Tuesday, 18 December 2007


At the Farmer First Revisited workshop last week we made videos of some participants talking about thier involvement in farmer participation in agricultural research. Watch Robert Chambers, Paul Van Mele, Lucy Mwangi, David Howlett, Yunita Winarto and others speaking to Susanna Thorp of WRENmedia, publisher of the New Agriculturalist, with video by Gary Edwards.

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Wednesday, 12 December 2007


After much organisation, anticipation and plenty of expresso coffee, 80 delegates from around the world have finally arrived at the Institute of Development Studies in Brighton, UK, for three days of reflection and debate about farmer participation in agricultural research. A live blog is up and running from the event, so check it out for all the FFR news, views and reports. And have a look on the Farmer First Revisited website, which has all the papers from the event and access to the wiki-timeline Read more

Monday, 10 December 2007


By ADRIAN ELY, STEPS Centre member

A recent spotlight on biofuels on the SciDev.net website gives a detailed overview of research issues, including risks and benefits for developing countries and an article by Siwa Msangi of IFPRI on potential food security impacts from the biofuels “revolution”. Msangi’s article points to the need for international policies to promote innovations that will reduce the dependence of biofuels on agricultural production systems, as well as action to secure food supplies for the world’s food-insecure poor. At present, however, the development of the burgeoning corn bioethanol sector, especially in the US, is fast-outpacing such regulatory reforms.

This weekend’s edition of the China Daily contains a front-page article describing recent policies drawn up by the Chinese Ministry of Finance to promote the use of non-food products to make bio-fuel.

As well as banning the use of grains to make biofuel earlier this year, the more recent policies offer subsidies to producers of biofuels derived from non-food feedstocks, such as cellulose-based sources, sweet sorghum and cassava. Farmers producing such feedstocks will also benefit. These are among a suite of government actions aiming to minimise food security impacts from China’s increasing biofuel production.

The global impact of these policies is questionable while major markets for feedstock remain open to corn and other grains, however at least China has acted decisively to ensure domestic food security.

In comparison, US policies and those of the international community require a significant rethink if corn bioethanol, which also has dubious relative environmental benefits as well as obvious negative food security implications, is to act as a “stepping stone” to second generation fuels with a more attractive carbon balance rather than an end in itself.

Science and technology policies (e.g. supporting research, development, demonstration and diffusion of cellulosic bioethanol) to facilitate this move are unlikely to quickly succeed in this goal without other policies to limit the production of fuel from corn, which could prove politically extremely unattractive, especially in the US.
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Wednesday, 5 December 2007


In 1987 a meeting of 50 social and natural scientists proved a defining moment in the development of farmer participation in agricultural research. Now the Future Agricultures Consortium in association the STEPS Centre and IDS is hosting an international workshop, Farmer First Revisited, to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the event.

The FFR website contains delegate papers, links to an innovative wiki-timeline, which tracks 20 years of farmer participation in agricultural research adn extension, and the event's own blog, so do have a look and join in the debate.

Meanwhile, Ian Scoones, one of the organisers of FFR and a co-director of STEPS has written about some of the issue to be discussed at next week's workshop for id21. Have a read.
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Monday, 3 December 2007


About 190 nations have gathered in Bali today to try and thrash out a new global pact to fight climate change by 2009. Droughts, heatwaves and rising sea levels will inevitably hit the poor hardest and political will to tackle the issue has never been higher..

The Kyoto Protocol covers emission reduction commitments for developed countries over the period 2008–2012, and Australia's new government has just, belatedly, signed up. But a new international climate change deal must be put in place in time to ensure that necessary action is undertaken immediately after 2012.

The IDS Climate Change and Disasters Group is attending the conference with a research agenda to advance. The group aim to support progress on political deals that are equitable, fair and supportive to those groups most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and to ensure low carbon emission pathways improve opportunities for development. Read what Merylyn Hedger, a member of the group has to say about Bali, and check out the IDS CLimate Change policy briefings.
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Tuesday, 27 November 2007


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Listen to the podcast of Bill Adams' STEPS Seminar
Read Bill Adams' presentation

The author of many seminal works on green development, Bill Adams of the University of Cambridge, visits us at the STEPS Centre today. Photo: Bill Adams delivers his STEPS Seminar

"Conservation is never anything but social and never anything but political,” Adams says, launching into examples (Masoala National Park in Madagascar; Offham Valley in Lewes, Sussex)of the many political issues that can surround conservation projects, what he calls the ‘politics of conservation'.

So, what are the costs of conservation? Adams breaks it down into three areas - neighbour and opportunity costs and population displacement. Neightbour costs might include crop-raiding or physical attack by wild animals and harassment from park staff; opportunity costs include the global value of land set aside while the population may suffer lost homes, land and resources, and loss of future use and loss of religious and cultural values.

There are streams of benefits, particularly through tourism, but most of the benefits in the developing world are enjoyed in the developed world.

So, there is a need for pro-poor conservation, and there is a long tradition of doing that, but the enthusiasm for poverty alleviation by conservationists is now being criticised by people including John Oates, Steven Sanderson and Kent Redford, who argue that poverty reduction is not the job of conservationists.

There is an argument - raging both within conservation and outside of it - now that we need to re-tool conservation so that its work flows towards poverty reduction and alleviation.

The politics of knowledge now comes in to play, with the “packaging of wilderness” – the US National parks is the first example of this packaging Yosemite Valley was cleared in 1852 by the army. And then to Africa – repeatedly described as an “unspoiled Eden” home of safari – but what place is there for African people in the wilderness? The idea of protecting nature from people features very strongly from the first packaging of Africa as the ultimate wilderness – and continues today with films such as the Lion King.

And now on to Adams’ own work in the Laikipia district of Kenya, where there have been elephant crop raids in and around ranch land and smallholder land. The elephants sit next to smallholdings and then move in at night to eat the crops. His team has tracked the raids by using technology used to track car theft!

One solution is ‘e-Fence’ – elephants wear a collar, when they cross a fence a message goes to a computer that rings the nearest elephant ranger with the animal’s GPS positioning. It only works, obviously, if there is someone to phone, but not really applicable elsewhere. But they are considering fencing the whole district and have just raised $1m for the project.

A community elephant defence is a fence with sheets tied to it smeared with chillis, which elephants don’t like. Adams is not sure if the fence itself works, but it gives people the impetus to go out and shout at the elephants, and so, to do something about the problem.

The interaction of the landscape ecology – the sharing of the land between people and animals – underlies all this research. And interesting questions about land rights have been thrown up – issues of pastoral and national identity and electoral politics. People are claiming to be Laikipiak Maasai – but those Maasai are long gone in that area, meanwhile there are also claims from Mukogodo Maasai and Pokot; Samburu. So the question of who ought to be managing the land and the wildlife is a complex one.

And we're out of time now, but you can listen to the podcast to hear Bill in action and log on to the STEPS website 'recent events' page where we will live his presentation as soon as. Bye for now.
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Monday, 26 November 2007


The Guardian's economics editor Larry Elliott turns his attention to sanitation today, in particular, the situation in Bangladesh. "The vacuum [of action on sanitation] needs to be filled - by western governments and by aid organisations - and not just for Bangladesh but for all the even poorer countries in sub-Saharan Africa where sanitation is not a government priority. The alternative is to hold our noses and pretend it isn't happening," says Elliot. Read more


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

India may have strengths like democracy, diversity, demography, interdependence and role models, but it can't become a global research giant unless it harnesses the strengths, according to Rajeev Gowda, STEPS Centre partner who organised the first event for our risk, uncertainty and technology project - co-funded by UKIERI in Bangalore last week. Photo: Rajeev Gowda

Rajeev was joined at the Indian Insitute of Management Bangalore by the brightest of Bangalore's innovation talent and James Wilsden and Kirsten Bound from Demos in the UK, who talked about their Atlas of Ideas work.

Rajeev's refelctions on the event were published in a report in the Deccan Herald (the largest English-language daily in Karnataka) and James blogged about his visit.
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Thursday, 22 November 2007


By ADRIAN SMITH, STEPS Centre member

Last week, Achim Steiner, head of UNEP, and one of the sponsors of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, joined an increasingly audible group of voices arguing for a system of sustainability standards for biofuels. Without such a system, operating robustly at the international level, Achim feared a backlash against all biofuels, due to some currently more unsustainable production processes associated with rainforest loss, a net increase in total carbon emissions, and the dispossession of poorer communities. The European Commission is currently considering how best to develop its own certification system in order to assure that its ten per cent target for biofuel use in transportation by 2010.

What is incredible about recent biofuel enthusiasm is the widespread acknowledgement that it could quite easily generate disastrously unsustainable developments, if pathways are not carefully appraised and guided. At the same time, this open acknowledgement is also reassuring, since it opens space for sustainability governance.

Clearly, a system of production standards is an important issue in biofuel development, and needs to be taken seriously. And yet, biofuels raise serious sustainability issues that are highly place and process specific: questions of land use, water supply, and food security; the delicate carbon and energy balances involved; risks and benefits for the rural poor; agro-industrial development and jobs; health and safety for workers and local communities; public revenues for government; local fuel security and trade justice; and the biodiversity implications of bringing marginal land into biofuel production. On these grounds and others, advocates and critics heatedly debate biofuel development.

There are a variety of biofuel development options available. Each presents different sustainability opportunities and challenges. Depending upon local agronomic conditions, one can choose between different raw material inputs, such as maize, sugar, jatropha, palm oil, wood, waste, and so on. One can decide between decentralised and centralised systems of provision. One can invest in researching ‘second generation’ biofuel processing, whose conversion efficiencies are expected to be higher, and whose raw materials do not compete so directly with food production, compared to proven ‘first generation’ biofuels processing technologies using food crops.

Within each broad option category lie more nuanced issues, such as the roles of biotechnology, links with the fossil fuel sector, transferable skills and technologies, comparative local, national and regional advantages, the relative economic and sustainability priorities of backers, and so on.

Innovation systems are emerging, linking and informing one another across diverse sites around the globe in strategic response to, and pursuit of, some or all the above issues and options. When considering any innovation system in the light of sustainability, but perhaps more acutely for biofuels, research cannot limit oneself to measuring the aggregate rate and scale of activity - as tends to be the case in conventional innovation studies regarding contributions to narrow measures of economic growth.

Sustainability analysis has also to address the direction of innovation: the biofuel pathways being articulated in innovation systems, the assumptions and criteria informing the search for successful biofuel practices, and the uncertainties and contingencies developers have to deal with when committing resources to biofuel developments.

All this suggests standards, and the lifecycle studies underpinning them, are only part of the picture. What is needed desperately are more socially- and politically-informed insights that can inform a broader set of more reflexive governance processes able to frame, shape and steer biofuel innovations along Sustainable pathways. Here at the STEPS Centre a number of us are developing research ideas that aim to contribute to such an endeavour.
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By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Providing cures for health problems isn't enough, if people's personal or cultural beliefs clash with the scientific approach. STEPS Centre director Melissa Leach argues in this week's Nature magazine that policy-makers must recognize and engage with these objections. Melissa also talks about her research into vaccination on the Nature podcast.
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Friday, 16 November 2007


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Nevermind the headline, what's important about the 19 November is that it's World Toilet Day – a day to focus on the humble, yet vitally important, toilet, and to raise awareness of the global sanitation crisis. (Photo: CLTS, Bangladesh)

And crisis it is: 2.6 billion people – half the developing world – lack even a simple ‘improved’ latrine. One person in six – more than 1 billion people – has little choice but to use potentially harmful sources of water (UNICEF/WHO). The repurcussions are could not be more severe -disease, death, gender inequality...No act of terrorism generates devastation on the scale of the crisis in water and sanitation.

Meanwhile sanitation problems are escalating in the booming peri-urban and urban centres of the developing world where more and more of the world's population live. The countries of the world pledged, as one of the Millennium Development Goals, to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. But we are nowhere near achieving the sanitation part of the equation.

Water and sanitation is one of the three key areas of the STEPS Centre's research, where we are investigating the challenges for sustainability in water and sanitation, the subject of a new paper, called Liquid Dynamics. One of our first projects is investigating urbanisation in India, the shifting disease ecologies linked to overcrowding and inadequate sanitation, changes in urban farming affected by pollution and contestation over limited land and water.

Meanwhile, the Community-Led Total Sanitation project, affiliated to STEPS, successfully advocates self-help, not subsidy as a solution, with facilitators encouraging communities to carry out their own appraisal and analysis of community sanitation and take appropriate action to eliminate open defectation. You can read about examples of CLTS in action, written by practitioners around the world here, and you can find more resources about CLTS at Livelihoods Connect.

And while you are thinking about sanitation, why not have a go at Water Aid's new online game, Turdlywinks. Based on the old favourite Tiddlywinks, with a not-so-subtle difference!
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Thursday, 1 November 2007


By ADRIAN ELY, STEPS Centre member

The Financial Times today has a special report by Jamil Anderlini on the Three Gorges Dam in Hubei Province, China. The report covers several of the issues raised in an earlier blog following my visit to the dam in June, arguing that the environmental and social impacts of the project are being increasingly recognised, with budgetary implications for Beijing. There is also a series of three interesting videos in which Jamil talks to local politicians and members of the communities displaced as a result of the dam's construction. Check it out at www.ft.com/threegorges. Photo: Adrian Ely

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Tuesday, 30 October 2007


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

The world is likely to fail to meet the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals related to health, the head of the World Health Organization said this week at the Global Forum for Health Research.

Speaking at the annual conference in Beijing, Margaret Chan said a rise in funding for research into communicable diseases has not been matched by the power of health systems to deliver, in part because of the failure of governments to invest in the sector: "We are at the mid-point in the countdown to 2015 ... We have to face the reality. Of all the goals, those directly related to health care are the least likely to be met," Chan said in her opening address.

Today, Gerry Bloom, convenor of the STEPS Centre's health domain, and Zhang Zhenzhong of the China National Health Economics Institute (CHEI) will address the Forum. As members of the China Health Development Forum and the they will present preliminary findings of research on pro-poor health interventions by members of the POVILL and Future Health Systems Consortia.

An interview with Gerry
about his research on rural health in China has been published in Real Health News to coincide with this week's conference in Beijing.

The Forum runs all week, bringing together policy-makers, development partners, the private sector and the directors and users of research, to mobilize campaigns that address the health needs of the poor and marginalized and to debate critical gaps in that research. Among the global media covering the event are Reuters, The Hindu, China Daily, Voice of America and the International Herald Tribune.

The China Health Development Forum is an informal association coordinated by the Chinese Health Economics Institute (CHEI) and the Insitute of Development Studies, one the STEPS Centre's home institutes following on from previous collaborations on areas such as rural public hospitals. Its objectives are to encourage interdisciplinary approaches to the formulation and evaluation of innovative approaches to health development; and to facilitate communictions between researchers, policy makers and managers to improve health and health services in the context of rapid social change.

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Monday, 29 October 2007


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Polly Ericksen of Global Environmental Change and Food Systems (GECAFS)
at the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University is here at IDS today to give a STEPS Centre seminar asking: Will managing food systems for resilience maker us more food secure? Photo: Polly Ericksen at the STEPS Centre seminar

Ericksen begins by looking at the components of food security - utilisation, access and availability. Food insecurity arises from overlapping and interacting stressors, she says, and in the last 50 years there has been a shift from traditional to modern food systems in areas such as the supply chain and type of food consumed.
When talking about the resilience of food systems, social and environmental factors are key influencers and affect the vulnerability of food systems and their adaptive capacity. As such are built in to the
food security framework developed by GECAFS.

Ericksen talks about the contested definition of resilience and says she likes Carl Folke’s 2006 definition – resilience is the ability to persist through continuous development in the face of change, and innovate and transform in to more desirable configurations.

So what is appealing about a resilience approach to food systems, Ericksen asks? Does wealthy food come at the cost of the poor? And what about the arguments about food miles. What about fair miles? She cites the Soil Association’s imminent announcement that it will remove the term organic from any food that has been flown in to the UK. How will that decision affect farmers in producing countries?

Moving to the example of pastoralist food insecurity in northern Kenya Ericksen says droughts increasingly trigger food insecurity, but the adaptive capacity of local pastoralists has slowly been eroded and early warning systems are hampered by a lack of information. And in Europe, the bans on animal movements because of foot and mouth disease outbreaks this year has adversely affected farmers, while at the same time there were dairy and wheat price shocks, both globally and locally, as well as unsustainable consumption levels.

So, how to create a resilient state? Ericksen points out that you can have a resilient state, but it may not be desirable. You have to take in to account that you may have to both build and erode resilience, depending on the desirability of the state, she says. And you also have to ask for whom is resilience? Asking that question means engaging with politics and power. This is a key theme running through the STEPS Centre’s work.

Back to the Kenyan example, and what challenges exist. Governance is at national level and international donors are important actors in the decision-making process, says Ericksen. Accountability is difficult, participation is top-down and the idea persists that outside subsidies are necessary. So transforming the system could mean changing livelihoods and identities. In the European case, the heavy influence of business as well as government, means that building a polycentric structure involves multiple actors and. participation in transformation ideas is not uniform, it is skewed towards the wealthy.

So, tradeoffs are inevitable whether or not there is involvement on a local level. The challenges to resilience in food systems include globalisation – is it a help or a threat to adaptive capacity? And another major challenge comes from the fact that social dynamics are replacing biophysical dynamics in globalised social-ecological systems. So for instance, connectedness is increased, but it is random.

Unfortunately our session with Ericksen comes to a close before we are able to explore many of her fascinating ideas and insights about food security and resilience. But you can read Ericksen's full presentation on the STEPS website

And GECAFS is organising a conference on Food Security and Environmental Change at Oxford University next year, 2nd-4th April 2008, so log on to the event’s website to find out more.

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Friday, 19 October 2007


By ESHA SHAH, STEPS Centre Member

No meetings examining science in society are nowadays complete without reference to India-China. The meeting organised by ESRC’s Science in Society programme on ‘Innovation Culture or Anti-Science Britain?’ on 16 October was no exception.
The hyphenated lumping together of two continent-size countries with vastly different histories, socio-economic background and culture into one category is widely common across all fora, including the meeting on Anti-Science Britain. Treating India and China as if they were Siamese twins, their heads only severed with a hyphen post-natal, signals the fact that only one aspect - India and China emerging as global market players - matters the most to a significant number of European scholars.

A range of responses, which I describe as sentimental and born out of anxiety, on India and China emerged during the science in society meeting. Whether they were referred as rising powers, global players, innovation leaders, suppliers of highly skilled labour, pharmaceutical powers or emphatically described as “not a threat but an opportunity”, India and China’s positioning in the global commodity chain is clearly what mattered the most to nearly all of the scholars making the references.

One of the keynote speakers, David Edgerton described India and China as “not the Other” but his otherwise scathing criticism of the elite response to science and technology policy in Britain did not go as far as even superficially establishing if India and China were not ‘the Other’, in what way they were close to ‘the Self’ then? And who is ‘the Self’ anyway – European policy/European elite?

Spanning opinions across the spectrum - India and China as the threat or opportunity, Self or the Other- the European scholarly response to science, technology and society in India and China is neither normative, nor intellectual, it is purely emotive. None of the speakers questioned the hyphen suggests that these two global players are quintessentially defined by their relation to Europe and that also to the European and the US markets. That’s why all normative questions, such as in which direction the innovation trajectories in India and China are proceeding, to whom the innovation and production chains from India and China are serving, and to what extent these trajectories are able to take care of needs of the poor and marginalised, remain inadequately engaged with.

Speaking about the elite engagement of science policy in Britain, the keynote speaker, David Edgerton proposed that history is the most important way to understand the relationship between science and society. He in fact advocated different kind of history to examine co-relationship between science, technology and economic development. After separating it from its hyphenated twin, it is pertinent to historically examine how has India become a global player from playing pauper in just 30 to 40 years.

India’s nationalist elites, along with international aid actors in the UN development decades of the 1960s and 1970s, relentlessly constructed the images of India as a hungry, dying nation of poor people. Playing pauper, India, along with its Latin American colleagues, demanded technology transfer and technology access as the foundational principles in the UN Conference for the Application of Science, Technology for the Benefit of the less Developed Areas (UNCSAT) held in Geneva in 1963. The same argument was repeated amidst the heated debates on the New International Economic Order in the Vienna UN conference in 1979.

Now, India is not troubled by the UN Millennium task force on science, technology and innovation removing the distinction between developed and developing countries and in fact unabashedly talks about global innovation capacity building on science and technology. And that is in the context that India’s performance in combating hunger is as bad as ranking 94th among 110 nations in the recent report 2007 on world hunger prepared by International Food Policy Research Institute (Global Hunger Index 2007). Yester-year’s street kid, India, is now asking buddy-buddy for a membership in the European golf-club. And the only response that Europe can muster is enormous emotional anxiety about ‘the Self ‘and ‘the Other’.

Is India indeed a massive success story? How has it, in the span of just a few decades transformed itself from what was described by an influential economic historian in the 1960s as so “badly wounded” that it “should be left to die in the battlefield” in to a rising economic power? Has it fed all its hungry, taken care of its poor and nursed all of its wounded?

Following on from what David Edgerton proposed, I would appeal to research funding bodies that, in addition to supporting research that examines how rising powers are engaging with international science and technology governance, India and China’s science in society should be examined in their all-encompassing historical details.

But before asking what these rising powers are doing, the first question to answer would be 'whose' rising power is it and what is it rising to? Most importantly, the first step towards asking any intellectual/normative questions would be to, what the subaltern scholar Dipesh Chakravarty argued, provincialize Europe: stop making Europe the only reference scale against which powers, societies and countries are evaluated as ‘rising’ or ‘emerging’ or ‘setting’ or ‘dying’. This is essential to allow both Europe and India to own up to their respective histories and, in the process, transform both ‘the Self’ and ‘the Other’.
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Monday, 24 September 2007


By ADRIAN SMITH, STEPS Centre member

The 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg brought forward cross-cutting commitments to a ten-year framework of programmes on sustainable production and consumption systems (i.e. environmentally sound and socially just). An increasing number of governments, businesses and civil society groups are considering how reformed governance might bring such systems into being in areas such as energy, water, housing, food, mobility (e.g. UN Marrakesh-Process).

I co-organised a workshop in Berlin last week to explore the politics and governance implications of such ambitious goals. Commitments to system innovations are based on an understanding that sustainable development requires fundamental structural adaptations to the sociotechnical systems that service and co-constitute human needs. The innovation of more sustainable artefacts and practices cannot be effective without changes to the broader contexts in which they are produced and used.

The workshop brought together leading thinkers in the fields of governance studies and socio-technical transitions research. Many themes were discussed during the workshop, and each explored in a wide variety of cases, ranging from biofuels in Brasil, to the life cycle of electronic products, to sanitation reforms in Indian cities, to ambitions for renewable energy autarky in southern Austria, and many more.

Themes included how to think about systems reflexively, and ensure that any possibility for purposefully guiding their development avoids the technocratic pitfalls of earlier systems theories. Building on this was a re-consideration of the bases for democratic legitimacy in many of the fluid governance networks that are emerging to address persistent problems of unsustainability in key socio-technical systems around water, energy, housing, mobility, and so on.

Indeed, papers provided contrasting entry points to thinking about the make-up and extent of these systems. Some argued systems had to be considered as the emergent outcome of millions of every-day practices that effectively and perpetually re-make them. Attempts to transform the sustainability of water systems, for example, have to be re-framed and considered from the vantage point of final practices, such as showering, and consider how governance struggles to re-frame the meanings of these practices in more sustainable terms, and how these are co-produced by the provision of new elements, including mundane plumbing technologies, or new institutions for water provision.

Other papers took a more top-down view of their systems, and urged more synoptic overviews of the way governance engages with the complex configurations of institutions, technologies, actors, and environments. A strategic and synergistic portfolio of governance activities termed ‘transition management’ that emerged from the latter view was the subject of much debate.

Either view – whether objectifying systems analysis or constructivist practices research - places considerable demands upon the capacity of governance. The possibility of different participants in these systems of provision to have sufficient agency to overcome and remake the structural nature of the inter-locking relations that make up the system was a recurring theme at the workshop.

The organizers, which included Jan-Peter Voss from the Oeko Institut and John Grin from the University of Amsterdam are considering publishing a selection of the papers in a Special Issue journal.
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Friday, 21 September 2007


By LYLA MEHTA, STEPS Centre member

The conference laid bare the ideological and socio-political differences between the promotion of elite institutions and supervised learning as opposed to unsupervised and more organic forms of experimentation and learning in technological innovation. We had an overdose of the former with the presentations on the Millennium Project and the Chief Scientist's call for African institutes of excellence.

While we as a development studies community need to engage with mainstream processes and solutions promoted by the Commission on Africa and the Millennium Project, are we giving too much importance to these dominant perspectives, instead of engaging with and promoting the alternative perspectives of Paul Richards and Robert Chambers?

I was very disappointed with the speech by David King. It had a very top down view of science and technology. It also had some factual flaws: For example, The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) did not promote the Green Revolution in India. It was encouraging and important that Professor Shiv Visvanathan from India forcefully challenged the Chief Scientist on this issue.

It was problematic that David King was extolling Indian IIT type institutions and their potential to address the problems in Africa. Unlike what he implied, the IITs in India haven't really addressed the country's basic problems regarding food, water, sewage and sanitation.

Many IIT graduates go onto study in management institutes and then land up in national and global corportations. While such centres of excellence certainly play an important role, it would be wrong to assume that that elite institutions are the best placed to create skills that would address the MDGs. Instead, elite institutions and their solutions can be very ignorant of and insensitive to local conditions and needs and may also be a part of the problem.

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Thursday, 20 September 2007


And as we draw to a close at DSA 2007, we have a diverse set of panellists to give us some reflections on this year's conference. And they are quite controversial reflections: "It's like being in groundhog day," says the DSA's own president.

Joachim Voss, director-general at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture in Columbia says he came to the conference because of a concern that science and technology need to be more pro-poor. But says there is very little cross-fertilation between the work he does - research FOR development and the work that most people at the DSA do - research ON development. “What do we need to do to initiate that dialogue?” is his concluding thought.

Andrew Scott, director of policy at Practical Action, says there has been an absence of natural science at the conference, and got a sense that the DSA audience was slightly uncomfortable with the subject when it was mentioned. And given that science and technology is a hot topic, he has been struck by the lack of argument and heated debate. One reoccurring theme has been looking to the past, “which made me wonder what has changed,” he said. “And I’m not sure I got an answer to that.” There have been some thoughts about what the big development challenges are which David King was getting to last night when he talked about the world's population flattening out, says Scott. "But I think the question is what standard of living can people aspire to, and how can we make that equal."

Shiv Visvanathan sees two things - the making of the problem and the response to the problem. "What we are watching here is a fascinating attempt to reinvent democracy," says Visanathan. He sees STEPS as an attempt to respond to these two issues in three specific ways – as trying to work out a new kind of social contract in terms of the politics of memory; the politics of history – a new form of story-telling; and thirdly ritually finishing a form of mourning – as we attempt to bring together some new forms of innovative thinking. "We serve as memory, methodologists and critics – can we be both innovators and story-tellers?" he asks in conclusion.

Sam Jackson, the president of the DSA, says throughout this conference she feels like she has been trapped in groundhog day, hearing the same stuff over and over again: “I find myself slightly frustrated by the sense of being not able to move forward because there is a re-living instead of moving forward.”

Lack of international voices and a hope for the growth of interdisciplinary studies are two more views from the floor.

“The glaring gap I see here is the private sector, apart from the person from Monsanto," adds Voss. "The key actors in all of this are BP, Shell and such. So how do we democratise the large scale private sector so that it becomes responsible to the poor of the planet?”

STEPS is a great vehicle to tackle some of these issues but what we need to do is take the learning from STEPS and stick it into policy-making,” adds Scott.

Lawrence Haddad, diretor of IDS, has the final word, or rather words: development studies has to get engaged with science and technology."Ultimately it can't be about 'us and them' - not ignoring, glorifying or vilifting science, but engaging with it."

And that's it from DSA 2007, you can see more news and views about the conference on the DSA's official conference blog. We'll be back on The Crossing blog with more news and views from the the STEPS Centre soon.

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The final plenary session of this year's DSA sees Sheila Jasanoff of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard, founder of the Science and Democracy Network and a STEPS Centre Advisory Board member talking on one of her specialist subjects - rethinking risk and regulation. (Photo: Sheila Jasanoff)

Jasanoff, fresh off a plane from Boston, quips that any lack of coherence that we hear in her speech is a deliberate normative position to leave things desirably open-ended. She then launches in to a quick run through a catalogue of risk from 1976 Seveso accident in Italy through to Bhopal in 1984, Chernobyl in 1986 and hurricane Katrina in 2005 with several stops along the way.

And over this 30 year history of risk, law, politics, policy and scholarship has attempted respond to risk, starting with the US Supreme Court’s ‘benzene decision’ on occupational exposure 27 years ago (1980) to the Court’s decision against the Environmental Protection Agency on greenhouse gases earlier this year.

It is possible to draw a distinction between the technocratic approach and the social-culture approach to risk. At the centrepiece of the former is risk defined in terms of probability of harm and magnitude of harm. The risk assessment is then communicated, economic trade-offs are assessed, public perceptions of risk are measured and new management institutions are established.

Central to the social-cultural approach is putting risk in context – how risks are recognised, distributed and why some risks are not acknowledged. The cultural dimensions of risk are investigated – why are there differences in risk perception and acceptance across nations and how does politics affect recognition, assessment and management of risk.

“When we think about major events in the world technocratic approach has produced some remarkable areas of blindness. One is the way in which risks were or were not seen in run up to 9/11,” said Jasanoff. “Although there had been previous attacks on the twin towers, they were understood as one thing alone – an office building – and not as objects that participate in other kind of networks...Nor were they seen as targets for military action nor was there symbolic attraction thought about by risk assessment.”

And when discussing the stresses that the towers could withstand, structural engineers had not thought about a fully-loaded plane – full loaded with fuel or people. Meanwhile airport security was ‘fighting the last war’ and suicide attacks with planes were not imagined, although they were forewarned. “Risk assessments are only as deep and rich and good as the imagination of the people sitting around the table and those imaginations are often incredibly constrained,” says Jasanoff.

Its interesting how powerful the technological fix remains, she says, citing the US Challenger disaster and UK BSE crisis (the first time around) as examples. 9/11 has also been translated in to a number of technological solutions – the war on terror, airport security - as has Hurricane Katrina – building higher levees and the ‘de-concentration’ of poverty, a terms that sees poverty as something that can be put in solution to dissipate it.

There’s something wrong with the term risk, thinks Jasanoff, it relies too much on a single point of origin from which measurable outputs emanate. Should we not be thinking about risk hand-in-hand with theories of political economy and geo-politics? A sense of scale is also often missing from risk assessment – for instance the large numbers of farmer suicides in India.

So how should we think about the agenda of risk analysis, especially in the development studies context? The technical approach does not make sense unless the social is kept in mind. Most risky situations and disasters are always hybrids in that sense. But he social dimensions of risk are the least studies and understood. The boundaries of risk need to be re-examined: boundaries between kinds of risk, between analysis, management and prevention and between ways of knowing and understanding risk.

And finally the normative dimension needs to be restored: how do risks affect people and who has the power to create new risks? Who is able to participate in, influence and act on controls and how should history matter in regulation?

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Examining the 'pro-poor consensus' on biotechnology: a moveable boundary between public and private is the subject for the final STEPS panel session. (Photo: Glover, Brooks, Ely)

The three STEPS members taking part in the panel this morning span several aspects of Centre's work: STEPS Research Officer and IDS DPhil student Sally Brooks, STEPS Research Fellow at SPRU Adrian Ely and IDS DPhil and STEPS post-doctoral fellow Dominic Glover.

Development studies has elaborated a number of critiques and deconstructions of cardinal myths about agricultural biotechnology, especially GM crops, as an indispensable technology for solving world hunger and poverty. But this panel wants to challenge these critiques to see if they add up to a substantial alternative.

Glover kicks off with a series of claims about GM crops that have been discredited by research including that GM tech is scale-neutral and accessible to the floor because the technology is in the seed; that GM seeds are expensive but increase yields; that more production of GM crops will prevent more marginal land being taken into production; and that small farmers’ choice of GM technology demonstrates its suitability and effectiveness – in effect it is a vote of confidence, claims Monsanto and others.

But “We want to ask question the notion of a pro-poor biotechnology and ask if the public-private dichotomy is helpful or harmful?” says Glover. “We see an almost a happy assumption that best of public and the best of private is the end of the discussion and we can move on to the delivery of technology.”

His PhD has focussed on the Monsanto Smallholder programme which ran between 1999 and 2002 in Mexico, South Africa, India, Indonesia and Kenya, which he says was a company’s attempt to grapple with the idea of sustainability. A possibly surprising view, he says. Glover explored why a big company like this would engage in this kind of research and how they went about it.

The top line of why they did is was partly in response to backlash agasint biotech among consumer dev campaigners and anti-globa active, partly about learning how to enage with smallholders and also about market development, about MOnsabnto’s competitive positioning and about managerial control in St Louis, the Monsanto HQ. It was not merely cynical PR – it did include a genuine philanthropic desire, says Glover.

How the company went about it – a small staff working on the programme relied on sale and marketing colleague to implement it on the ground and this gradually changed what the project was about. It as supposed to be about meeting farmers needs, it shifted towards the promotion of Monsanto products and as financial pressure came to bear on Monsanto, it increasingly began to revolve around meeting sales targets.

The gap between the philanthropy and the sale targets created a tension and meant the programme had to be reconceptualised. It became to be seen as a strand of its business between core operations and pure philanthropy – as development as transition. And through that concept Monsanto came to see market expansion for the company as harmonious with farmers’ needs.

But Glover concludes that we need more than a trickle-down critique of responsiveness and accountability. We need to look at who calls the shots, set s the agenda and who is accountable. Monsanto’s programme assumed and constructed what the smallholders needs were, the farmers were mobilised to undermine opposition to GM technology. It overlooked participatory processes to agricultural technology development. The quasi-development and philanthropic notions of the programme proved not to be very robust because it was integrated in to the business side of Monsanto.

Sally Brooks now steps up to talk about her PhD research and will continue to explore the public-private distinction, asking ‘are we moving towards public-private partnerships for international public goods?’ Her research focuses on biofortification research about rice.

Biofortification R&D moved from small scale, decentralised efforts in the 1990s to a global programme by 2003. The ways in which a convergence of language is happening within the public and private sectors and big philanthropists like Gates, which means the public/private distinction is probably not helpful any more, says Brooks.

First, some history: Golden Rice – rice fortified with beta-carotene – began as a public sector research project at ETH in Switzerland with Rockerfeller, EU and Swiss government funding. When they succeeded in getting the beta-carotene into rice they discovered a number of conflicts over the use of some privately-owned technology that had been used. So the technology was handed over to Zeneca (Syngenta) and licensed back to the inventors, which was heralded as a breakthrough in pub-private partnerships.

But at this time, around 2000, the efficacy and appropriateness of Golden Rice, and the ownership that had been transferred to Syngenta, began to be called in to question. But by narrowing the debate to proof of concept – that Golden Rice could be done – pushed out the questions over appropriateness and ownership, which was then transferred to IRRI.

Brooks says the Golden Rice project is an example of a ‘shift upstream’ - a reassertion of research outputs as international public goods and that CG centres have moved from being the ‘do-ers’ of research to the ‘brokers’ in international research networks.

Emerging themes include a convergence of language, frames ad style between public and private organisations and the assumption that their agendas and cultures are reconcilable within ‘win-win’ partnerships, she says.

The implications include a loss of accountability as hierarchies are obscured and a centralisation of responsiveness as pressure to simplify and decontextualise comes to bear.

Now Adrian Ely very briefly talks about his research on Bt maize in Africa and the IRMA - Insect Resistant Maize for Africa - public-private partnership project funded (indirectly) by Syngenta, which, unlike Glover’s Monsanto example, was not aiming to deliver its own technology. The programme has delivered insect resistance traits in maize (both storage and crop pests), but it has not yet delivered anything that can be described as ‘pro-poor’ transgenic technology.

And, something of a first for this conference in my experience, the panel gets delegates involved at the sharp end of the session by splitting them in to two groups and asking them to discuss a new rubric for assessing the GM crop agenda and its impacts on farmers and consumers. Well done for mounting some on-the-spot participatory research rather than just talking about it Sally, Dominic and Adrian. And it certainly works in terms of getting a good debate going. It's actually hard to get the delegate to stop debating and start listening to some of the ideas thrown out.

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How radical is the change in the global distribution of innovation activities is the question up for discussion first this morning here at Sussex.

The answer is “yes, no and I don’t know” says Martin Bell of SPRU Science and Technology Research here at the University of Sussex, who hopefully will explain a little about that response.

Answer 1 – yes – is because global R&D in developing counties has increased from 2% share of gross expenditure in 1970 to 21% in 2000. But what about innovation-effective R&D? Answer 2 – no – is because in the developing countries outside of NICs and China, share of gross expenditure on R&D has hardy improved on the 2% in 1970, up to just 3.4%. Answer 3 – don’t know - is because the data is so woefully bad as to make it practically useless.

Christina Chaminade from the University of Lund, Sweden, agrees that, yes, the data is useless but she has come to a different conclusion to Bell.

There has been 6% R&D in developing countries 2005 but 52% of R&D sites are in US, 22% in Europe, and 90% of world R&D is based in the US and Europe, Lund says.

However, something is changing she believes. Between 1990-2000 some countries moved from one technology club to another. China has abandoned the marginalised technology club and Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea are now in the advanced technology club.

In just one decade China and India now host 18% R&D sites, up from 8% in 1997. R&D expenditure in China has increased 24% p.a. since 1999. So, says Chaminade, the question is WILL global innovation distribution change given current pace, and will it be global, or just China and India?

Raphie Kaplinsky of the Open University begins with some quotes from Alice in Wonderland to the ends of running faster and faster just to keep up, just like global innovation, he says. It is no longer just about product, but where you position yourself in the global value chain. And we have to think about the global innovation change in terms of what type of R&D countries can take part in. The capacity to move from process to product and function upgrading depends on what market you are selling to. The key challenge for developing countries is to move the buyer, he reckons.

Chaminade now takes a look at China and India, their heavy investment in R&D and the two-way flow to and from those countries, and has a perhaps surprising point of view: “While there is a lot of investment we do not believe China and India will become in short term an innovation hub because there are too many structural problems [within the countries].” Current data is based on very limited data and more research is needed on processes and innovation capabilities – escaping the R&D trap, she says.

But Kaplinksy disagrees. He says: “The pace of catch up in the Asian drivers is overwhelming and I have no doubt they are becoming hubs of innovation and in much faster time than any of us thought possible.”

The reasons he lists for coming to this conlusion include the very substantial increase in the number of home-grown scientists; the significance of the ‘brain drain’ – returning scientists; productivity growth which induces innovation; plus very high rates of savings. – which in China is 48% GDP.

But, as we are at the DSA conference, what does this mean for developing countries? Bell argues that the policy thrust at national level in Africa and donor policies are focusing on the wrong places – in the areas where the gaps are least and not greatest and where the activities and capabilities are most important.

Kaplinsky talks about sub-Saharan Africa where he believes there is a failure of the economic machine – “without growth you are unlikely to get innovation”. But the quality of manpower in Africa is a ”very substantial latent potential” that could rival what has happened in China and India. The idea that selling to export markets means growth of productivity is not true, and selling in to the global economy is not necessarily the way forward, Kaplinsky says.

The growth in inter-regional trade, between African economies, is growing faster than trade with countries outside Africa, he says, adding that Africa’s trade with itself is much more technology intensive. “We are living in an insecure world and Africa will find itself in a more closed environment before and the innovation path there may get more focussed on the domestic needs of people in Africa.”

Ian Scones, co-director of the STEPS Centre asks a question of the panel. Why has no-one talked about the direction of change and asked technology for whom? Can the panel focus less on the flawed macro-economics and more on the politics, direction and consequences of innovation?

Bell attempts to answer – he says the macro-economics were what they were asked to talk about, but says they all did attempt to move away from it. However he agrees with Scoones and says it is important to bring the issue of direction of innovation to the surface. The internalisation of innovation activity is key in shifting the direction ot more pro-poor and sustainable directions.

Shiv Visvanathan, a member of the STEPS Advisory Board, says: “I was stunned by the sentimentality of the session.” and reiterates Scoones’ position.
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The UK government's chief scientific advisor Sir David King gave the conference gala dinner speech and raised a few hackles among the development studies fraternity.

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Wednesday, 19 September 2007


Today technology is discussed as a source of anxiety, uncertainty and risk and this session looks at the politics and ethics of risk and regulation of biotechnology. Here to examine the socio-technical frameworks of agro-biotechnology in India and Latin America are Prof. Rajeev Gowda of the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, Suman Sahai of India's Gene Campaign and STEPS members Esha Shah, Adrian Ely and Patrick van Zwanenberg.(Photo: Suman Sahai)

We’ll hear some Indian perspectives first, from Prof. Gowda to start, talking about managing risk in Bt cotton use in India, where the government response to biotechnology risk has been a top-down process with elaborate regulatory mechanisms, he says. The Monsanto-MAHYCO example of scientific tests of Bt cotton seeds was elaborate, science-driven and attracted much NGO scrutiny, but the cotton was allowed. But regulators grant approval based on safety measures, and the assumption that these measures can be policed, but small farmers are unable to comply.

Meanwhile, down on the farm in Gujarat farmers were found to be planting seeds with Bt cotton in it, although the seeds were not from Monsanto, they were from Navbharat. Destruction was ordered, but didn’t happen and the seeds went back into circulation – it was a regulatory stalemate.

What can we say about the risk-management process? “We have interests that are talking past each other,” says Gowda. The assessment of Bt cotton risk is contentious and the inadequacy of the enforcement of power is obvious. To improve the process we need to integrate other voices and representation of the farmers, but even within the farming community there are divergent interests, scales and views. It is a big challenge.

Suman Sahai, who has been involved in campaigns and cases on this issue for many years, takes the floor. “Regulation in India bypasses bio-safety,” she says, as an opener to a look at the regulatory process. The regulatory body is GEAC, and it lacks technical competence, says Sahai, there are no food safety, population geneticists or ecologists in there. Plus it is not transparent and because of that there is no public accountability.

So what does Sahai think needs to happen? Firstly GEAC needs to be transparent and accountable. Her Gene Campaign recommends that the regulatory structure is divided into an advisory function and a statutory body of scientists that do risk assessment. We need time and a budget and public participation to set up a good regulatory system.

“We are in a country where there is an enormous amount of indigenous knowledge…and this needs to be brought in to the regulatory process,” says Sahai.

A third perspective comes from STEPS member Esha Shah who gives us an historical perspective on this debate about Bt cotton, taking us on a ride across a century and a half in the life of the cotton pest during which it insecticide triumphed over cultural methods of control and insects were elevated from being a nuisance to a threat. In conclusion Shah says that a major problem today is the absence of history and lack of scrutiny of the regulatory options in the past.

Adrian Ely now brings in some examples from his work on risk and regulation in the US and EU. Unlike the US where an administrative body formulated the regulation around GM crops, in the EU it was debated in Parliament. So whereas, in the EU, many ecological uncertainties have been highlighted, this has not happened to the same extent in the US.

Paddy van Zwanenberg brings in experience from Argentina where he has looked at the ungovernability of seeds. The disputes there are not about risk but about access and ownership, such as a long-running row between Monsanto and the government over collection of royalties. The debate then is about where in the chain of production you extract property rights – at the seed, or when the seed has been grown. Monsanto has gone so far as to threaten to pull out of the Argentinian market.

We have to think beyond the conventional framings of these debates, says Ian Scoones, co-director of the STEPS Centre, and that is what the STEPS risk and technology and risk and regulation projects intend to do. “We have to explore actively how to govern the ungovernable,” he says.
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Simon Maxwell of the Overseas Development Institute chairs the session with Paul Richards of Wageningen University and Pedro Sanchez, director of the Millennium Villages Project, The Earth Institute at Columbia University.

Sanchez is first up, talking about the African Green Revolution and the Millennium Development Goals, which his Villages project suggested a budget of $110capita/yr to achieve in rural Africa.

At Addis Ababa in July 2005 Kofi Annan called for a Green Revolution for Africa, with agriculture at its centre but with nutrition, making markets, politics and sustainability at its core. And what happened? Sanchez gives Malawi’s experience as an example with a 75% subsidy of fertilisers resulting in an increase of maize production and yield doubling for some small farmers.

The Villages idea captured the idea of philanthropists and raised $150m in six months, resulting in 12 Millennium Villages in Africa. The idea behind the villages is that communities need to be empowered with science-based innovation while tackling hunger, disease and water are the priorities.

Food aid from the US costs $670/ton, locally produced food costs $240/ton but using fertiliser and seeds it costs $77 to produce an extra ton of food, says Sanchez. Malaria bed nets have been used to dramatically decrease the number of malaria cases while a range of small scale entrepreneurial initiatives are aimed at getting people out of the poverty trap.

Paul Richards takes the floor now and promises to offer some real alternatives to Sanchez's Green Revolution, in fact Richards' presentation is called Green Revolution Or What? It's the 'or what' - the bottom-up model - that he wants to talk about.

Putting “farmers first” is not enough, says Richards, who believes that we need an approach that puts engineering centre stage. He is interested in developing the theory and practice of unsupervised learning – and believes the Green Revolution is supervised learning. Believing that Artificial Intelligence research can play a central role in alternative models, Richards has been working on the notion of seed systems as neural artificial networks.

So the radical alternative question Richards proposes is whether it could be possible to engineer a genetic network for food security that does not require supervised learning.

Rice in West Africa is his example – interspecific rice (nerica and farmer hybrids). Richards says the Green Revolution induces spread of innovation by showing the seed system the ‘correct’ pattern. But an alternative can be based on unsupervised learning that already takes place, he adds, whizzing through some very big and interesting ideas very quickly, too quickly for your correspondent here to fathom, I'm afraid. So instead you can have a look at his presentation.

And so, to the questions from the floor, the one everyone wants the answer to: are these two approaches complimentary or opposing? The answer, well, Sanchez is polite and says they can be complementary, we want the best of science, whatever that is, says Sanchez.

Richards says he’s talking about organising a network of scientific investigation involving poor people themselves, not about laboratory science. Pressed by Maxwell to say whether he would close down the Villages project Richards says no, there is a role for it. Again, maybe not the answer people were expecting. Financing and incentives and institutions are the things that need to be looked at to make sure that there can be some collaboration.

Robert Chambers of IDS tackles Sanchez about the Villages project, acknowledging the energy and enthusiasm of the project but appealing for alternatives that could spread much more quickly.

Maxwell says that the Villages project is the overwhelmingly successful policy narrative of our day, and if we don’t agree with it then we have to come up with something else. One delegate asks if Villages is a classic 1960s policy, and Sanchez does agree that it is ‘back to the future’, but says: “We are learning, but we cannot wait around. Human poverty can be stripped out in Africa, there are things coming in to place that I have not seen in my entire life and we have to go forward and we can win.”

Richards says he is in favour of the Villages project but wants it to be monitored so there can be some learning at the end of it.

Maxwell urges delegates to keep on with this debate through the Future Agriculture Consortium (an affiliated STEPS project) among other things.

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For the second in our series of STEPS Centre panel sessions we have Cecilia Tacoli of the International Institute of Environment and Development, Prof. Ian Douglas, Emeritus Professor at the School of Environment and Development at the University of Manchester and Usha Ramanathan of the International Environmental Law Research Centre in New Delhi. Joining them are STEPS members Linda Waldman, Hayley McGregor and Lyla Mehta. (Photo: Usha Ramanathan)

The peri-urban issue is a very challenging area and a grey-area for policy-makers, says Lyla Mehta opening the session, and the STEPS peri-urban project based in Delhi hopes to explore the juxtaposition of urban and rural activities and institutions and the challenges for health and livelihood security of the marginalised and the poorest.

And to our first guest speaker, Ian Douglas, to talk now on environmental change at the peri-urban interface. Douglas has worked for the past 10 years with another STEPS member, Fiona Marshall, on the peri-urban environment. Peri-urban sprawl is a big driver in Asian cities right now – in China, in Borneo – and changes that affect the peri-urban area, such as climate change, happen very rapidly. “So we have a rapid change in space and one of the dynamics of the peri-urban environment is that the peri-urban area itself is changing at the same time – what is peri-urban now might be urban soon. So if you put in infrastructure now, you have to think of what the consequences are for that area in the future,” says Douglas.

Peri-urban areas are important to different people in multiple ways – the area means different things to different people and is used in different ways, says Douglas, showing examples of Rosario in Argentina where the peri-urban space varies from hand-built shelters, to smart housing and massive motorways. So the multiple uses of the peri-urban environment produce plenty of opportunity for conflict.
One of the big issues for planning and managing peri-urban agriculture is how to get participation of stakeholders in the planning process. Key issues for policy-makers and communities include local decision making, access to urban services for the poor, security of peri-urban land tenure, the just application of existing laws and rural action to prevent migration to cities.

“We need to get integrated approach for poverty, waste and agriculture,” says Douglas, and take in to account the formal and informal ways administration, decision-making and political power work in the peri-urban environment. “So we possibly have to think about the peri-urban landscape as a hybrid landscape...so it is a scientific, social and political challenge.”

Linda Waldman now talks about her research on asbestos-related diseases in South Africa and the UK, in which she has explored the interface between medical and legal categories and how people think about their bodies and the disease they have. In India, it is asbestos cement factories that create hazardous zones but the Indian government does not recognise that there is a risk, so the debate is framed in a different way.

In India a new approach to disease and disaster-management has been put forward that uses spiritual knowledge to ward off disease – so as a result workers are therefore to blame for disease and they should seek to rectify the situation by seeking spiritual guidance. “My point is how we frame understandings of diseases – how people and institutions – will affect process and whether things will benefit or penalise the poor,” Waldman concludes.

Medical anthropologist Hayley MacGregor takes the floor now and talks about her work in South Africa’s informal shack settlements, where no national healthcare provision, high infant mortality, high unemployment and violence. She was interested to find out how people thought the environment impacted on their health, and especially on mental health. She argues that living in informal settlements epitomised a sense of marginalisation, of failed expectations and of being forgotten in a new political era as the government of South Africa changed.

“How do we make sense of the peri-urban area?” asks Cecilia Tacoli. She says that starting from an urban perspective helps because the urban area is the driver for changes in its immediate area. “Ofcourse the peri-urban areas are extremely diverse and the only generalisation you can really make is that upstream areas are more desirable than downstream areas,” says Tacoli.

Talking of south east Asia, Tacoli says there is a radical change of occupation as people move into peri-urban areas and move away from agriculture. But peri-urban villages are still villages and they do not have the capacity to deal with urban issues – this is where the question of governance comes into play, she says.

“We need to deal with urbanisation, as urbanisation is going to happen,” concludes Tacoli. “The decisions of cities are largely undemocratic process with decisions and poor people have little say.”

Usha Ramanathan now focuses on the legal aspects of slums in Delhi. The Delhi development masterplan in 1962 included space for ‘economically weaker sections’ and therefore poorer people were a part of development. But at the same time the estate agencies were given power to buy up land for development but were hopelessly inefficient at turning out housing stock, plus there has been a lot of corruption, says Ramanathan.

Although later on the government acknowledged the underperformance in lower cost housing, the law is often forgotten when looking at how people move around. And in Delhi demolition is as much a part of the city’s life as the beautification of it – the building of elegant skyscrapers, for instance. And it is the language of encroachment has made it very easy to demolish the homes of the poor, sometimes with a day’s notice and sometimes none.

The use of peri-urban areas for landfills and waste disposal is something we’ve seen a lot of, says Ramanathan, and the courts have been at the forefront of this issue to decide what is in the public interest. And often the courts say “give unto garbage what you cannot give unto the poor.”

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Good morning and welcome back to Sussex for the second day of DSA 2007. We kick off today with what promises to be a very lively debate about biotechnology and the media with a panel that spans journalism, science, academia and big business, Monsanto to be exact. (Photo: Erik Millstone)

Chairing the session is David Dickson, the director of SciDev.Net and freelance journalist Ehsan Masood joins the panel which also includes Erik Millstone, SPRU Professor of science policy and co-convenor of the STEPS Centre's agriculture and food programme, Rod Harbinson, head of the environment programme at The Panos Institute, and Ranjana Smetacek, director of global biotech acceptance at Monsanto. Debate begins at 09.30 BST.

Dickson welcome address begins with an example of the controversy that can surround biotechnology – the brouhaha over the reporting of Kofi Annan’s “no to GM crops” debate at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) earlier this year The media stories around Annan’s comment, or reported comments fed in to NGOs and back and the debate got red hot and ran and ran.

GM is a media-friendly and NGO-friendly issue that can be turned in to an “apparently black and white issues” says Dickson, but it obscures the real nature of the issues: “It is not black and white and trying to force people in to camps is not helpful. It reduces political dynamics to an issue of scientific safety.” GM is a “lightening rod” debate says Dickson, “And much of the debate is about the power and control of corporations as much as the environmental impact. It is a way of raising the debate, but can also imbalance it,” he adds.

And now for some thoughts from the first panellist Ehsan Masood, who starts controversially with: “If you see a story in a mass market newspaper about GM, don’t believe it.”

The internet has swept away the old daily routine of reporting and the quality of information has suffered as journalists have to file more stories throughout the day for the web, the paper while recording a podcast and video. So stick with the specialist publications if you are really interested in this debate, says Masood.

Masood authored a Panos report - The GM Debate – Who Decides? An analysis of decision-making about genetically modified crops in developing countries - to unpack a bit about where the decisions about GM are made, and a survey of the media coverage of the debate. How free is a writer and who has access are the two main questions asked in the media part of the report.

Masood’s final point is about public relations, or the dark arts, as journalists like to refer to the profession. With the time pressure of the 24/7 news agenda, PR has become an increasing source of stories for journalists – whereas once journalists had time to find their own stories. The other point is that the news agenda changes so quickly, there is less likelihood of one story dominating the press.

Now Erik Millstone takes the floor. He’s well-placed to comment on Masood’s comment of ‘don’t believe the press’, says Dickson, because there is an article about his work in the Guardian today.

Millstone kicks off with the idea that media reportage is a highly plural term, the media is not on just one side of the GM debate: “Print and broadcast media constitute a well-differentiated cacophony,” says Millstone. And there is also a policy cacophony.

And, Millstone says, this may shock some people, but he believes this media and policy cacophonies are to be welcomed and has beneficial consequences in terms of the ways in which “we have, as scholars, conceptualised science in terms of policy-making and in practice in the way that policy-making has been institutionally structured and organised.”

The cacophony has discredited some simplistic representations of this debate, says Millstone. The first representation to be discredited is what he calls the technocratic model – that policy is based only on sound science. That model was torpedoed by the cacophony and it revealed the uncertainties. Now on to the Red Book model – that policy-making should be a two-pronged process that science does a risk assessment and then values and practicalities, the politics, comes in to view. But this has also been torpedoed by the cacophony because it revealed that it revealed uncertainties and competing risk assessment policy framing assumptions. And then there comes the co-evolutionary ‘transparent’ model: that there are reciprocal links between science and policy. So, for debunking over-simplistic models, this cacophony is inevitable and beneficial and should be welcomed concludes Millstone.

Ranjana Smetacek steps up now and immediately quips that she is “stepping in to the lion’s den”. There is a struggle with mainstream media, she says: “Are they there to convey the accurate truth or are they a slick package to be sold?” Media in the west is instant, says Smetacek. “And given that we have instant journalism, what works better is instant slogans such as soundbites that capture the public imagination. Some of the opponents of biotech have done this very well.”

The GM debate is not black and white, says Smetacek, but it is the mainstream media that gets messages out to more people, she says, countering Masood’s point. Moving on to her experience working in India by making the point that even in this day of instant media, there are people out there trying to write balanced, fair stories in India, “And that’s the best we can hope for in this debate – balance,” she concludes.

Rod Harbinson begins his address by saying he sees his role at Panos as stimulating the cacophony that Millstone talked about, and to have some level of quality about it – so that journalists have some quality information, particularly in the developing world where this is sadly lacking, Harbinson says.

The cacophony doesn’t exist to such an extent in the developing world and the debate about these issues is few and far between. The breadth of sources journalists refer to is very few and government announcements are very high on the list of sources that journalists quote. There is an important role for the media to generate debate and provide scrutiny about the GM debate.

Other positive dynamics of the media and its reporting on biotech include involving the public and stakeholders in the debate, and disseminating accurate messages on GM, as well as new media helping citizens have their own views represented in policy-making domains.

But on the negative side in developing countries are worries about stories being spiked (axed) by media owners because of worries about offending advertisers, and the possibility of self-censorship – a difficultly in China, for instance. Press junkets paid for by corporations, misinformation due to self-interest and misinformation due to journalists not understanding the issues and having a poor skills base – a huge problem in developing countries, says Harbinson.

“I’d like to hear how much proponents of GM would like to take part in participatory meetings with the people they purport to benefit, such as small, poor farmers,” he concludes.

And now for some thoughts from the panellists on what the other panellists have said as well as some questions from delegates. Smetacek questions whether its developing country journalists that are the ones giving out misinformation, and she launches in to some choice headlines from the UK press including: “Fears about killer crops” from the Guardian and “Can Frankenstein foods harm your baby” from the Daily Mail. “I wonder if it’s not the developing world where you really have to play to the gallery,” she observes.

Smetacek goes on to point out that in India one of the problems of getting across the nuances of the GM debate is that there are 17 officially-recognised languages: “It is important to raise the level of debate and it is important to recognise that just as journalists have agenda, so does just about everybody else.”

On the point of reaching out to farmers, she says they do need a voice and there are some efforts to do just that, but it was unclear if Monsanto was involved in the efforts she was talking about.

Harbinson said one of the problems he encounters is journalists sitting at internet terminals in capital cities and not getting out and about. He also felt strongly that “the target for GM crops is small, poor farmers, yet they are almost entirely excluded from this debate.”

Millstone agrees that farmers’ voices have not been heard and that this is a problem the STEPS Centre hopes to address.

Masood responds to a question about user-generated content, and says there is not much in agricultural biotech because of the cost and access issues, but added that the user-generated content we see on the 10 o’clock news is all paid for. So it is another blurring of the lines between user and producer.

Harbinson mentions some of the initiatives Panos is undertaking to help boost the voices of poor farmers including a very interesting sounding project called radio listening clubs whereby programmes are made for farmers, for instance, and their discussion after hearing the programme is also recorded and then played back to policy-makers – “it’s a complete feedback loop” he says.

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Tuesday, 18 September 2007



Melissa Leach, director of the STEPS Centre, opens the first STEPS panel session by saying in this era of dynamic change there are some huge opportunities to tackle poverty and social justice given the current high profile philanthropic and political interest, but conventional approaches are often missing their mark. (Photo: John Thompson at the panel session)

And it is often politics and power that shape which pathways come to be followed. STEPS intends to develop a ‘pathways’ approach in the Centre’s interdisciplinary research that brings together science and technology studies and development studies.

Some of the main notions the STEPS pathways approach that thinks about multiple pathways in specific locations and multiple perspectives. The approach encompasses, among other things, a normative positioning to poverty reduction and social justice, and a reflexive approach appreciating how one’s position affects action. Our research is designed to be interactive and to build on the knowledge and perspectives of poorer and marginalised people.

John Thompson, co-convenor of the STEPS agriculture and food domain, takes the floor to talk a bit about the Centre’s work in the area of the dynamics of agricultural change.

“In our first Working Papers on agriculture we have tried to challenge some of the existing narratives and dominant perspectives that have been around for a quarter of a century,” says Thompson. “They make assumptions about a stable and resilient environment and talk of progress towards some singular goal.

“There seems to be an assumption of transfer of science and technology to ‘backward’ agricultural settings. We are trying to make the case for understanding different scales – there are a range of different interactions in food systems –ecological and governance changes – it challenges us to think of new ways of governance. In addition we recognise and look at different pathways to Sustainability and out of poverty. But we know there is not a single pathway to high growth and high resilience, and few of the pathways are going to be straightforward.

STEPS agriculture research will work with ACTS and other partners in Kenya to look at maize innovation. “There is a big push to come up with new varieties that are stress-tolerant varieties in these rapidly changing environments and we’ll be investigating and exploring that and the pathways they open up,” says Thompson. In addition there are a range of complimentary research projects including the Future Agricultures Consortium which is organising a workshop in December called Farmer First Revisited, looking at farmer research and development.

Gerry Bloom, convenor of the STEPS Centre health domain steps up to take a look at what has changed in the area of health and development and why a new approach is needed. “Whereas health was about worthy things we did for poor people and luxurious things we did for ourselves, now we are all worried about health,” he says, noting that HIV/AIDS was the turning point. Health in A Dynamic World is the title of the STEPS Working Paper Bloom co-wrote, and the dynamics that have changed health beyond all recognition in the last 30 years include population density, animal husbandry, the emergence of drug resistant organisms, communications, urbanism, shocks and long-wave events, says Bloom.

And there the likelihood of major future challenges is only going to grow, and we now have areas that are extremely dangerous for global pandemics such as avian flu. Development studies has to recognise that we are not getting healthier, not getting better, but face major new challenges going forward.

Changing governance arrangements, such as government policy responses, is one of the areas that STEPS health intends to look at. Some other questions STEPS health work is addressing include how can governments help households and communities cope with major illnesses; what institutional arrangements are emerging to help people gain access to health care; how important is IT and communications and how is government going to respond.

Lyla Mehta
now takes her turn on the floor to talk about the challenges for Sustainability in water and sanitation and asks “are we running out of water”? Mehta says that the way water scarcity is measured – in volumetric terms – tells us little about access, about the way people think of water, changes in institutional approaches to water.

So STEPS has been trying to look at water in a different way – in a dynamic way – at the faultlines and challenges, and at who is shaping the debate. Current approaches do not take in to account the dynamism of change and the many social, technological and environmental interactions around water, says Mehta.

And whose sustainability counts? How to achieve pro-poor sustainability will be a major question for STEPS, looking at areas such as moving beyond the functionality of water and sanitation access, and what is missing in terms of water governance and design to address the disconnect in diverse understandings and framings of liquid dynamics.

And, phew, after those back-to-back presentations in a packed seminar room now for the questions:

Melissa Leach answers a question about how STEPS defines good and bad technology: It would be wrong to pitch STEPS as looking for technology-led solutions, says Leach. Yes technology has a place but it depends on the politics and ethics of technology choice. If a technology is able to be part of the pathway towards Sustainability, then yes, we would see it positively she says.

And, phew, after those back-to-back presentations in a packed seminar room, now for the questions:

Melissa Leach answers a question about how STEPS defines good and bad technology: It would be wrong to pitch STEPS as looking for technology-led solutions, says Leach. Yes technology has a place but it depends on the politics and ethics of technology choice. If a technology is able to be part of the pathway towards Sustainability, then yes, we would see it positively she says.

Leach responds to a hefty challenge about the nature of the STEPS Centre – that it sounds too good to be true. She says that conflict are very much there in the setting in which STEPS will work and “we have no desire to shirk that”. She said the question is an active, live debate in the Centre and that a look at our Working Papers will be reveal that better than a short debate session.

Thompson says STEPS is very much looking at the issues of power and politics in looking at innovation systems. Andy Stirling, co-director of STEPS, adds that the fact that STEPS does not have an over-arching theory is a “saving grace” because he believes that hegemonic theories are in danger of pushing out the politics and power, which the Centre does not want to do.

Stirling adds finally that we are at very early days at the STEPS Centre. And with that, it’s time to wrap up for the first day of DSA 2007.
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