Putting farmers first: Democratising and reshaping agricultural research in West Africa

UK parliamentarians and civil servants will this week join African farmers, international donors and scientists in a policy dialogue that aims to reshape agricultural research to serve development goals and the public good.

News, 31 January 2012

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, and the executive director of Oxfam-Novib, Farah Karimi, will chair the event, which the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) has organised on 1-3 February in Ghana.

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

Baroness Miller, the Group’s co-chair says: “This is a unique event in that it will allow farmers from across West Africa direct access to the organisations which directs and funds 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”.

Dr Camilla Toulmin, Director of IIED says: “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 meeting will 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. The meeting will 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.

“Publically 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,” says Dr Michel Pimbert of IIED. “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”.

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. 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.

Specific issues on the agenda 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.

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

“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 recognize 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.”

Dr Camilla Toulmin, Director of IIED says: “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.”

The meeting in Ghana will take place at Erata Hotel. It has been 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.

Download copy of Dr Michel Pimbert’s briefing paper Putting farmers first: reshaping agricultural research in West Africa as a PDF file.


Mike Shanahan
Press officer

International Institute for Environment and Development
80-86 Gray’s Inn Road
London WC1X 8NH, UK.
Tel: +44 (0)20 3463 7399
Fax: +44 (0)20 3514 9055

Email: mike.shanahan@iied.org

Notes to editors

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) is an independent, non-profit research institute. Set up in 1971 and based in London, IIED provides expertise and leadership in researching and achieving sustainable development (see: www.iied.org).