By Shoumojit Kanjilal, IDS student
When I woke up early and bleary eyed in Copenhagen on Wednesday the heavy snowfall made global warming seem very far away. With limited access to the Bella Centre and a large demonstration having been planned, “the people’s assembly”, the main transport links to the centre had been closed. Photo: Shoumojit Kanjilal
The Danish friends I was staying with had planned an alternative protest with the main aim of getting past the police and barriers to access the centre. Initially I was very sceptical about the motives and impact of such a protest, and that of illegal access to the centre. However, after discussion with the protesters as to why they felt it was important, I was beginning to become convinced that the climate conference was missing many of the major requirements for there to be meaningful reductions in global emissions. For example, the main agreements that are to be made at the UNFCCC Conference will be over the increased use of biofuels. This will be achieved through land agreements to raise the use of monoculture crops such as oil palm. However, there is scientific evidence that the increased production of such fuel will require significant deforestation, thus negating the benefits. Additionally, many of the NGOs that had been given access to the Bella Centre were now starting to be refused entry, such as Friends of the Earth and many indigenous NGOs from the Americas.
Having decided to join the main demonstration, I journeyed to the Bella Centre after a long walk in freezing conditions, with the wind and snow having firmly set in. Even a couple of miles from the centre, there was a visibly strong police presence, with helicopters circling the crowd. The protest itself was peaceful, with roughly 4,000 people marching with slogans such as “Reclaim Power” and “Climate Justice Now”. People in the crowd were vocally angry with world leaders, and the lack of progress in making a binding agreement. As the crowd neared the centre, many protesters tried to force their way through the barriers and police, and pepper spray was used to disburse the crowd.
The demonstrations raised many questions for me. Firstly, there seems to be intense scepticism over the scientific advice being used to mitigate global warming and the ability of world leaders to make the correct decisions, even in the event of a binding agreement. Additionally, despite all parties being able to participate in the conference, the exclusion of some groups from the Bella Centre raises questions over how much decision makers are willing to allow full participation in the details of the final agreed document. Also, are demonstrations the best way for the public to voice their concerns to both leaders and the global public? And finally, do those who demonstrate represent the views of the global public? Hopefully, world leaders will acknowledge their failings and address them in the final moments of the conference, and the further agreements that will undoubtedly be required in the years to come. Read more
Friday, 18 December 2009
By Shoumojit Kanjilal, IDS student
Thursday, 17 December 2009
By Shoumojit Kanjilal, IDS student
Arriving into Copenhagen earlier this week by plane felt like a poor way to begin my time at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Unfortunately it was the cheapest way to travel to Copenhagen, and this is another example of why anthropogenic climate change has increased so dramatically and rapidly. I have unfortunately become a part of the problem, and both myself and the conference need to make meaningful changes if climate change is to be mitigated. Photo: Danish soldier at COP15 /Shoumojit Kanjilal
It felt ominous to be arriving in Copenhagen just after the talks had almost collapsed after the African Group and G77 China block of developing countries stalled talks owing to accusations that the Danish hosts were trying to sideline negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol. However, with the talks underway, hopes remain high despite the many doubts.
My first port of call was the vast Bella centre, where the main conference was being held. The atmosphere outside the centre resembled that of a music concert as I was suddenly being handed leaflets, bags of goodies and even free vegan sandwiches. It certainly didn’t feel like an event that would be historic, and even in the queue for the Bella centre, the carnival atmosphere prevailed with the police were handing people free coffee and tea, and UNFCCC workers handing out free soup. There was even a complete absence of protesters, and another hypocrisy seemed to be stirring.
After failing to obtain entry to the Bella Centre owing to overcrowding, I then headed though the snowy streets to an alternative to the main conference - Klimaforum 09 (Peoples’ Climate Summit. This conference has something of an activist feel, packed full of people of all ages and nationalities, with messages of the devastating impact of climate change such as that predicted for the Maldives.
The most thought provoking talk of the day was that of George Monbiot, a journalist and climate activist, on the curse of fossil fuels. Monbiot made a compelling argument on why there would be no meaningful policies made at COP15 as discussions and agreements will be made in one direction only - on curtailing demand for non-renewable energy. However, at the same time, there is little or no discussion on the curtailment of non-renewable supplies with sources not likely to diminish with improved technology to access previously inaccessable supplies, such as coal under the north sea. Monbiot’s central conclusion is that non-renewable sources need to be left in the ground, and renewable alternatives need to be used immediately. Perhaps meaningful agreement will not be made after all. However, until the conference is over, I have to retain my hopes.
“Do we have a choice?” was the provocative question posed by one speaker at a New Manifesto round table hosted in The Hague by the 3TU.Centre on Ethics and Technology. This question came as a response to the STEPS Centre’s emphasis on ‘directions’ of sustainable development and innovation pathways. Photo: Prabhu Kandachar (r) and Jeroen van den Hoven (l)
We've now published videos of the main speaker presentations, the slides on Slideshare, and photos on Flickr. The video ‘vox pops’ from participants will also be posted soon.
The report from the Roundtable is now on our Manifesto site, written by Ilse Oosterlaken from the 3TU.Centre on Ethics and Technology. Ilse, who organised the roundtable, has also written her own blog post on the roundtable.
Professor Luc Soete, Director at UNU-Merit, who began by pointing out that he had worked with many of the authors of the original Manifesto, and had been critical of the Sussex Manifesto when it was written in 1970! He suggested that the influence of the original Manifesto had been far-reaching, and thus argued for the importance of evaluating its impact – I would argue an extremely challenging task for any policy document.
I thought Professor Soete’s main point on the New Manifesto was about the importance of different disciplinary perspectives. He suggested that the New Manifesto must consider the issue of social diffusion of innovations. It needs to incorporate the contributions offered by the range of social sciences in helping to understand why and how different innovations may or may not be developed or adopted. In other words, we must not underestimate the important role of individual human and social behaviours on the development and diffusion of innovation. I agree, and this leads the question of how that might be expressed in policy recommendations.
Professor Soete was followed by Jasper Grosskurth of the Dutch Foresight group (STT) looking at "African Technology Futures" with a strongly free market lens. Jasper critiqued the Manifesto’s point on direction with the question "do we have a choice?" He said the answer was "no": that change is happening, and that innovations will unfold without our help in orienting them, and that people are better off for it!
This certainly sparked strong debate on ethics, who decides, whose ethics take priority. How can one group (e.g. elites from the global North) decide for others? Linking his argument with the two Ds of "diversity" and "distribution", Jasper argued that there is a positive feedback loop between technological diversity and access to technology, and thus the more diversity, the more access and vice versa. With further reference to "Distribution", Jasper said "help the fast, clever ones – rich and poor" with the idea that encouraging the "clever" ones to access technology would have a positive knock-on effect for the continent. There are lots of provocative points here, but this perspective misses out on important issues. It assumes that "trickle down" is enough to distribute the benefits of technologies - and doesn't suggest how to deal with risks and any negative impacts caused by some technologies.
The third presentation was by Monique Deminint - part of the Universal Access to Female Condom (UAFC) Joint Programme, which looks at R&D for better female condoms to achieve a reduction in HIV infections. Her concrete example brought up the challenges of linking needs to market demands, while also attempting to simultaneously change behavior and create demand, by enabling R&D for a diversity of innovations that meet different social and cultural preferences.
Three more speakers from TU Delft spoke, including Professor Jeroen van den Hoven, scientific director at the 3TU.Centre for Ethics and Technology and working on a grant programme on ‘Responsible Innovation with NWO (the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research). Prof van den Hoven talked about ‘Value-Sensitive Design’, which he described in terms of values, norms, and ideals needing “to be embedded in the things we make”.
Professor of design engineering, Prabhu Kandachar (TU Delft) followed by addressing ‘Design for the Base of the Pyramid’, describing concrete links with industry and university students toward ‘human-centred design’ that focuses on design and engineering of technologies that meet human needs. When questioned on the rationale for the location of the BoP labs in Delft instead of in developing countries, Professor Kandachar said that Phase 2 would relocate the design and engineering activities closer to the places where the innovations are intended to be used, aiming to move into building innovative capabilities in those regions. I’m curious to see how those plans manifest. Lastly, David Koepsell (associate professor at 3TU.Ethics) talked about ‘revising intellectual property regimes’.
Roundtable participants came from a range of different backgrounds, disciplines and universities across the Netherlands, including academics from the Technical Universities of Twente and Delft, the Institute for Social Studies, and Wageningen - economists, philosophers, sociologists, and engineers. Also present were some social entrepreneurs, other representatives from the private sector, NGOs, and the Dutch Advisory Council for Science and Technology Policy, as well as students ranging from industrial ecology and microbiology to philosophy – a rough count of about 40 people.
So do we have a choice? My view is that we must make choices and thus the question becomes whether and by what mechanisms diverse groups with different needs, values, and preferences are able to exercise that choice.
One of the challenges is creating spaces for the important task of clarifying one’s individual and societal definitions and visions of sustainability, development, and also innovation. This means generating platforms for discussion and debate to help develop policies that respond to these associated plural understandings, enabling choices that actually respond to real needs and diverse values.
> Report - The Hague Roundtable, 24 November 2009
> Multimedia - slides, video and photos from the Hague Roundtable
> Blog on the roundtable by Ilse Oosterlaken, 3TU.Centre for Ethics and Technology
Monday, 14 December 2009
By Melissa Leach
The Kilifi conference on the publics of public health is now complete, after two more intense days. Two dimensions of the contemporary world of public health have been particularly dominant.
First, the new global architectures through which so much funding and programming around health issues in Africa now takes place. The huge sums which are now invested through organisations such as the Gates Foundation and Global Fund, and PEPFAR bring new questions around governance, accountability and partnerships in their wake, while often constructing images of ‘predicament publics’ whose health needs can be addressed through the roll-out of standardised technological solutions.
What happens when such programmes reach the ground, and how community groups negotiate the new architectures through a variety of NGO mediations, was explored in revealing terms by STEPS members Hayley MacGregor and Jerker Edstrom in their study of Zambia, Kenya and Malawi.
Several papers also explored the ways in which foreign-funded medical research programmes are now also sites through which health treatment (for instance for HIV and malaria) takes place, related in complex ways to the protocols and precepts of particular trials. Yet the effect is often to produce well-provided enclaves of ‘high quality’ health provision, often geared to particular diseases, and sitting in sometimes uncomfortable relationship with underresourced government-run public health services outside the ‘experimental publics’ zone.
Second, we have explored a fascinating range of illustrations of what goes on within these ‘experimental publics’ islands. How do medical researchers, study participants and others in what Gemma Jones termed ‘research villages’ interact? How do they imagine each others’ lives and work? What aspects of the many inequalities between them – economic, social, power and status-related – are talked about, and which remain ‘public secrets’, known but not expressed, and therefore not (as Wenzel Geissler pointed out) easily articulated as rights and demands?
Rich and varied pictures emerged from cases as diverse as microbicide trials, in Zambia, malaria research in western Kenya, community engagement practices on the Kenyan coast, and others, with Erick Nambedha, Patricia Kingori, Shelley Lees,
The roles of research fieldworkers as creative brokers between scientists and communities emerges as key, along with public engagement methods and procedures including Community Advisory Boards. Reflection on and exploration of how such mediation across interfaces works in practice, what it enables and what it excludes, is becoming a rich field of inquiry and practice which at least at some level, is transforming the ways in which the social and ethical dimensions of research are understood and negotiated.
While this growing social science attention to ‘experimental publics’ is welcome, however, improving practices and effectiveness of medical research, as the conference drew to a close today many of us expressed concerns about the relative neglect of what goes on beyond the ‘research island’. Where is comparable attention (and funding) to wider health systems and their primary care publics? This relative neglect is despite international and donor claims to a renewed focus on universal access and ‘health for all’ thirty years after the original Alma Ata conference in 1978 and is, many participants expressed strongly, a balance which needs to be redressed.
As the conference moved into its final day, some overarching themes and dilemmas came into view. One concerned whether ‘publics’ should be conceived of as distinct collectivities of people, suggesting an endless and shifting multiplication of kinds of public, bounded in various ways. Yet as Nancy Rose Hunt had suggested to us in her evocative account of violence in colonial Congo, those in power may instead conceive of (and both repress and be nervous of ‘multitudes’, evoking a kind of non-publicness which in turn constructs a notion of ‘public’ more strongly associated with recognition, respect and rights in relation to states and other powerful institutions. And further, associations of public with a public sphere are also in evidence, contrasting, perhaps, with the private and the individuated.
Notwithstanding these definitional debates, a recurring theme concerns the ways that particular versions of publics and publicness are always co-constructed with particular networks, narratives, assemblages or contraptions. The relations within and between them deeply implicate politics – of knowledge, but also of political economy.
Some of our discussions turned from the past and present to possible futures, and scenarios which might include intensification of globalised and neo-liberal forms of health provision, along with a rise in ‘enclave’-type arrangements as foreign companies investing in Africa’s resources also provide welfare services, mimicking in new guises imperial schemes of old. Epidemiologies may well shift, with the rising importance of chronic diseases and of new zoonotic pandemics both on the horizon. Meanwhile, uncertainties in both the natural and economic worlds look set to intensify. Amidst these complex and unpredictable changes, what kinds of new narratives, and associated pathways for public health, might we envisage?
Our final discussion began to point to some elements of an alternative narrative which many of us might share. This would refocus attention and investment on government-involved, primary health systems, envisaging ‘health’ in terms of basic care, and of broader social and economic wellbeing, of populations as a whole. This in turn would require new forms of research and of research-policy engagement to innovate in health service delivery, and understand how innovations might be scaled up while also adapting to diverse cultural settings and values, and ongoing uncertainties.
With questions of social justice centre stage, research and policy need to move from researching and intervening on, to working with, publics as a common ‘us’, while attending to social difference and positionality.
This take on the conference and its implications is only one amongst many which might be possible, and others will surely have different views. The papers are fascinating, and we will be making them available on the conference website shortly. Do have a read, and take the opportunity to add your comments and participate in the discussion on its forum, helping to take forward the debate of this last week around the new publics of public health. Read more
Thursday, 10 December 2009
By Melissa Leach
We are on the Kenyan coast, not far from Kilifi town and the site of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), at a conference which the STEPS Centre has had a role in convening, together with colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), KEMRI and the University of Nairobi. Around fifty participants have gathered from all corners of the African continent, as well as Europe and the US, to debate what 'publicness' and 'the public' means in the contemporary worlds of health-seeking, health policy and intervention, and health research in and in African settings. Photo: Sean Warren / iStockphoto
Some of us are anthropologists, some are historians, and some scholars of science and technology studies or bioethics; many of us are also practitioners, involved in day-to-day health research and the many engagements it entails. As one might imagine, our discussions are rich and diverse.
As Wenzel Geissler of LSHTM suggested in his opening presentation, it seems that 'something has changed' from the period just before and after independence in many African settings, when public health and science were perhaps more clearly and firmly associated with nation states and the publics they were supposed to serve.
While chronologies and baselines can always be contested, and many participants have revealed disruptions and variations around this picture in the colonial period as well as before and since, the imaginary of interlocked state-public-health-publics serves as a useful marker against which to think about diversity and change.
And as papers have now made abundantly clear, these departures have been stark indeed. We have seen the rise of neoliberal, marketised and privatised forms of health provision, constructing publics in far more individualised ways - often as consumers. We have seen the rise of global health architectures and financing, often with dubious forms of accountability linked to new eras of philanthropic and philanthrocapitalist funding. And we have seen the rise (and fall) of focused research and policy on particular diseases, with 'vertical' architectures, funding flows and notions of 'predicament publics' emerging accordingly.
In my opening paper, I attempted to outline what appear as some of the dominant policy narratives which now flourish in the field of public health. Notions of 'primary care publics', 'predicament publics', 'experimental publics' and 'pandemic publics', I suggested, now co-exist, each associated with different visions of what kinds of health priorities matter and to whom, and with different sets of political interests, resource flows and governance aims.
Each also implicates a politics of scale and of knowledge in defining who and where the relevant public are, and how they should be involved or 'summoned'. As I hoped and expected, contributions and discussions over the last few days have disaggregated, multiplied and illustrated diverse strands within each of these broad narratives. Thus we have heard about emerging 'HIV publics' from sites as diverse as western Kenya and South Africa. We have heard about emerging publics associated with chronic diseases, a dramatically rising and major cause of mortality in many African settings, whether amongst those facing obesity and diabetes in Uganda as richly documented by Susan Reynolds-Whyte, or in relation to cancer in Botswana, as Julie Livingstone's powerful paper documents.
In the context of chronic disease predicaments, just as in some recent strands of debate around HIV in an ART-available world, publics are often imaged and summoned as individuals, with rights and responsibilities to manage their lifestyles, nutriotion and behaviour in particular ways.
Narratives that blame the individual also serve neatly to detract attention from alternative narratives - about obseogenic (conditions that lead people to become excessively fat) or carcinogenic environments - which would associate the problems with, inter alia, junk and cooking oil prevalence, toxic waste dumping, and the powerful political-economic and corporate interests that lie behind these.
Complicating and illustrating the figure of a global 'pandemic public' anxious about avian and 'swine' flu, haemorrhagic fevers, and other so-called emerging infections which arise in one setting and threaten to sweep the world, Clapperton Mavhunga encouraged us to pay closer attention to mobility - of animals as well as people and microbes - as key features of our times.
Yet as discussion has explored, the mobility of some coexists with the groundedness of others. It is often quite located, deeply historicised production systems and economically-organised production and market chains that provide the incubators for zoonotic disease, for instance. Guillaume Lachenal's fascinating paper on Cameroon also reminds us that the elaborate, high-publicity scientific and media attention to 'virus-hunting', which has been so pronounced in the search for (and finding of) new HIV and SIV viruses there, may be enacted in local and national settings in 'plays' and performances by politicians and musicians that parody international representations and concerns.
On the ground, Lachenal suggests, new HIV viruses, like avian flu, are not major health concerns - and thus they are the subject of non-interventions. Yet elaborate, nihilistic performances also serve to take attention and resources away from other public health concerns and their publics - such as those around primary care.
Situiations where medical research stations are 'emplaced' in primary care settings, as evocatively explored by Alice Street in Papua New Guinea, also illustrate such tricky interplays. meanwhile, other contributions - whether from Northern Nigeria by Murray Last, or across eastern and southern Africa by Steven Feierman - have offered us insights into the complicated local social networks and sets of helaing precepts and practices that sit alongside, and sometines engage with, policy-led systems and approaches.
These, and other, contributions have thus been exploring what one could see as an interplay of narratives and pathways of public health - and the often highly unequal material consequences that follow. As Michael Parker has suggested, the networked combinations of people, resources, institutions, activities and technologies that one could see as pushing and 'glued together' by particular narratives (in his case, around genomic approaches to malaria control), might be better seen as 'contraptions' - drawing attention to their unwieldy, often rickety nature.
In this vein, attention is also drawn to the many inequalities, tensions and frictions which take place within contraptions. Many fascinating and revealing papers have explored these, especially in relation to the interactions between participants, fieldworkers and scientists that take place in the collectivities that constitute 'trial publics'. Inequalities are at stake, and creativity, and a politics of publicity and secrecy, shapes what is and is not revealed. Yet participants and fieldworkers are also active in articulating alternative narratives about what matters for health and wellbeing.
There is more to come, and this is only a taste of the discussions so far. By focusing in on what 'publics' are coming to mean, and on how they are being represented, I hope that over the next two days we can begin to home in on some of the alternative narratives that are emerging - those that emerge from people's own variegated health concerns in a highly unequal context, and which might provide pointers for pathways to meet them. Read more
Tuesday, 8 December 2009
By Urama Kevin Chika, Executive Director, ATPS
In response to the post titled “Opening up Research Funding at ATPS” by Adrian Ely, I would like to expound on the Network’s strategic approach to putting stakeholder participation at the core of the research funding process and throughout the whole value chain. This is built on the firm belief that knowledge held by different knowledge communities (both tacit and codified) is valid and could be the bases for innovations for development.
The ATPS supports demand-led capacity building activities in the area of Science, Technology, and Innovation knowledge generation, knowledge circulation and networking, policy making and policy practice in Africa for African development and global inclusion.
In doing so, the ATPS engages the quadruple helix (Science Experts, Policymakers, Private Sector Actors, and the Civil Society) in the identification, prioritization, and implementation of STI policy research and policy processes at national, regional, and global levels.
If asked to state the underlying beliefs in two phrases, I would borrow two from the recent stakeholder workshops held by the ATPS in the process of developing an African manifesto for Science, Technology and Innovation for Africans by Africans. One, “Innovation does not happen in the mainstream” and two, “Collaboration breeds Innovation”.
The ATPS Secretariat has followed a transparent and rigorous participatory process of engagement with the quadruple helix for evaluating the proposals received under the auspices of the calls for proposals for the year 2009. The drawn out process involved several stages:
(a) A drawn out participatory process involving the ATPS national chapters and national and regional stakeholders led to the identification and prioritization of core areas of development challenges and STI policy needs in the member countries and in the region requiring urgent attention in the medium term. These informed the strategic goals and priority implementation programs of the ATPS Phase VI Strategic Plan, 2008 – 2012. Some required regional responses and actions while other required national case studies;
(b) The process in (a) above informed the call for proposals advertised on the websites and also disseminated through the network membership in the national chapters;
(c) All proposals received by the ATPS were submitted to the National Chapter Coordinators for pre-advice and assessment on the basis of three criteria including (Science Quality, Added Value / Innovation Quality; and Societal / Policy Relevance). Each National Coordinator reviewed the proposal and provided pre-advice to the proponents on how to improve the proposal to increase relevance to national policy needs and also add value at the local levels. In addition, they also ranked the proposals in order of Science Quality, Added Value / Innovation Quality; and Societal / Policy Relevance.
(d) The proposals were also simultaneously sent to a selected team of three from an Independent International Expert Panel of Reviewers (IIEPR) for each strategic theme: Climate Innovations; Agricultural innovations; Intellectual Property Rights. The IIPER reviewed and ranked the proposals independently using the same set of criteria as the national coordinators, but focusing on the regional development challenges and policy priorities. Each IIPER member also provided pre-advice to the candidates to assist them in revising the proposal to improve the innovation content, science quality and societal/policy relevance. All the pre-advice forms were also forwarded to the respective candidates anonymously (i.e., without the names of the reviewers) to inform revision of their proposals.
(f) At the Tournament, each candidate had 10 minutes to present the proposal before the Panel of International Experts, other members of the ATPS and stakeholders, and the ATPS Board. The IIEPR repeated the same system of evaluation on the basis of the same set of criteria. At the same event, the ATPS Participatory Proposal Evaluation System (PPES) was also implemented whereby the wider membership of the ATPS and stakeholders were involved in scoring the presentation of the proposals during the Tournament. The scores from the general membership serve as a control score showing the general perception of the proposed activity by ATPS stakeholders. The average scores obtained from this general assessment process are held on the EGMS for the records and as a control on the scores obtained from the rigorous assessments by the national Chapter Coordinators and the IIEPR. If for instance, the mean score obtained from the general membership rates a proposal as excellent, but the Panel of International Experts rated the same proposal as very poor, there might be reason to investigate the proposals further by sending it out to another set of Independent Experts for further review. All these scores and pre-advice forms will be held in the ATPS archives to inform capacity building needs of the research teams in future.
(g) The mean scores from the whole process, the pre-advice scores by the national chapters and the IIEPR, the tournament scores by the IIEPR, and the general scores by the ATPS membership and stakeholders are collated by the EGMS and made available to the ATPS Board to inform their decision on the specific activities to be implemented. It is very interesting to note here that the scores collated from the recent tournament in Abuja Nigeria on 26 November 2009, show strong correlation between the mean scores by the IIEPR and that of the general members and stakeholders.
The hall mark of this Participatory Proposal Evaluation System (PPES) is the core principles of Transparency, Objectivity and Responsibility which the ATPS Secretariat has adopted as the guiding principles of engagement in all activities. The Network membership is proactively engaged at all stages of decision making to ensure ownership of the process and the products of the ATPS activities. This is also necessary to ensure effective implementation and policy relevance of our activities.
All ATPS thematic research programs focus on facilitating innovation capacity development at individual and institutional levels. Each research program is therefore expected to include the "make" or "design" perspective, i.e. translation of the research outputs into "institutional" and/or "social engineering" designs, and/or cost effective "technical designs/technologies" that are necessary to the specific development and/or policy gaps addressed. To enhance the process, each research team is expected to include (or proactively engage) trans-disciplinary science experts; relevant policymakers and practitioners at all stages of the project cycle: from conception to implementation and dissemination of results. The scientific quality; added value and innovation content; and societal and policy relevance of activities are regarded of equal importance in all ATPS activities.
By Julia Day
Under what circumstances could the trajectory of GM crop development become beneficial for poor farmers? Erik Millstone explored this idea at recent Royal Society of Chemistry meeting, entitled: Genetic modification: solution or problem?
Erik's presentation (below) asks - and answers - the key question: are the GM crops currently available, and those under development, suitable for the needs and interests of poor rural subsistence farmers?
The Guardian quoted some of his comments in ies leader column on 4 December, headlined Food sustainability; Modified options.
Sunday, 6 December 2009
By Adrian Ely
The African Technology Policy Studies (ATPS) network is made up of academics, policy-makers private sector and civil society. On the third day of their annual conference on “Africa’s response to global challenges through science, technology and innovation” I witnessed the network’s innovative approach to opening up the decision-making process for the allocation of their research resources.
Applications from ATPS members had already been peer-reviewed and shortlisted prior to being presented by the potential lead investigators themselves at the conference. The delegates were all then given scoring sheets to fill in, the results of these feeding into the process to select which research projects the network would be funding over the coming years.
The criteria against which each was rated were:
- science quality – relevance of the stated problems, objectives and methodologies to the state of the art in the scientific field of enquiry
- added value/ innovation quality – the potential of the proposed activity to contribute significantly to responsible innovations for African development
- societal and policy relevance – overall relevance to the STI capacity building activities of the ATPS strategic plan and national and continental policy priorities.
Although only taking on board limited inputs from the ATPS members present, I saw this as an interesting innovation in resource allocation that served not only to strengthen the process but also to strengthen the network itself. The process included a conflict of interest declaration in order to minimise bias, and a forms for feedback so that presenters themselves could learn from the members present. Although there were administrative challenges with the more complicated procedures involved, the extra effort will be useful to the ATPS science, technology and innovation committee as it decides on the list of funded projects. This was a step towards opening up and democratising the process of research funding and I wondered about how similar models could be extended to include inputs from users and society more broadly. Whether or not these possibilities are explored, lessons were certainly learned from the process at this year’s conference, and it will be interesting to see how it is further improved and developed over forthcoming funding cycles.
Thursday, 3 December 2009
Adrian Ely writes:
"I heard some inspiring talks at the second day of the ATPS conference, where 157 delegates from 32 countries (including the 23 in which ATPS has national chapters) have gathered to discuss “Africa’s response to global challenges through science, technology and innovation”....
A component of SET-DEV is the production of manifestos around the socialisation of science by the project’s partners, ATPS being one. The African manifesto initiative “aims to bring science closer to African societies, and to promote collective responsibility towards science and technology through the democratization of science.”
More: A New Manifesto: Report from Nigeria round table Read more
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
We're off to Nairobi for two Manifesto events.
The first is a day-long Roundtable, hosted by ACTS, on Friday. For the second, we'll be joining the 4th TWAS-ROSSA Young Scientists' Conference in Africa (theme: "Science and Technology Enterprises in Africa"), where we'll be co-hosting a reception and a short roundtable next Tuesday.
I'll be posting photos, videos and blogs as the week progresses.
Kenya round tables (A New Manifesto website) Read more
Tuesday, 1 December 2009
By Alankar and Bhagwati from Sarai
Some poorer communities on the fringes of cities in India don’t get the best access to water, either because they’re not covered, or only partly covered by the formal state-provided water system. They are now fighting back by designing systems to get the resources they need. Photo: Self-designed drainage system in Karhera, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh
People in one village, Arthala, have come up with a radical solution – to cut themselves off completely from the water supply and to design their own arrangements. In another, Karhera, villagers built their own complex drainage system which irrigates the fields using wastewater from the village.
Our project on peri-urban sustainability has been looking at how people in areas like this are cut off from services by discrimination, bad planning and lack of understanding from authorities. We have been looking at how villagers are coping in these two villages, which lie in the Trans-Hindon area of the Ghaziabad district in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India.
Karhera is an agricultural village sitting next to cultivable fields. It is only partially covered by the formal public water supply.
The formal system is not only poorly provided – it’s also not appropriate for the village’s needs. Many of the villagers depend on one of two options: drawing groundwater from submersible pumps they install themselves, or relying on the municipal water provision, which is perpetually short in supply.
To get around this, the villagers of Karhera built a traditional scheme to use the wastewater produced by their households, to irrigate the fields around the village. All the wastewater from houses is channelled through the by-lanes of the village towards the place where the fields start. Here, all the small drains from the village merge into a big drain, and the water is then used to irrigate the fields.
To make the system as beneficial as possible to the farmers, the big drain has smaller openings/outlets in its course, which are routinely closed and opened to allow waste-water to flow into different fields. The most interesting feature of this entire process is the very efficient management, collectively done by the villagers, of all the smaller drains which run within the village and feed into the bigger drain.
From a theoretical perspective, such a scheme can be most appropriately understood as ‘environmentalism of the poor’.(1) As per this academic perspective, the poor communities and their environmental approaches need not be classified as merely conservationist but rather should be seen as an outcome of their preferred strategies related to their livelihood and as part of the lived experiences. If the villagers in this particular case are mostly dependent on cultivation, then they also have formulated and implemented a scheme which uses every form of water available to them as a resource.
Arthala is made up of mainly residential settlements. Most of these are inhabited by people with low incomes who are employed in informal or casual labour.
In Arthala the public water service is even worse: vastly inefficient and inadequate. Discrimination also seems to be at work. Nearby, newly developed upper-class residential areas (for example Vasundhara, which has settlers from various cities, mostly Delhi) have been provided with very good water supplies (drawn from the river Ganga, flowing far away from the Ghaziabad region). Arthala, a much older settlement, has been left under-served, relying solely on old supply system based on groundwater extraction, which is acutely inefficient and inadequate.
Recently, a radical step was taken by Sanjay Colony (part of Arthala). In response to the poor municipal supply, Sanjay Colony decided in early 2009 to voluntarily cut themselves off from the formal state-provided water supply system. In its place, they devised and implemented a self-designed system for water provision.
The residents raised money in the community, then installed a high-capacity submersible pump in a local temple. The pump withdraws groundwater, and is connected to a small but intricate network of pipelines (again self-constructed), connecting to all the neighbouring households who had contributed financially to the new system.
At the time of our field visits, negotiations were going on with the local elected legislative representative (ward councilor), to convey to the municipal authorities the need to officially recognize and legitimize this new ‘private’ system; and to ask them to waive the tax which the residents have been paying for the municipal supply.
Graham and Marvin (2001) describe how the rich and powerful are often seen to be voluntarily disassociating from the formal networks of different utilities, like power, water, health, transport, etc., due to the inefficient and inadequate state provisioning, and in place seek private and personalized systems for such services. (2) In this case, though, a community of poor people are deliberately disconnecting themselves from an inept and insufficient public-provided water service. In its place, funded by their own meagre incomes, they have put up a viable and fulfilling supply system.
About our research
One of the core objectives of the Peri-Urban Sustainability research project is to track the diverse pathways (i.e. ways in which interacting social, technological and environmental systems co-evolve over time) and assess which ones can address the needs and interests of marginalized and disenfranchised groups in ways that enhance Sustainability.
From the above two specific instances, some newer understandings can be discerned. In Karhera, the villagers have evolved and maintained their own specific method of using wastewater to benefit their cultivation practices and needs. Thus, in turn they are shaping a contour of sustainable use practice as perceived at a very local level.
In Arthala, residents put into place a ‘private’ form of self-managed supply, which is also discontinuous with the state-provided supply. Arthala’s case shows how governance is also impacted at the local level with the interventions of the constituents of political society (comprising mostly poorer people, and different from the formal citizens belonging to the realm of civil society).(3)
(1) See Joan Martinez Alier’s ‘Environmentalism of the Poor’, Cheltenham UK/ Northampton MA: Edward Elgar, 2002
(2) Graham and Marvin (2001) ‘Splintering Urbanism: networked infrastructures, technological mobilities and the urban condition’, Routledge, London
(3) Partha Chatterjee finds special relationship between the masses and the state in India, which gives rise to what he calls ‘political society’, that is distinct from civil society. For a better conceptual clarity between political society and civil society, see Partha Chatterjee (2004) ‘Politics of the Governed; Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World’, Columbia University Press.