Wednesday, 30 April 2008

SALZBURG DAY 1: KOFI ANNAN CALLS FOR A "UNIQUELY AFRICAN GREEN REVOLUTION"

By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Welcome to Salzburg, where this afternoon Kofi Annan is opening the Toward a Green Revolution in Africa conference with a speech that has called for a “uniquely African Green Revolution” founded on pro-poor policies with women as the crucial key.

As food prices escalate at an unprecedented rate and shortages worsen, the Former Secretary General of the United Nations and Chairman of the Board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) called for a new approach to finding equitable solutions.

“To address poverty at its core, particularly in light of the growing threat of climate change, we need a uniquely African green revolution,” said Mr Annan. “Our farmers need better seeds, soils, and prices for what they sell. They need access to water, markets and credit. They need policies that accelerate rural economic growth, investment and job creation.”

“For decades African agriculture has been neglected, and the price for neglect is now glaring. But the changes required can only be realized if supported by bold pro-poor policies, both from African governments and their international partners,” Mr Annan added.

To have a look at Mr Annan's full speech, log on to Future Agriculture Consortium. .

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Tuesday, 29 April 2008

SALZBURG: VISIONS FOR THE FUTURE OF AFRICAN AGRICULTURE

By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

As 60 plus delegates from governments, farmer organisations, NGOs, business, academia and donor foundations across Africa and the wider world make thier way to Austria ahead of tomorrow's Toward a Green Revolution in Africa conference, this might be a good time for a little rumination. Some perspectives on the future of African agriculture might help gather thoughts in the calm before the storm.

'New Directions for African Agriculture' are discussed by Ian Scoones, Stephen Devereux and Lawrence Haddad from the Future Agricultures Consortium, while Ian also takes a look at Governing Technology Development: Challenges for Agricultural Research in Africa.

Andrew Dorward puts forward his own personal persepctive in a hot topic article entitled A Green Revolution for Africa?

Meanwhile Norman E. Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1970 and professor of international agriculture at Texas A&M University, puts his perspective forward in an opinion piece headlined Dying Waves of Grain from this weekend's International Herald Tribune,
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Monday, 28 April 2008

SALZBURG GLOBAL SEMINAR: TOWARD A 'GREEN REVOLUTION' IN AFRICA

By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

There is a clear need for a new vision for agricultural development in Africa that can deal with the complexities of agriculture in diverse settings across Africa and meet the conditions necessary to achieve more equitable benefits for Africa’s farmers. Kofi Annan will chair a conference beginning on Wednesday this week organised by STEPS Centre affiliate the Future Agricultures Consortium in partnership with Salzburg Global Seminar, asking whose vision should this be? How can complexity and diversity be dealt with? What can be learned from the impacts - positive and negative - of the "green revolutions" in Latin America and Asia?


The "Toward a 'Green Revolution' in Africa" conference, subsequent seminar and regional meetings in Africa will ask what lessons can be extracted from recent successes in African agricultural development and how can recent growth be sustained, expanded, and accelerated?

How can new investments and actors in African agriculture support efforts to align policies and political processes to support agricultural as well as broader development goals? How can innovation systems be made robust, relevant and sustainable? How can the hardware of science and technology be linked to the software of institutions, policy and social dynamics? How should agricultural science and technology in Africa be governed?

Held at Austria's famous Schloss Leopoldskron, the conference will lay the groundwork for the broader initiative and goals described above by bringing together diverse stakeholders, from within Africa and beyond, who are experts in their areas, leading thinkers, change-makers and are, or can influence, senior decision-makers.

Around 60 participants from predominantly African government, business, academia, and non-governmental organisations will explore a set of issues of vital concern to the future of agriculture in Africa, and to Africa’s development agenda. This group will be asked to devise the conceptual framework within which a new agricultural development agenda in Africa can be set and implemented, and to recommend specific actions.

Ideas and recommendations for policy adjustments, streamlining practice, and creating strategic alliances will be captured and reviewed to identify points of agreement and priority issues for action.

We will be blogging from the conference this week here on The Crossing, highlighting the ideas and themes that are discussed and posting all the relevant links. In the meantime, for some background on the issues at hand, have a look at the Future Agricultures Consortium's work, and a piece on the current food shortage crisis from the Institute of Development Studies.
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Wednesday, 16 April 2008

RESILIENCE 2008: RESILIENCE, ADAPTION AND TRANSFORMATION IN TURBULENT TIMES

By MELISSA LEACH, STEPS Centre director

To watch live coverage of panel discussions, workshops and key presentations from Resilience 2008, log on to Web TV.

Four of us from THE STEPS Centre (myself, Andy Stirling, Adrian Smith and Sally Brooks) are here in Stockholm at 'Resilience 2008: Resilience, Adaptation and Transformation in Turbulent Times'. This is a big (600 plus) flagship conference of the Resilience Alliance network, co-organised with several Swedish organisations.

Key amongst these is the new Stockholm Resilience Centre, which was formally inaugrated at about the same time as the STEPS Centre last year and which occupies a beautiful building in the old University vet school.

On Monday evening we all gathered for its 'housewarming', amidst much Swedish music and song.... (!) In welcoming us, Johan Rockstrom who directs the Resilience Centre said 'we often claim that we are the largest gathering of interdisciplinary researchers in Sweden; tonight we house the largest gathering of interdisciplinary researchers in the world'.

And a lively, dynamic gathering it is too, with a great mix of high-level plenaries, panels, speed-talks, posters, and even an art exhibition and musical concert on resilience themes. Science meets art and the humanities here in reflecting on social-ecological-technological dynamics, uncertainties and surprise, and how societies might deal with them - with debates ranging across issues from climate change and food systems to urbanisation and coastal changes. Given how much is going on it's impossible to follow everything, but we have been spreading ourselves out as best we can and picking up on some of the key lines of debate - and tension.

Despite the avowed interdisciplinarity of resilience studies, one such tension is still beteween those who come primarily from an ecological science or a social science perspective. Brian Walker's introductory talk, and Steve Carpenter's plenary today, both argued that the tendency for ecologists to 'black-box' social processes and social scientists to black-box ecological ones, badly needs to be overcome.

But many talks here expose how far this is not happening - yet. Meanwhile, panels that Adrian has been contributing to indicate that technology-focused perspectives and work on socio-technical transitions provide a further view, and integrating this with studies of socio-ecological systems is not straightforward.

A second area of lively discussion is addressing the relationships between resilience and development, and between work on resilience, adaptation and vulnerability. What are the convergences and dissonances between these different strands of work? How far might a focus on maintaining system resilience undermine the position of particular vulnerable groups? Do we need to define more clearly 'resilience of what, for whom'? There is much talk here of multi-scale analysis and governance, but what about the politics of scale - and the ways that different scales of analysis are aligned with different social and political concerns?

Some of these issues were discussed in the STEPS-Oxford panel organised by Tom Downing which Andy and I presented in, where we suggested ways that the STEPS pathways framework offered ways forward.

Yesterday afternoon, a panel on development and adaptation involving Emily Boyd and Polly Eriksen from Oxford, along with Emma Tompkins, Henny Osbahr and Hallie Eakin, debated vulnerability-resilience 'trade-offs' head-on. The ways in which 'resilience' (like 'development') can be co-opted as a disempowering discourse were raised. But these more politicised discussions are fairly rare in a conference that for the most part sees systems as 'out there' and the problems facing society as shared, even if often difficult to deal with.

In addition to the chance to reflect on these dilemmas and meet up with those sharing them in the coffee breaks around the Aula Magna's gallery (and last night, over drinks in the designer boutique hotel owened by Abba's Benny Anderson) high points of these days for me have included a brilliant talk on urban system challenges and social movements; and an excellent panel on globalisation, tipping points and the new social contracts that may be required for governance in this context.

In a packed plenary, Steve Carpenter has just given us a system's ecologist's perspective on scenarios and imaginations for global futures. And Eric Lambin is about to fill another hall, I suspect, in a session on land use transitions. Rich stuff indeed. And lots of fuel for our thinking in the STEPS centre, both in our projects and in our own 'Reframing Resilience' symposium planned for September this year which will follow up on a number of the debates aired here.
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IAASTD: CHANGE IN FARMING CAN FEED THE WORLD

By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

The 2,500-page International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report has garnered support from sixty countries, the World Bank and most UN bodies for radical changes in world farming. Today's Guardian carries the story.

STEPS member John Thompson takes an in-depth look at on the conflicts that led up to the report's publication, and how global assessments on these crucial issues need to change. Read more

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

RETHINKING REGULATION IN CHINA: DECISIONS FACING FARMERS

By ADRIAN ELY, STEPS Centre member

See more photos from this project on our Flickr site

The oilseed flowering season is almost over in central China, and cotton planting has started. Farmers first grow seedlings in nursery patches on the sides of their fields, before transplanting to a larger area after oilseed has been harvested. We spoke to dealers and farmers in Hubei province to ask about the decisions they face at this time of year. (Photo: Farmer planting nursery, Hubei / Adrian Ely)

One of the most important choices facing farmers is the selection of seed, and the reform of China’s cottonseed sector has delivered a bewildering wave of new offerings to farmers. The arrival of new technologies such as genetically-modified Bt cotton offers the promise of more secure yields and lower insecticide costs, at the same time making seed selection a more uncertain activity, especially in the presence of counterfeits and variable quality. Often farmers will spread the risk of crop failure by planting some of the latest varieties which promise higher yields, whilst also dedicating some of their land to older, trusted varieties that they have grown in previous seasons.

One of the main sources of information for farmers is through the agricultural extension service, which in many places overlaps significantly with the private seed distribution system. This shop is owned by Mr Zhang, who has been providing advice to local farmers for 21 years. He established the store just last year in order to secure a steady income for himself and his family in the face of public sector agricultural reforms.

Advice given to farmers may be based on local experience, the availability and commercial advantages (to dealer and/or farmer) of certain varieties, or on official data. Seed varieties are trialled by the Ministry of Agriculture at the provincial and county levels, and the results used to recommend specific varieties to farmers through television, radio and posters such as this one.

This blog is part of the STEPS Centre's Rethinking Regulation project, looking at seed and drug regulation in China and Argentina.


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RETHINKING REGULATION IN CHINA: ZHANG'S SEED SHOP

By ADRIAN ELY, STEPS Centre member

See more photos from this project on our Flickr site

China’s new rural development campaign (Xīnnóngcúndianshi) was initiated in 2003 and has reshaped the agricultural sector in Hubei. Reductions in the public sector workforce led to redundancies in the central Chinese province, motivating several extension workers to move into the private sector, selling agricultural inputs whilst at the same time continuing their extension work under contract from local bureaux of the Ministry of Agriculture. I spoke to one such gentleman during a pilot study for the STEPS Rethinking Regulation project. (Photo: Zhang in his shop / Adrian Ely).

Zhang has been working at the agricultural extension centre in Tiānmén County, Hubei Province, since he graduated with a Masters degree from Huazhong Agricultural University 21 years ago. He is a prime example of the individuals at the centre of China’s changing agricultural extension system. Like many colleagues, he has recently (last year) established an enterprise of his own, and estimates that he provides one third of 12,000 Tiānmén’s farmers with seeds and other agricultural inputs.

Zhang stresses the importance of local conditions in the selection of seeds and management practices, and draws upon his knowledge of the local area in his work with farmers. During the past two decades he has broadened his knowledge according to the evolving needs of the local community: developing his expertise in the use of fertilisers, horticulture, plant protection and even fisheries. The trust he has built over the last two decades is now paying dividends.

The rapid changes in China’s extension system have not been without their downsides, however. Redundancies in the system have left families without an income, and the economic incentives resulting from the reforms have led to some behaviours that have disadvantaged rural farmers. Previous reports of extension workers abusing their positions by selling low quality counterfeit seeds have compounded the problems of quality control in the Chinese seed sector. The STEPS Centre’s “Rethinking Regulation” project aims to investigate the strategies that farmers themselves adopt to secure the benefits of these new seed technologies, whilst guarding against any associated risks.

At least according to this extension entrepreneur, the situation in the relatively wealthy county of Tiānmén is improving,. In Mr Zhang’s opinion, Tiānmén’s recent success is primarily down to the peaceful and stable period in the region’s history. He also attributes the agricultural development in his county to technological progress and the increasing reach of the agricultural extension services. Wages from migrant labourers, which often make up more than half of a household’s total income, supplement the money earned locally. When I asked Mr Zhang what he expected for the next 21 years of agriculture in Tiānmén County, he was unhesitating in his optimism. The improvement of technology and the hard work of extension services at the county level will bring a bright future to Tiānmén’s farmers.
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Friday, 11 April 2008

IAASTD: CONFLICTING VISIONS FOR A HUNGRY PLANET

By JOHN THOMPSON, STEPS Centre member

Assessments Galore
In recent years, global assessments have become the focus of considerable international scientific interest and the mobilisation of vast institutional, technical, human and financial resources. These frequently attempt to combine ‘expert-driven assessment’ with processes of ‘stakeholder engagement’ to address critical issues of major international importance.They are often presented as transparent, objective exercises where the politics of knowledge and debates about the legitimacy, credibility and salience of different points of view are set aside in favour of building a consensus towards scientifically informed policy making.

But what happens if the fundamental differences between conflicting visions of the right course of action remain? Can papering over the cracks allow diverse voices and sometimes clashing perspectives to reach agreement on vital issues of global concern? Or do we have to leave behind the exclusivity given to scientifically produced rational knowledge and acknowledge and address the elemental divisions, the positionality of the different players, and the framings that drive their agendas and privilege some viewpoints over others from the very start of these assessment processes?

The gold standard of global assessments is without doubt the International Panel on Climate Change or IPCC, the oldest and best established initiative. The IPCC is a scientific body tasked to evaluate the risk of climate change caused by human activity. The panel was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). In 2007, the IPCC shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States, for its pivotal role in proving that warming of the climate system is unequivocal and that most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.

Notwithstanding the apparent success of the IPCC, its findings through four assessment reports have repeatedly provoked a storm of criticism from global warming sceptics and even some within the climate science fraternity. Opponents assert that most scientists consider global warming ‘unproved’, dismiss it altogether, or decry the dangers of ‘consensus science’. Others maintain that proponents and opponents alike have been stifled or driven underground.

As Mike Hulme, former director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research and one of the leading figures in climate science wrote in a personal statement on his website: “In recent months I have been chastised for some of my pronouncements on climate change. I have spoken out against the use of exaggerated language in the description of climate change risks; I have spoken about the limits and fragility of scientific knowledge; I have suggested that we should focus on nearer-term policy goals to improve human welfare rather than be so pre-occupied with one large longer-term goal of global climate management. As a consequence I have been accused of burying my head ostrich like in the sand; of undermining the power of science; of lacking passion about ‘solving’ the ‘problem’ of climate change.”

Clearly, despite the push for consensus by the IPCC, deep divisions remain in the research community and the wider public on the climate change issue. These reveal how scientific uncertainties are contextualised, communicated and understood by different constituencies with contrasting, sometimes conflicting agendas. Alarmist and fatalistic framings, on the one hand, and those shaped by deep scepticism, on the other, often dominate the scientific and policy discourses on climate change, while more moderate perspectives, particularly those emphasising – i.e., reducing society’s sensitivity to climate change through human agency and empowerment – are largely absent, or at best marginalised.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), launched in 2001, aimed at assessing ecosystem changes over the course of decades, and projecting those changes into the future. From 2001 to 2005, the MA involved the work of more than 1,360 experts worldwide. Their findings provide a state-of-the-art scientific appraisal of the condition and trends in the world’s ecosystems and the services they provide, as well as the scientific basis for action to conserve and use them sustainably.

The MA concluded that over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber and fuel. According to the MA, this has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth.

The changes that have been made to ecosystems have contributed to substantial net gains in human well-being and economic development, but these gains have been achieved at growing costs in the form of: (i) the degradation of many ecosystem services; (ii) increased risks of nonlinear changes; and (iii) the exacerbation of poverty for some groups of people. These problems, unless addressed, will substantially diminish the benefits that future generations obtain from ecosystems. The challenge of reversing the degradation of ecosystems while meeting increasing demands for ecological services can be partially met under some scenarios considered by the MA, but will involve significant changes in policies, institutions and practices that are not currently under way.

It is worth comparing the level of controversy over the climate science assessments of the IPCC with the Millennium Assessment. Relatively speaking, the MA has received far less media coverage (positive or negative) or political interest, even though it has a wider scope and much more sweeping policy implications than the IPCC's climate science reports. The relative quiescence greeting the MA is owed to its near-complete disconnection from any specific policy proposal analogous to the Kyoto Protocol. Had the MA been connected with an ongoing diplomatic process as is the IPCC and with a proposal for binding international treaty of some kind, it would have been front-page news and the subject of intense controversy in capitals around the world.

From the contrasting experiences of the IPCC and MA, it would appear that the magnitude of scientific uncertainty in policymaking is directly proportional to the political and especially economic stakes involved in the outcomes of global assessments, which means that it is unlikely that legitimate uncertainties of environmental science can ever be definitively resolved to the satisfaction of all scientists, policymakers, civil society actors, industry representatives and other stakeholders.

The massive effort at synthesis and consensus will be frustrating to those scientists and other stakeholders who hold heterodox but valid views. To date, most assessment processes have not accommodated or responded to this clash of perspectives, values and agendas very well. It is therefore a valid criticism that the scientists and others participating in each iteration of these assessments have become increasingly self-selected in a manner that overstates consensus and downplays dissent.

IAASTD – Agreeing to Disagree
The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology (IAASTD) is the latest is a long line of high-profile global assessments, one that falls in the ‘controversial’ category on several counts. The origin of the $12 million initiative dates to 2002, when a group of international agricultural biotechnology companies asked the World Bank whether it recommended genetically modified (GM) crops for developing countries.

Robert Watson, then the World Bank’s Chief Scientist and a key actor in other global assessments including the IPCC and the MA, and currently the Chief Scientific Adviser for the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), suggested that the Bank review the entire range of agricultural technologies and policies, convinced that agricultural research should be considered in the context of the broad set of factors shaping agricultural development in the 21st Century.

Thus began the first major collaboration on a global agricultural science and technology assessment involving international agencies, governments, the private sector and non-governmental organisations. The IAASTD initiative, co-sponsored by multiple international agencies (FAO, GEF, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, the World Bank and WHO), also received financial support from the private sector and the Governments of Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, the USA and the European Commission. It has a multi-stakeholder bureau comprising 30 representatives from governments and 30 representatives from civil society.

Over three years, from 2005-7, the IAASTD evaluated the relevance, quality and effectiveness of agricultural knowledge, science, and technology (AKST), as well as the policies and institutional arrangements in relation to AKST. The final report (comprising a global and five sub-global assessments) is due to be accepted and approved by governments, with support from the sponsoring international agencies and some 50 NGOs, at an Intergovernmental Plenary Meeting from 7-14 April 2008 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Synthesis Report will present the key findings from all the reports addressing eight thematic issues: bioenergy, biotechnology, climate change, human health, natural resources management, trade and markets, traditional and local knowledge and community-based innovation and women in agriculture.

The original overarching question guiding the IAASTD is a mouthful: “How can we reduce hunger and poverty, improve rural livelihoods, and facilitate equitable, environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development through the generation, access to, and use of agricultural knowledge, science and technology?”

To address this multi-dimensional question, the IAASTD adopted a stakeholder (but expert) led scenario approach as its centre-piece, drawing on experiences from IPCC and the MA. Such approaches have become increasingly fashionable, as agencies try to manage uncertain scientific, technological and policy futures. Watson and his team solicited suggestions about what to include in the assessment from over 800 stakeholders representing scientific and agriculture-related organisations around the world. In theory, such an inclusive approach can be a plus, conferring political legitimacy and credibility on a complex assessment process. In practice, it can lead to logjams.

Part of the tension over IAASTD reflects two competing worldviews of agriculture. Some assessment stakeholders and authors stressed the importance of recognising the ‘multi-functionality’ of agriculture, by which they mean that in addition to producing food, farmers have other important roles, such as maintaining the landscape and fostering cultural heritage. This, however, is a highly contentious term, which many non-Europeans view as a just fancy word for ‘protectionism’, particularly those who see agriculture as more of an industrial process than a way of life.

Thus, one of the key findings of the IAASTD is that there are diverse and conflicting interpretations of the role of agriculture science and technology in development, which need to be acknowledged and respected. This is not exactly a helpful insight for policymakers trying to decide whether to recommend a particularly controversial approach or innovation, but it does reveal the complexity of stakeholder engagement processes and indicate that consensus can be encouraged, but ultimately not imposed.

It is perhaps not surprising that this massive effort encountered some snags. Some authors of the eight main chapters of the Synthesis Report say that from the start the process was disorganised, lacked direction and suffered from turnover of authors and continual reworking of drafts. Moreover, some teams bogged down in conflicts about ‘hot topics’ such as GM crops or trade liberalisation, with various members charging each other with bias.

One contentious chapter, on how to help developing countries generate and adopt agricultural research, was dropped altogether. And halfway through, just before initial results were to be presented in October 2007, the IAASTD bureau decided to eliminate a major modelling exercise which its proponents claimed would have provided insights to help policymakers compare the outcomes of four broad policy scenarios, such as futures with more free trade or green technologies. But various civil society groups objected that the models were not ‘transparent’.

Critics charge that the broad mandate of the IIASTD made conflict inevitable and stunted the assessment’s analytical rigour. On several key issues, consensus proved elusive. Industry scientists and some academics, mainly agricultural economists and plant biologists, believe the assessment was ‘hijacked’ by participants who oppose GM crops and other technologies of industrial agriculture.

Conflict erupted in the review process as well, with some scientists and biotechnology industry representatives, such as Deborah Keith of Syngenta, complaining that their comments were not incorporated into later drafts of the chapters because of resistance. As a result, tensions peaked in October 2007 when major biotech companies and GM advocates voted with their feet and pulled out of the process. Their representatives won’t be attending the Jo’burg meeting.

For their part, supporters argue that the IAASTD assessment was a comprehensive and rigorous process, with more than 400 authors involved in drafting the reports, drawing on the evidence and assessments of thousands of experts worldwide. The drafts were subjected to two independent peer reviews by assessors from government, civil society, industry and specialist research institutes.

What is the final result? The IAASTD report proposes a fundamental re-thinking of our approach to AKST and essentially calls for a new paradigm that gives farmers a central role. It recognises that market forces alone cannot deliver prosperity and food security to the poor, and that trade rules unfairly favouring rich countries and multinational corporations must be reformed. Similarly, intellectual property laws need to be reformed to prevent patents on novel crops from stifling new research and agricultural innovation. Finally, the report is critical of the power and resources of the multinational companies that dominate world seed and fertiliser markets.

Key findings of the assessment include:
· Doing more to involve women to advance development and sustainability goals
· Creating opportunities for poor farmers and rural labourers through targeted investments
· Integrating formal, traditional, and community-based knowledge to improve AKST
· Creating space for diverse voices in science and technology policy processes
· Systematically redirecting agricultural development towards agroecological strategies, particularly to realise environmental sustainability

It is notably muted in relation to the claimed benefits of GM crops, highlighting instead the lingering doubts and controversies surrounding their development and use.

The mixed success of the IAASTD suggests that a key challenge for development in an era of globalisation is how collective perspectives, values and outcomes are negotiated across diverse cultural and institutional settings at an international level.

As Janice Jiggins, one of the contributing authors to the IAASTD, observed in a recent article in New Scientist, “The IAASTD process has explicitly value-laden goals: to reduce hunger and poverty; to improve rural livelihoods; and to facilitate equitable, environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development. These demand a unique attempt at joined-up thinking, synthesising knowledge and experience from domains that are normally kept firmly separate. This in turn was almost certain to make dialogue exceptionally difficult - and so it proved.”

If nothing else, the IAASTD should bring more attention to the plight of the rural poor and the chronic underinvestment in agricultural research. Whether it is able to do more than that – to, for example, spark debate on the degree to which agricultural science and technology is meeting the needs of the poor or whether everyone gains from free trade – remains to be seen.

What is evident is that, in future, organisers of expert-driven global assessments will need to be more mindful of how the sometimes competing agendas and conflicting perspectives of different ‘epistemic communities’ can be integrated, obscured or excluded through these complex, highly political processes of scientific review and stakeholder engagement. They will also have to confront how dispute and dissent are dealt with among the various players, particularly given the power differentials involved.

Furthermore, they will have to openly acknowledge how the design and deployment of particular tools and methods (from formal meetings and conferences to the use of scenario and computer modelling exercises and from the composition and coordination of writing teams to the terms of reference of review panels) influence the interactions of the actors and, ultimately, the outcome of the assessment process itself. In short, they will have to do away with the smokescreen of ‘neutrality’ and ‘objectivity’ and acknowledge the politics of knowledge and meaning that shape these assessment agendas.
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Tuesday, 1 April 2008

BIOFUEL TRADING SCAM

By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

The front page story of today's Guardian delves into the murky world of a biofuels scam. "Up to 10% of biofuel exports from the US to Europe are believed to be part of the rogue scheme reaping big profits for agricultural trading firms," writes environment correspondent Terry Macalister. And the EU is being urged to take action to stop the trading scam "that exploits US agricultural subsidies and undermines the fight against global warming".

Read Macalister's full story

Check out the background to the story

And to delve deper into the biofuels sector, see all the material from a recent STEPS Seminar by Helena Paul and Les Levidow

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