The choices that are available to farmers, other food producers and consumers, and the environments in which they live and work, are partly shaped by publicly funded research. For a very long time, agricultural research has largely been thought of as the domain of scientific experts, with farmers at the receiving end of the research outputs. If a variety or a policy fails, farmers are often blamed for their "ignorance and inability" to farm correctly. The question is rarely asked: Is there something wrong with the research itself?

The aim of this action research is to identify and support processes that can help democratise the governance of food and agricultural research. Initiated in 2007, this project has become established in four regions, with one country acting as host for each region: West Africa (Mali), South Asia (India), West Asia (Iran) and the Andean region in Latin America (Bolivia/Peru). This international initiative is co-funded by the Government of The Netherlands, Oxfam-Novib and the Christensen Fund.

This multi-regional, bottom up process combines different participatory methodologies and institutional innovations to create gender inclusive and safe spaces for citizen deliberation in policy making and agenda setting for science and technology research. The methodologies used build on earlier experiences with deliberative and inclusive processes on the future of food and farming such as the Prajateerpu in India – see the Prajateerpu video on the right of this page.

The Democratising Food and Agricultural Research initiative is not a product of blueprint project planning, - it is an adaptive multilayered approach. Its interrelated regional activities together form part of a single, multi-form process of emergence, transformation and change which links the local with the global.

This initiative seeks to contribute to the following outcomes:

  1. Development and implementation of new models of citizen involvement and gender justice in decisions on food and agricultural research, as well as risk assessments.
  2. Complement the activities recommended by the International Assessment of Agriculture Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), - by opening up gender inclusive and safe spaces within which, and from which, small scale farmers and other citizens can gain the confidence to use their voice, analyze, deliberate, frame alternatives and action, mobilize, build alliances and act.
  3. Development of more effective, interdisciplinary, user oriented and participatory research based on mutual respect and gender inclusion. New partnerships will link natural and technical science with social science and indigenous knowledge to address needs and problems in specific local settings that are typically marked by complex and dynamic change
  4. New funding mechanisms and oversight to support genuine cross cultural dialogue, gender sensitivity and inclusion, interdisciplinary openness and the production of relevant social and ecological knowledge for food, farming and sustainable land use
  5. Establishment of gender inclusive and pro-poor innovation systems that are supported by appropriate governance arrangements and funding.

Marginalised small scale producers and food providers stand to gain most from the development of more inclusive forms of agricultural research based on the principles of deliberative and direct democracy. It is anticipated that increased food sovereignty and livelihood security will accrue to these social groups as their rights, knowledge, realities and priorities are made to count more in the governance and definition of strategic priorities for food and agricultural research.