Exploring the concepts of participatory research and innovation and the global governance of agricultural research
The Italian Research Foundation on Organic and Biodynamic Farming (FIRAB) launched the DARE project by hosting the first gathering in Rome between February 1-3, 2014.
The delegations composed of farmers and researchers arriving from Italy, France, Switzerland and the UK agreed that what lies at the heart of the DARE project is the commitment to strengthening family farming. They emphasized that agroecology, agricultural biodiversity, sustainable production systems, transmission of knowledge, rights of local communities and food sovereignty are important aspects of agricultural systems based on family farming.
There was a consensus among participants that, of the various strategies deployed to strengthen family farming and empowering small-scale farmers, democratising agricultural research is fundamental. In their view this process involves:
- Giving priority to the production of local knowledge through peer-to-peer exchanges and networking between innovative farmers (horizontal transmission)
- Weaving together different kinds of knowledge and formulating action-oriented collaborative research by building safe spaces that enable transdisciplinary exchange between farmers and researchers. The St Ulrich Workshop on Peasant Agrarian Culture and Food Sovereignty to Democratise Agricultural Research, which inspired the development of DARE, was put forward as an example.
- Encouraging the participation of citizens in defining and creating a food system that is compatible with agroecology.
Both farmers and researchers acknowledged that given the novelty of collaborative research as a methodological framework, obtaining official recognition for the value and credibility of knowledge generated through such methods is sometimes a challenge. Removing obstacles at the policy level and expanding funding mechanisms that support the work of farmers as co-innovators were identified as necessary conditions for creating opportunities for participatory research or co-innovation between farmers and researchers.
In order to see farmer-driven innovation in action participants visited two organic farms in the peri-urban area of Rome that are experimenting with alternative production methods especially with regards to adaptation to climate change. The farmers hosting the group have both been involved in research projects with scientists and have shared some of the challenges they encountered in managing such a working relationship.
A third visit was hosted by Bioversity International (one of the 15 centres of the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centres) to discuss farmers’ knowledge and engagement in managing biodiversity, and their participation in development programs. Finally, an encounter with the Global Forum on Agricultural Research Secretariat has been arranged to present the DARE project and to analyse enabling conditions for the participation of farmers and activists in the global governance of agricultural research. The overall purpose of these meetings was to better grasp the international framework on agricultural research and debate on the state of the art of co-research.