12, June, 2013

Voices and Flavours of the Earth: Food Sovereignty in the Andes

This multimedia publication from IIED uses video, audio, images and text to describe how indigenous communities are drawing on their knowledge and cosmovisions to rethink the priorities and governance of food and agricultural research in the Andean Altiplano of Bolivia and Peru.

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The work presented here is part of a larger international and multi-regional initiative known as Democratising the Governance of Food Systems: Citizens Rethinking Food and Agricultural Research for the Public Good.

Four major developments led to the birth of this global initiative. Between 2005 and 2007, the author of this preface facilitated a series of conversations in fields, villages, social gatherings, and in the heart of donor communities, in both the South and the North. These conversations involved pastoralists, indigenous people, fisher folk, progressive scientists and intellectuals, consumers and farmers (both urban and rural). The common view heard time and time again was “we have no say in what the scientists are doing”, along with concern over the mismatch between agricultural research and the reality of farming systems in the face of increasingly rapid social and environmental change. Small-scale producers and other people talked of a democratic deficit leading to a lack of food provider and consumer control over knowledge production, often with harmful consequences for people and the land. In both practice-oriented sustainable agriculture networks and advocacy oriented-peasant organisations people were asking: What food and agricultural research do we need? For whom? Why? How? Where? And with what impacts?

Second, at the same time these conversations were occurring, there were a number of very significant international and national developments. The concept of ‘food sovereignty’ was becoming a part of the international vocabulary and more centre stage than ever before. In Bolivia and Mali, ‘food sovereignty’ was enshrined in national agricultural policy. Other countries and coalitions were also pushing for an alternative paradigm for food and agriculture, discussions which later led to the adoption of national declarations or constitutional changes in favour of ‘food sovereignty’ in Ecuador, Venezuela and Nepal, for example. One of the clearest demands of the food sovereignty movement is for citizens to exercise their fundamental human right to decide their own food and agricultural policies. This implies that food providers and other citizens can and should frame strategic priorities and policies for agricultural research.

Third, the consultations proposed by the bureau of the newly launched International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) also catalysed thoughts among advocacy-based peasant organisations and rights-based civil society groups on how to engage with this international process. The purpose of the IAASTD was “to assess agricultural knowledge, science and technology (AKST) in order to use AKST more effectively to reduce hunger and poverty, improve rural livelihoods, and facilitate equitable, environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development”. After discussions with some members of the International NGO/CSO Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC), selected individuals in La Via Campesina, indigenous peoples’ organisations, pastoralist networks and others, it was decided not to enter this ‘invited policy space’ which was created from above – even though the IAASTD was seen to be timely and a potentially very useful process of collective reflection on AKST. Instead, there was a perceived need to create, from below, a series of independent and parallel ‘popular or citizen spaces’ where people can gain confidence, discover their voices, analyse, mobilise and act. It was thought that, at the very least, these ‘citizen spaces’ can complement the IAASTD because this intergovernmental process had not developed any comprehensive mechanism for local perspectives to be directly included in discussions on agricultural research.

Last but not least, a citizens’ jury held in 2005 on GMOs and the future of farming in Mali highlighted the importance of ‘agricultural research’ for farming communities. No fewer than five out of twenty-six recommendations from this intensive five days of citizen deliberations called for agricultural research to be re-organised to better serve the needs of small farmers. Jurors asked for a fundamental reorientation of public research away from input-intensive farming and the development of new GM seeds to support low external-input agriculture, improve local seeds and landraces, and regenerate local food systems and markets. This unique event for West Africa demonstrated that citizens’ juries can provide a safe space for farmers to reach an informed, evidence-based view on complicated and often controversial issues, which can then be amplified to policymakers. It was also clear that farmers had much to say about what kind of food and agricultural research they want, the topic was not too complex for them to understand.


Author: Maruja Salas
Orginal publication date:  2013
Publisher: The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)

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