Strengthening local voices in the governance of food systems and the environment

This action research explored new forms of citizenship to enhance citizens’ voices and agency in decision-making. It sought to find more equitable ways of including citizens in policy making and in the design of technologies and institutions that shape food systems and the environment.

Two women talking to each other at a crowded event.

Establishing inclusive governance of food systems — where farmers and other citizens play an active role in designing and implementing food and agricultural policies — is not just a matter of equity or social justice. Evidence shows that it can also lead to more sustainable livelihoods and environments.

And yet, across the world, food system governance is marked by exclusionary processes that favour the values and interests of more powerful corporations, investors, big farmers and large research institutes.

Similarly, national and global debates on climate change strategies around agrofuels and agricultural development have had little input from civil society, particularly from groups traditionally excluded from policy processes such as women and indigenous people.

These groups are at risk of becoming further marginalised from decision-making processes aimed at mitigating, and adapting to, climate change and the impacts of agro-fuels on food security and the environment.

What IIED did

The aim of the project was to identify and support processes to help democratise the governance of food systems, land use and the environment. The research investigated how we can amplify the voice and influence of marginalised citizens in setting the policies that affect them. This covered several different themes:

  • Food and farming futures for small producers and Indigenous Peoples
  • Transforming agri-food research for citizen participation and the public good
  • Citizens reframing conservation policies and practice for food and livelihood security, environmental sustainability and justice, and
  • Strengthening local voices policy debates on climate change, agro-fuels and the food-energy nexus.

A range of international events including citizens’ juries, workshops and an electronic conference  brought together farmers, activists, researchers and civil society organisations to listen and discuss these issues.

These identified key areas to help level the economic playing field: inclusive governance that values local knowledge and experience, building local organisations to manage local food systems and environments, and engaging with global institutions to create a shared agenda.

Additional resources

Making agricultural research work for small farmers and agroecological approaches in West Africa,  Michel Pimbert (2010), IIED Report/paper

Video: Dr Michel Pimbert – Oxford REAL Farming Conference 2011, IIED (2011)

Transformation for food sovereignty: transforming knowledge and ways of knowing (Part III: chapter 7), Michel Pimbert (2009), IIED Book chapter

Problematising neoliberal biodiversity conservation: displaced and disobedient knowledge, Jim Igoe, Sian Sullivan (2009), IIED Briefing

Markets for biodiversity and ecosystems: reframing nature for capitalist expansion? Workshop at IUCN Oct 2008, Sian Sullivan (2008, IIED Event/workshop report

Agricultural research for food sovereignty: side event at the Terra Petra Forum on the food crisis, climate, agrofuels and food sovereignty, Michel Pimbert (2008), IIED Presentation

Mali's Farmers' Jury: an attempt to democratise policy-making on biotechnology (PLA 58), Peter Bryant (2008), Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) Journal article

The people's vision: UK and Indian reflections on Prajateerpu (PLA 58), Kavitha Kuruganti, Michel Pimbert, Tom Wakeford (2008), Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) Journal article

Democratising the governance of food systems: citizens rethinking food and agricultural research for the public good workshop report (2007), IIED Event/workshop report

Farmers' views on the future of food and small-scale producers, Michel Pimbert et al (2006), IIED Book

Prajateerpu: a citizens jury/scenario workshop on food and farming futures for Andhra Pradesh, Michel Pimbert, Tom Wakeford (2002), Economic and Political Weekly Journal article