Christensen Fund.