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.
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.
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.
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.