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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