Thursday, 26 September 2013

Our blog has moved...

The STEPS Centre blog has now been integrated in to the Centre's website as part of a package of updates to our web platforms.

The Crossing will remain here as an archive for everything published before 12 September 2013, but every post from way back when we started in 2007 is now available on the main website.

Please do come and visit, we really value your comments and thoughts. Read more

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Responses to frequently asked questions on genetically-modified crops and development

GM Rice / BASF / Flickr Creative Commons
By Andy Stirling, co-director of the STEPS Centre
Questions are never far from the headlines about how the world can farm more fairly, sustainably and productively. What is meant by these qualities varies greatly – including differing ways to raise income for poor farmers, improve nutrition, reduce environmental and health impacts or provide more food to feed growing populations. Almost irrespective of how to think about ‘the problem’, however, GM crops are often presented as a vital part of the solution. Fierce criticism is often dished out to any voices raising concerns – labelling them ‘anti-technology’ environmentalists, irrational media, nervous regulators or an ill-informed public.
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Monday, 9 September 2013

How was a 'policy space' created for pastoralism in Kenya?

Pastoralism in Kenya has long been neglected and understood. Pastoralists have been seen by some as vulnerable, a source of conflict and a drain on the country's resources. But recent developments have begun to change that narrative.

A new government Ministry, the Ministry of Development of Northern Kenya and other Arid Lands, was formed in 2008. It aimed to create policy and institutional change, refocusing resources to support pastoralists and the areas in which they live and work.

A new Future Agricultures Working Paper by Izzy Birch and Mohamed Elmi tells the story of the Ministry and the circumstances that led to its creation. The authors suggest that a 'policy space' has been opened up, enabling new opportunities, relationships and directions for the region. They also examine what progress has been made and what the future might hold for pastoral development in the country.

In the video embedded above, the authors explain the story in a seminar recorded in May 2013.

Further reading: Pastoralism and Development in Africa: Dynamic Change at the Margins

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Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Against 'monocultures' in agriculture and knowledge

Faced with the undeniable fact of hunger in developing countries, ‘sustainable intensification’ has been claimed as a science-led solution to food security. In an article for SciDev.Net, Prof Brian Wynne (Lancaster University) and Georgina Catacora (GenĂ˜k) tear strips off the large-scale industrial model of agriculture that is supposed to feed the world, and the narrow visions of science that underlie it.

Science is used as an ideological tool to promote some technologies (such as GM) while neglecting others. In some cases, the social impacts of industrial agriculture (displacement, land grabbing etc) are left out of the equation; in others, diverse approaches are simply ignored, and food security is seen simply as a technical issue of production.

The challenge of highlighting alternative pathways in agriculture is no small one. Huge financial interests are invested in pursuing intensive industrial agriculture at the expense of small-scale farming. Opponents are accused of being anti-science and romanticising poverty. But a narrow industrial technical view of science does no justice to the variety of scientific and social approaches to feeding the world and supporting farmers’ livelihoods.

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Monday, 2 September 2013

Climate change: where stereotypes go to die

What do you mean when you call someone a climate sceptic? I went to a panel discussion last Thursday evening, “Tackling scepticism: How can we most effectively communicate climate change?” which despite the confrontational title, was an enjoyable debate touching on how people on different sides of a sometimes polarised climate debate think of, and treat, each other.

The event started with the audience being invited to name experiences of scepticism by the chair, Ed Gillespie (who’s also blogged about the evening here). This ended up looking rather like a list of types of climate sceptics (see picture). Initially, this exercise rang some alarm bells for me. It mainly served to demonstrate that, rather than one single stereotype of “climate sceptic” or “climate denier”, there are many possible stereotypes. But they are still stereotypes.

The list of types of sceptic.
Source: Futerra blog
In the event, though, I found it useful to see such a list out in the open. A couple of people suggested that many of the stereotypes could easily be turned on their head and applied to the green movement in general or advocates of low-carbon policies in particular. It reminded me that we all instinctively like to put people in categories. We can dish it out but it's a bit harder to take it.

It may be human nature to create them, but caricatures – whomever they are about – can easily do more harm than good, especially when applied to views about a complex problem. They can be fun, even affectionate, or cathartic, but not very productive in the end. What they leave out, or don’t address enough, is a proper engagement with people’s values and what they want the future to look like.

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Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Arguing about agronomy: the changing politics of agronomy research

A new article in Outlook on Agriculture explores how agronomy has been affected by social change since the 1970s. The science of agronomy informs crucial decisions on development. It is often seen as a practical, problem-solving field, but like other areas of study is affected by politics and power.

The authors suggest a 'political agronomy' approach, which takes account of the contestations that can arise around the generation and promotion of new agronomic knowledge and technology.
    From the article:

    “…the creation and use of knowledge and technology – which are of course at the heart of agronomy – are embedded in complex political, economic and social worlds that are characterized by asymmetric power relations. In agronomy and agricultural research more broadly, power is (and has long been) exercised in the framing of problems and the setting of priorities, through funding decisions, through ‘partnerships’, through crop variety release procedures and through the peer review and publication process.”  

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    Thursday, 25 July 2013

    Responsibility at the Science-Publics-Policy Interface: What I learnt at the 2013 Science in Public Conference

    The village of Onna, after the 2009 L'Aquila
    earthquake. Photo: Darkroom_Daze (Flickr)
    by Stephen Whitfield
    DPhil Student, Institute of Development Studies

    This year’s 'Science in Public' conference hosted by Nottingham University was excellent. I came away from two captivating days of presentations, discussions and (at times heated) debates having learnt a lot… and inevitably feeling frustrated in the knowledge that there was so much more to be learnt from the panels that I wanted to, but couldn’t, attend.

    This is my attempt to summarise the ideas and messages from the conference that most challenged and changed the way that I think about science and society.

    Science in Public

    In 2012 this annual conference series, which was originally known as ‘Science and the Public’, underwent a radical name change, becoming, as it is today, the ‘Science in Public’ conference. OK, so it’s not a particularly drastic change, but this subtle alteration reflected an important discontent about the separation of science and public as distinct spheres of operation. Of course, such a distinction is neither straightforward nor necessarily appropriate, as I’m sure almost everyone at the conference would agree – with the possible exception of the keynote speaker Harry Collins (whose presentation was aptly described in the most popular tweet of the conference as ‘unusual’).

    ‘Science in Public’ – which gives a nod to Gregory and Miller’s 1998 book – although perhaps slightly clunky, makes more sense than the previous name. In fact, what was clear across the panels was that science operates within multiple publics; that publics operate within science; and that politics, policies and power pervade. But the organisers can be excused for not opting to host the “Science in Publics in Policy in Science in Policy in Publics in Science” conference, which in all but name the conference was.

    Across the panels that I attended, a number of really interesting ideas were expressed about how the components of the science-public-policy nexus relate to each other.  I summarise some of those that I found more surprising here:
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