A new initiative called ADARSA – Alliance for Democratising Agricultural Research in South Asia, led by the Hyderabad based Deccan Development Society has started focusing on a critical evaluation of the agricultural research done in South Asia a region known for its rich agricultural tradition. A total of 28 groups have become members of the initiative. This includes networks of farmers, scientists, ecological groups from Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, farmer organisations, scientists, civil society groups, human rights lawyers and others from India. The Indian representation comes from across the country: from Kerala to Uttarakhand, from Gujarat to Orissa.
Agricultural Research was once known for its quest for scientific truths. This is not the situation anymore. The research is now dominated by big money, corporate control and active efforts to deprive farmers of their control over agriculture. Worse still, Indian agriculture is more and more directed by the US interests and US corporations.
The ADARSA initiative which aims to create a farmer led agricultural research system has already brought out a Fact Sheet called Farmer-proofing Agricultural Research – Current Trends in India. This study which has analytically looked at the agenda set by several major Indian agricultural universities and the collaborations they are entering into reveals a dangerous aspect of the agricultural research trends in the country. It has also investigated the kind of research trends spawned by the Indian Council for Agricultural Research [ICAR] and its constituent agricultural universities in various states in India.
As this Fact Sheet brings out, the focus of agricultural research is decisively shifting on to biotechnology (Genetically Engineered Seeds or Livestock), biofuels and is changing farming into Pharming. There is a huge gamut of information tucked away in the closets of agribusiness, and designs of private interest waiting to unfold. Many universities are being directly funded for research by international and Indian corporations. Government of India institutions such as ICAR or DARE have also got into the act with their own bilateral and multi-lateral agreements with governments, universities and private research institutions in countries like United States of America, France, United Kingdom and so on. In some instances collaborations are directly undertaken with specific private corporations. India’s knowledge agreement with the United States [Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture] emphatically advances the private sector’s role in technical assistance and funding for agricultural research. Companies such as Wal Mart and Monsanto are today on the Board governing the priority areas under this agreement.
While the agrarian crisis and the wave of farmer suicides are blamed on many things and packages are announced by the state, the question is never asked as to what has been the contribution of agricultural research in the country. While on the one hand both India’s Prime Minister and the Finance Minister have criticised the conversion of food producing lands into bio fuel plantations, the two major Indian agricultural universities viz., Punjab Agricultural University and the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University have made collaborations with several multinational private corporations to work on biofuel production. Is this the job of agricultural universities who are supposed to increase food production in the country? Are they beyond the prescriptions of the PM and the FM or is there a kind of masquerade going on here?
Still worse, the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture which has been blessed by the Prime Minister of India and President Bush reveals a frightening design. On the governing body of the Indo-US KIA are not farmers but the CII and the FICCI, the two biggest industry organisation of India. And joining them are the notorious names such as Monsanto, AMD – the biggest agro chemical and biotech U S multinational corporations. Added to them is the notorious Wal Mart whose mandate is to provide consumers their needs at the cheapest price no matter whether the wares sold by it come from sweatshops or by offering pittance to farmers.
The priority research areas for the KIA is biotechnology and compacts between US private sector biotech industry with the Indian private and public sector. Thus once the Indo US KIA becomes fully operational, the Indian Agriculture will be enslaved by big business and farmers will becomes labourers on their own farms serving the interests of the global biotech industry.
The ADARSA initiative will vigorously challenge this entrapment of farmers by the agricultural research through
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Most civil society groups, in their development years have very strongly articulated the concept of food sovereignty. In their work most of them have argued for and struggled for people’s right to reclaim agriculture, reclaim land, reclaim food production, reclaim seeds and reclaim knowledge. But there has not been much articulation about reclaiming agriculture research. Though almost everyone of the civil society groups would be unanimous in their view that into this string of reclaiming the autonomy of farmers they would seriously consider adding reclaiming agricultural research. Probably it gets a bit unarticulated because some of the groups are a shade unsure whether farmers can and will do agresearch at all.
The time has come for us to debunk the myth that agricultural research should lie in the hands of the formal research institutions run by formal agricultural researchers. Many South Asian and Asia-wide civil society coalitions have already taken many steps to dialogue, debate and discuss farmer-led research as well as to initiate grounded actions involving frontier research where communities and farmers are involved directly in design, data collection and analysis of agricultural research.. The study on Uncultivated Foodsand the Economics of Ecological Agriculture undertaken by the Deccan Development Society and the Bt Cotton study done by the AP Coalition in Defence of Diversity and Deccan Development Society are some initiatives in illustration.
In recent years, a number of international efforts that claim to make science and technology work for the poor are dominated by two main approaches:
A third,- less visible -, approach recognizes that technological fixes are not enough and sees science as part of a bottom up, participatory process of development in which citizens themselves take centre stage. Instead of being seen as passive beneficiaries of trickle down development or technology transfer, citizens are viewed as knowledgeable and active actors who are centrally involved in both the ‘upstream’ choice and design of scientific innovations, and their ‘downstream’ implementation, spread and regulation.
It is noteworthy that much of ‘Food and Agricultural Research’ is informed by the modernising and the linear transfer of universal technology approaches, - both in theory and practice. This is apparent in the current draft of the International Assessment of Agriculture Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). The IAASTD is a multi-volume assessment of how agricultural knowledge, science and technology (AKST) can help to reduce hunger and poverty, improve health and rural livelihoods, and facilitate equitable development that is environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable.
The main rationale for the IAASTD is that there has never been a balanced, multi-stakeholder assessment of the overall consequences of investment in agricultural knowledge and technology since World War II, including the original Green Revolution and today’s research emphasis on biotechnology and biofuels. Documenting these impacts and drawing lessons from them are essential to understand how agriculture knowledge and technology can be generated and used more effectively to meet development goals. The IAASTD is supposed to guide agricultural research and investments on the part of the World Bank and United Nations agencies in the future.
However, - whilst several progressive civil society organisations and scholars have contributed to the IAASTD process - , there have been relatively few direct inputs from small scale farmers, indigenous peoples, resource users, food workers and ordinary citizens on what kind of food and agricultural research they want. A more inclusive and participatory approach is therefore needed to complement the IAASTD.
This initiative to rethink food and agricultural research assumes that scientific innovations can be beneficial to small scale producers and the rural poor. But for this to occur, scientific and technical innovations need to build on the perspectives, knowledge and priorities of farmers and other citizens, responding to their diverse local realities and needs. More fundamentally, this means putting hitherto marginalised farmers and citizens at the heart of the governance of research on food and agriculture.
This action research builds on earlier work by DDS and IIED on deliberative and inclusive processes to enhance citizen voice in policy making and agenda setting for science and technology. These new experiments with deliberative and inclusive processes offer opportunities to broaden citizen and non specialist involvement in decisions around science and technology as well as policy making, resource allocation and institutional choices. For example, earlier work on the governance of food systems and biodiversity in India aimed to link local voices and visions on the future of food, farming, environment and rural development with national and international policy making. Prajateerpu was devised as a means of allowing those people most affected by the government’s “Vision 2020” for food and farming in Andhra Pradesh to shape a vision of their own. This deliberative process included marginalised small farmers, women and indigenous peoples, and combined elements from established techniques such as citizens juries and scenario workshops with safeguards such as an oversight panel, video scenario presentations and witnesses.