Voices from the field

Voices from the field 1

Documenting successful cases for horizontal learning

Peter Rosset , La Via Campesina

The “academy” is no longer the epicenter of knowledge production– if indeed it ever was. In today’s world, much of the important new knowledge, and even theory, on alternatives to conventional, exclusionary development, is being generated by social movements.

I had the opportunity to participate in one of the self-study processes of La Via Campesina (LVC). In this case the object of analysis was the campesino-to-campesino (farmer-to-farmer) agroecology movement of the National Association of Small Farmers of Cuba (ANAP-Via Campesina), one of the most important cases of successfully bringing peasant agroecology to scale as part of food sovereignty. By consciously using a social process methodology, ANAP was able, in a bit more than a decade, to build an ecological farming social movement inside a national farmer organization – a movement that has come to embrace 50% of all the peasant families in Cuba. They use few or no off-farm inputs, farm agroecologically, and have dramatically raised the total and relative contribution of the peasant sector to national food production, thus boosting food sovereignty.

LVC and ANAP wanted the peasants to re-construct their own history, and do their own analysis of the keys to success. And they wanted the result of this process to be presented in a format that would both help ANAP with it’s internal process, and also help organizations in other countries learn useful lessons from it. A small team traveled the length of the island, facilitating workshops at peasant cooperatives, where the participants of the movement themselves, re-created their history and collectively drew their own lessons. The team was then responsible for organizing this information into a book for use in LVC’s training schools, and to support campaign work.

Other teams in LVC are now engaged in similar processes to analyze other cases. One of these is the experience of the Zero Budget Natural Farming Movement in southern India, in which more than million Indian peasants have stopped their use of purchased chemicals and raised production though autonomous, ecological practices.

Voices from the field 2

Food Sovereignty in the Andes

Maruja Salas

Here are the life stories of some of the community-based persons in the food sovereignty process who have been thinking with the power of nature and defending their individual and collective rights to eat healthy food. Their language is peaceful, yet allusive – even sometimes enigmatic. They personify their communal knowledge with varying degrees of coherence. Yet, when they speak about their lives of nurturing, farming, fishing and herding, they do so with a joy embodying a world-view which harmonises celebration and work. There is also a deep spiritual sense to their attentiveness to signs from nature, particularly towards the Altiplano’s sacred mountains and Mother Earth. These men and women are fully attuned to interpreting dream symbolism to guide seed selection, cooking, or food storage, constantly replenishing the traditional rules for familial well-being. More information about their work can be found at the website of the Andean Program for Food Sovereignty.

Lucía Paucara
Lucia is from Vilurcuni, where she has spent much of her 54 years working in her fields and storing potatoes to feed her extended family. For her potatoes are like daughters and she celebrates all the phases of their growth. Since her fields are near the lake, she has many varieties that she uses for cooking special local dishes like patasca, chayro, and watia. She and her extended family who are living in Lima or Tacna will never go hungry because she produces enough potatoes for all of them.

Presentación Velásquez
Presentación learned from her grandmother to cultivate Andean crops in the Aynoqas system (rotational sector agriculture) as well as chase away hail by mobilising the community. She has promised her granddaughters to continue to work in her fields until the end of her life, so that all the family will have plenty of Andean tubers and grains to eat without having to buy them in the market.

Domitila Taquila
Domitila lives in Aychullo and she was not born with much ‘knowledge’, she says, but learned from working in the fields alongside her grandmother. Her mother taught her how to weave and cook. Her ability to read the natural indicators was revealed in dreams. Today, she demonstrates to her children the advantages of eating from the fields and avoiding contaminated food from the market.


Box 1

Decolonizing research and relationships: Revitalizing traditional Grease Trails

Indigenous scholars and holders of traditional knowledge in British Columbia, Canada, are developing a research protocol to guide their collaborative research. The Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty (WGIFS) will bring together key Indigenous scholars and holders of traditional knowledge relevant to the Grease Trails (traditional trade routes) to solicit input and direction in the development of its research strategy and protocol. The Revitalizing Grease Trails research project arose in response to a series of strategic planning meetings and the large number of research proposals received from within numerous organizations and research institutions across Canada.

A workshop to discuss the research strategy and protocol will outline criteria that will enable the WGIFS to engage in research that strategically aligns with the vision, values and goals of communities. The protocol will outline an ethical process for working across cultures (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) to decolonize methodologies for reviewing relevant literature and conducting community based interviews that will shed light on relevant issues, concerns, situations and strategies. Decolonizing methodologies strategies can range from day to day practices that promote more harvesting, cultivating and sharing Indigenous foods, to a more complex challenge of critical thinking and redesigning institutional frameworks and methodologies in research. In this context, the work shop will provide the time and space to concentrate energy and ideas that will lead to the development of a template of culturally relevant protocols for positioning Indigenous voice, vision, paradigms and priorities in institutional frameworks for research and community development. The research strategy will lead to the generation of a body of knowledge that will ultimately enable Indigenous communities to conduct research on their own terms and respond more effectively to their own needs for culturally adapted foods.

Box 2

NGO-academic alliance for researching gender, nutrition and the right to food

When so many call for the inclusion of women and a gender perspective in food security, why is the status of women and girls still not improving? This question led to the creation of an NGO-academic alliance to develop a focused approach on gender, nutrition and the human right to adequate food and nutrition. It brings the long term experience of CSOs (FIAN International and the Geneva Infant Feeding Association, member of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN-GIFA)) in documenting cases of violations and abuses of the Right to Adequate Food and Nutrition in collaboration with affected communities and social movements, together with the theoretical and research expertise on the subject of the Gender Nutrition Rights (GNR) Research Group, which is made up of Syracuse University in cooperation with the University of Hohenheim. Their research found that the existing food security framework for the right to adequate food and nutrition is unable to identify the structural causes of hunger and malnutrition in all its forms, and therefore, is unable to propose the adequate public policies and programs needed to overcome them.

Building upon the discussions of two public workshops, an expanded conceptual framework [This expanded conceptual framework is proposed in Anne C. Bellows, Flavio L.S. Valente, and Stefanie Lemke. (Eds.) Gender, Nutrition and the Human Right to Adequate Food: towards an inclusive framework. New York: Taylor & Francis/Routledge] for the right to adequate food and nutrition has been proposed. This expanded framework for the right to adequate food and nutrition, which is based on the food sovereignty framework and integrates the dimensions of gender, women’s rights and nutrition is intended to support popular struggles against land grab and Big Food, among others. It also seeks to sharpen our human rights tools, adjusting them to the current challenges in order to provide adequate mechanisms for ensuring a life of dignity for each and every human being, and especially for the most disadvantaged and marginalized in our societies.

Box 3

Power equalizing research for food sovereignty

Research for food sovereignty aims to give the least powerful actors (marginalised farmers and food providers, women….) more significant roles than before in the production and validation of knowledge [These reflections are based on ongoing participatory action-research with indigenous and local communities in the Andean Altiplano (Bolivia and Peru), Asia (India, Indonesia, Nepal and Iran), Europe (France, Italy, UK) and West Africa (Mali) where research is done with, for and by people — rather than on people — to explore how locally controlled biodiversity-rich food systems can be sustained. See: Pimbert, 2012]. Power-equalising research seeks to intervene throughout the research and development (R&D)cycle. A focus on the entire R&D cycle (including scientific and technological research, evaluations of results and impacts of research, the choice of upstream strategic priorities for research and development, and the framing of overarching policies) allows for a shift from narrow concepts of participatory research that confine non-researchers to ‘end of the pipe’ technology development (e.g. participatory plant breeding) to a more inclusive approach in which farmers and other citizens can define the upstream strategic priorities of research and governance regimes.

When combined, the following enabling factors are important in this regard:

Free prior informed consent, jointly developed rules of engagement and a mutually agreed code of ethics between food providers and researchersFormation of safe spaces — non-threatening spaces in which wo/men farmers and other actors involved can gain confidence, discuss, analyse, mobilise and act on the basis of a shared vision.
Reversals from normal professional roles and practices. For example, research is conducted by and with food providers themselves, – with outside professionals in a facilitating and support role. Marginalised wo/men farmers are central instead of richer farmers, research stations, scientists, abstract theories, and a pro-urban bias.
Cognitive justice — acknowledging the right for different knowledge systems to exist. The idea of cognitive justice emphasises the right for different forms of knowledge — and their associated practices, livelihoods, ways of being, and ecologies — to coexist.
Extended peer review. Both small scale farmers and scientists must be involved in the co-validation of the knowledge and outcomes of intercultural dialogues. We need to recognise here that there are many legitimate perspectives on every issue. Each actor, — be it a farmer or a scientist -, has partial and incomplete knowledge. ‘Extended’ peer review is necessary at a time when ‘we do not know what we do not know’ and when everyone everywhere is faced with the uncertainties of a fast-changing world (environmental and climate change, unstable markets…).
Communicating for change should not be seen as the exclusive right of communication professionals working in scientific and policy research institutes as well as in agricultural extension departments. There is a need for a new communication practice and allocation of resources that emphasises the devolution and dispersal of power. Advances in new communication technologies (digital video camera, radio, the Internet) as well as popular theatre, mapping and visualisation techniques offer new opportunities to decentralise and democratise the production of knowledge and communication messages — allowing even remote village farming communities to share stories and messages that can influence research agendas, policy and practice at local, national and international levels.

Box 4

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, trustworthy, 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.

Box 4 Sources:
Pimbert, M.P, B. Boukary, A. Berson and K. Tranh Thanh, 2011. Democratising agricultural research for food sovereignty in West Africa. IIED, London.
APPG on Agroecology, CNOP, Kene conseils, Centre Djoliba, IRPAD and IIED, 2012. High level policy dialogue between the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and small scale farmers on the priorities and governance of agricultural research for development in West Africa. A photo story available in English and French.

In the spotlight

In the spotlight

It is not surprising that peasant, local and indigenous knowledge is important to food sovereignty. Food sovereignty was built by peasants themselves, based on their own experiences and collective analysis — first that of La Via Campesina, and since then an increasingly diverse group of actors who have been enriching this dynamic concept with their own perspectives.

Over the past few years, however, the rhythm of innovation, experimentation and dialogue related to knowledge for food sovereignty seems to be picking up pace. New visions, approaches and spaces for collective knowledge creation are emerging, some of which are captured in the brief stories in this newsletter. These developments reflect the growing importance of the food sovereignty movement in national, regional and international debates, the strengthening of alliances for food sovereignty, the enhanced confidence of the movement, as well as the deepening crises that it is faced with. Social movements are also increasingly aware that realizing food sovereignty requires radically different knowledge from that on offer today in mainstream institutions (universities, policy think tanks, governments, corporations…).

Dialogue between a diversity of actors

One of the most promising alliances in terms of developing knowledge is with indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples have been taking their place in the food sovereignty movement more assertively in recent years and their contributions are having profound effects on concepts of knowledge and ways of knowing for food sovereignty. They are reclaiming the validity of their own epistemologies [“Epistemology” refers to theories of what knowledge is, what can be known and how knowledge is to be acquired.] which question the mechanistic worldview of positivist science [Positivism is the philosophy of science which believes in objective truth. Positivism recognizes only that which can be scientifi cally verified or which is capable of logical or mathematical proof.]. Indigenous peasants in the Andes, for example, assert that to develop food sovereignty, they rely on the knowledge that is embedded in their stories and rituals, and that is rooted in experiences in the visible world as well as the world of dreams (see Voices from the field 2). Collaboration between indigenous peoples and indigenous and “settler” scholars in Canada has led to challenges to the “colonising methodologies” of academia and to developing emancipatory methodologies (see Box 1).

Creating spaces for inter-regional and cross-cultural dialogue and mutual learning is crucial. A global movement like La Via Campesina or LVC is taking advantage of its diversity to develop horizontal networks for knowledge creation. LVC has an important internal self-study research process underway. The goal of this process is to identify, document, analyze and “systematize” (i.e. not only to document but also to analyse with a view to drawing lessons) the best examples among the member organizations in America, Africa, Asia and Europe, with agroecology, peasant seeds and other aspects of food sovereignty, like local markets. The purpose is two-fold. One is to develop and contribute their own study materials, based on their own experiences, to the more than 40 peasant agroecology schools and numerous political training schools inside LVC. The other is to support campaigning directed at public opinion and policy-makers, with data that prove that the alternatives exist, that they work, and that they should be supported by better public policies (see Voices from the field 1).

Another example of a diverse space for mutual learning is the Democratising Food and Agricultural Research initiative which aims to create safe spaces in which citizens (food providers and consumers) can engage in inclusive deliberations on how to build a research system for food and agriculture that is democratic and accountable to wider society (www.excludedvoices.org). More specifically, the methodological approach seeks to facilitate the participatory design of alternative, farmer and citizen-led agricultural research (see text box on agricultural research for food sovereignty in West Africa). Since 2007, this global initiative has unfolded in the Andean Altiplano, South Asia, West Africa, and West Asia. In September 2013, the partners of Democratising Food and Agricultural Research initiative organized an international workshop to share lessons and reflections from Africa, Asia and Latin America with a wider community of European farmers, policy makers, and representatives of the donor communities. Known as the St. Ulrich Workshop on Democratising Agricultural Research for Food Sovereignty and Peasant Agrarian Cultures, this international workshop brought together 95 participants from a total of 17 countries. Most participants were farmers and half of them were women. The St Ulrich workshop focused on the need to both transform knowledge and ways of knowing for food sovereignty and peasant agrarian cultures.

Scholars and activists engage in critical dialogues…

At the conference “Food Sovereignty: A Critical Dialogue” held in the Hague in January 2014, Elizabeth Mopfu, General Coordinator of LVC, invited scholars to share constructive criticism of concept of food sovereignty. “We want to hear your doubts,” she said. The presence of hundreds of scholars, students, peasants and activists in such a forum reflects both the growing interest of researchers in food sovereignty, and the growing willingness of the movement to engage with them in critical dialogue and collaboration (see Box 2).

…and work together to challenge policy and governance

Opportunities for collaboration with researchers are sometimes linked with the policy spaces. As the movement invests in creating spaces for participation in the governance of food and agriculture, it finds that occupying these spaces requires collaboration with researchers. The International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC), for example, played a key role in the reform of the UN’s Committee for World Security (CFS) which took place in 2009. Following the food crisis of 2007/8 there were calls for the reform of the system of governance of food and agriculture. The IPC argued for a multi-lateral governance with a system of one-country-one-vote and with the meaningful participation of the organisations of small-food providers and other CSOs. Proposals for less transparent governance mechanisms, including from the G8, were eventually defeated and the reformed CFS was declared the “foremost inclusive international and intergovernmental platform” for the governance of food and agriculture [More information here].The CFS set up its own new expert wing — the High Level of Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) — to provide inputs into its decision-making by developing analysis and policy recommendations. The HLPE’s mandate recognises from the outset the importance of the knowledge of “social actors” and field experience. The involvement of experts with links to the food sovereignty movement in the HLPE, and also the wider work of the CFS, has led to increased networking and collaboration between scholars and activists.

Drawing on multiple ways of knowing

As the number and range of collaborations with researchers grow, there is greater awareness of the need to develop new and appropriate research methodologies in cases where co-inquirers are rooted in different knowledge systems. Since academic knowledge has usually been seen as the superior validating standard for other knowledge systems it is especially important to develop methodologies that reach beyond rational knowledge and experiment with multiple ways of knowing such as humour, music, drama, etc. The “Day of Dialogue on Knowledge for Food Sovereignty“, which was held immediately following the Critical Dialogue in the Hague in January 2014, was one such attempt. The dialogue was open to about 70 activists and academics by invitation who had a history of collaboration. The organisers wanted to open up for a day a space where people could bring their creativity and curiosity to a collective dialogue. It was felt that space needed to made for more playful conversations without the pressure of trying to be efficient to get things done [See the report here ]. This is a key step to developing power-equalizing research (see Box 3).
As the opportunities for research and collaboration between different constituencies grows it will become important to share experiences and draw the lessons from these. Face-to-face encounters across cultures, worldviews and knowledge systems must becoming more frequent.

Newsletter no 18 – Editorial

Creating knowledge for food sovereignty

Illustration: Tree 213, Toni Demuro tonidemuro.blogspot.ie

There is movement in the many worlds that are creating knowledge for food sovereignty!

The stories in this newsletter provide a glimpse into some of these worlds.
They show that we are questioning the assumption of a single truth based on objective knowledge. Also that our understanding of the world is enriched by considering it from multliple perspectives, multiple cosmovisions. They indicate that for these multiple cosmovisions to enter into an equal dialogue, common languages must be found. They show the need to challenge academic knowledge, but also to be open to being challenged by it.

We need to radically transform dominant knowledge and ways of knowing for food sovereignty. To develop knowledge for food sovereignty we need to be humble and respectful of other voices and perspectives. We need to be bold in order to experiment with methods and ideas that may seem “unscientific”, while also working to demonstrate the quality in our inquiry processes.

We need to be playful in order to move lightly through the many obstacles on this path while keeping our curiosity alive. With these challenges in mind, one research question emerges which we invite you to join us in reflecting on: How do we nurture the human qualities that we need in order to develop knowledge, together, for food sovereignty?

Maryam Rahmanian and Michel Pimbert