International Policy Dialogue on agricultural research underway in Ghana

UK-based International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED), yesterday February 1, 2012, began a policy dialogue in Ghana, that aims to reshape agricultural research to serve development goals and the public good.

According to IIED, the three-day dialogue which ends on Friday, February 3, 2012, has in attendance UK parliamentarians and civil servants, as well as African farmers, international donors and scientists.

A press release announcing the dialogue said the event will be chaired by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, and the executive director of Oxfam-Novib, Farah Karimi.

IIED explained that UK-based parliamentarians, the media, and members of the international development community will participate in the dialogue through a live video link hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group of Agroecology in Westminster.

The meeting will also bring staff from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) together with small-scale farmers and food processors from Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Senegal, as well as from East Africa, Asia and Latin America.

With a total budget of nearly US$400 million, AGRA is a major funder of agricultural research in Africa and the meeting is expected to allow senior staff from the alliance to hear what small-scale farmers and food producers from a number of West African countries think agricultural research should focus on.

Commenting on the dialogue, Baroness Miller, the Group’s co-chair said: “This is a unique event in that it will allow farmers from across West Africa direct access to the organisations which direct and fund research into the development of agriculture. We very much hope it will be productive and change the way in which research priorities are decided and implemented so that farmers become directly involved in the governance of agricultural research and development which affects them”.

For her part, Dr. Camilla Toulmin, Director of IIED stated: “This is a valuable platform for smallholder farmers to get their voices heard. We’d like to see this constructive dialogue setting an agenda for future research priorities across the region.”

“The challenges ahead are huge, if food security is to be achieved in a context of growing climate impacts, scarce water and increasing competition for land. Africa’s farmers bring much knowledge and many insights of great value to finding effective answers to these problems. Let’s find a better way of hearing from them in helping craft practical solutions,” she added.

Touching on agricultural research, Farah Karimi, executive director of Oxfam-Novib, said “Mainstream agricultural research informs and influences food and agricultural policies, funding allocations and food security interventions of governments and donors”.

“As a rights-based organisation working against poverty, Oxfam Novib supports the move to democratise agricultural research and let the voices of farmers be heard. With the food crisis, now more than ever, we need to recognise and act with small-holder farming communities, as they are decisive actors in the local to global responses to the food and climate crisis. Agricultural research must respond to the needs and build on the knowledge and resilience of men and women farmers. Their right to food and land must steer the agenda of agricultural research,” the executive director added.

Also commenting, Dr. Michel Pimbert of IIED said “Publicly funded research can make a huge contribution to eradicating hunger and poverty. But the way it is designed, managed and implemented rarely involves the people who produce, process and consume agricultural produce”.

“The lack of democracy in setting strategic priorities for research is not only unjust. It stifles the collective intelligence and abilities of farmers and scientists to solve the social and environmental crisis that undermines the right to food and human well-being,” Dr. Pimbert submitted.

Meanwhile, in a briefing paper published for the meeting, Pimbert describes a series of “citizens’ juries” at which farmers in West Africa have called for changes to agricultural research in recent years.

It is envisaged that the meeting in Ghana will enable such farmers, donors and senior scientists to identify areas of agreement and difference on what is needed in Africa to alleviate poverty and eradicate hunger.

IIED intimates that specific issues on the agenda will include  priorities for plant breeding and seed selection, options for managing soil fertility, options for developing accessible markets, ways of governing, organising, funding and practising research and the types of policies needed to transform Africa’s agriculture, including changes to tenure, subsidies and investment.

The dialogue is funded by Oxfam-Novib, The Christensen Fund, New Field Foundation, Biovision Foundation, and by IIED’s Joint Framework donors — DFID, DGIS, Danida, SIDA, NORAD and Irish Aid.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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