Knowledge and Science

As with resources, knowledge is also extremely unfairly and inefficiently distributed across the globe.
On the one hand we see an abundance of data and information which can blur our view of what is essential.
On the other there is a huge deficit in general education and agricultural training, female extension workers and agricultural schools. There is also a shortage of researchers dealing with specific local problems, and a lack of competence to compile existing knowledge so that it can produce results, and be used where it is most needed.Given the new challenges we confront today, there is increasing recognition within formal S&T organizations that the current AKST model, too, requires adaptation and revision. Business as usual is not an option. One area of potential adaptation is to move from an exclusive focus on public and private research as the site for R&D toward the democratization of knowledge production (Synthesis, p. 18). Knowledge, science and technology are a central focus in the IAASTD. Their role, the history of their achievements and failures, and their internal constitution are all reviewed in detail. The authors clearly outline the enormous damages caused by science and research in the past. Furthermore, they stress the responsibility science itself bears for these damages. >>more

Unequal Investments

For decades, areas in which science and research has been needed most, have in fact received the least investment.
The problems for small-scale agriculture differ greatly from those that exist in industrial agriculture, yet they still fail to receive the necessary attention of the scientific community.
The IAASTD calls for a massive increase in public investment in agricultural knowledge, and urges that it be conveyed on all levels. Today in many industrialized countries an increasing percentage of the funding for university science comes from private commercial sources. It tends to be concentrated in areas of commercial interest or in advanced sciences such as satellite imaging, nanotechnologies and genomics rather than in applications deeply informed by knowledge of farming practice and ecological contexts. (…) Hence a condition of funding is that the source of funds often determines who is assigned first patent rights on faculty research results. In some cases the right to publication and the uninhibited exchange of information among scholars are also restricted. The assumption under these arrangements that scientific knowledge is a private good changes radically the relationships within the scientific community and between that community and its diverse partners (Global, p.72).Nowadays, all knowledge which is not part or the result of formal research is referred to, either patronisingly or somewhat helplessly, as “traditional” or “local” knowledge. This practical knowledge is the most important tool that farmers, forest workers, shepherds, fishermen and healers, as well as female gardeners and craftsmen around the world have at their disposal.
It has grown in the course of history, and in its own way often comprises complex interrelations which continue to overwhelm natural scientists who think in a monocausal way (see also> Agroecology).


Facts & Figures

In Sub-Saharan Africa, after a decade of stagnation in the 1990s, investment and human resource capacity in public agricultural research and development (R&D) averaged, over 20% growth between 2001-2008. In 2008, the region spent $1.7 billion on agricultural R&D (2005 purchasing power parity, dollars) and employed more than 12,000 full-time equivalent agricultural researchers.

Traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities is gaining credibility as a key weapon in the fight against climate change. Research suggests that traditional knowledge is an essential element of local adaptive capacity that can be enhanced through local seed systems, farmers’ rights to traditional crops and market access for local varieties. Most farmers in a iied study chose traditional crop varieties over modern varieties because they are better adapted to local conditions and are more likely to survive environmental stress and climatic variability.

At Rio+20, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) announced the creation of the Global Organic Research Network (IGORN). This was set up as response to the lack of support from mainstream research funders and the perceived failure of the Organic Research Centres Alliance. IFOAM plans to launch IGORN in 2013, establishing a series of research centres in the developing world. Research will focus on organic food and farming science, knowledge, and technology innovation within the global organic movement.

An ETC Group (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration) report criticised the influence the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other private sector actors exert on agricultural research. Over the last seven years, the Gates Foundation has committed over $1.5 billion to international agricultural development, with funding mostly tied to projects that also involve agribusiness or promote GM crops. Of CGIAR’s $696 million funding in 2010, $71.4 million came from the Gates Foundation.

Throughout history, about 7,000 species of the 10,000 to 15,000 plants known to be edible have been used  for food and animal feed. Today, less than 2% of these are recognised as economically relevant in agriculture.

Governments in Africa only spend around 6.6% of their national budgets on agriculture, a little more than US$15 per year for every rural inhabitant. In contrast, during the Green Revolution era, Asian governments allocated as much as 15% of their budgets to agriculture. Donor support for African farming has fallen from 15% of total aid budgets in the 1990s to only 4.2% in 2006.

Overall GDP growth originating in agriculture, in particular the smallholders, is, on average, at least twice as effective in benefiting the poorest half of a country’s population as growth generated in non-agricultural sectors. This is not surprising as 75% of the poor in developing countries live in rural areas and derive significant parts of their livelihoods from agriculture or activities dependent on it.


Civil Society

  • Democratising agricultural research An iied initiative that questions the often narrow interests of agricultural research
  • FiBL independent, non-profit, research institute with the aim of advancing science in the field of organic agriculture
  • Rodale Institute nonprofit dedicated to pioneering organic farming through research and outreach; run a long-term study comparing conventional chemical agriculture with organic methods
  • VDW Federation of German Scientists has nearly 400 members from different fields and  feels bound to the tradition of responsible science 
  • ENSSER European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility
  • UCS Union of Concerned Scientsts science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment


Videos: Knowledge and Science

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Videos: Indigenous knowledge

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  • UNEP Agriculture ScenariosUNEP Agriculture Scenarios
  • UNEP Multiple StressorsUNEP Multiple Stressors
  • UNEP Agriculture ResearchUNEP Agriculture Research
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Unterstützer von biovision Bread for all Demeter Greenpeace Forum Umwelt und Entwicklung Eine Welt Stiftung Die Grünen, Europäische Freie Allianz Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst NABU - Naturschutzbund Deutschland e.V. Misereor Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft in der GLS Treuhand Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft in der GLS Treuhand
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