Knowledge and Science

Without ground-breaking scientific findings, the increase in agricultural production over the past five decades would have been inconceivable.
The IAASTD describes the principle of scientific progress as the ‘Transfer of Technology’ (ToT) model whereby scientific institutions define problems and develop technical solutions which are then conveyed, via agricultural extension workers, to local farmers. The farmers are then responsible for putting these solutions into practice.
To this day, the Transfer of Technology model dominates the political sphere, as well as the practical one. However, this model proved not to be very effective in achieving more complex development targets, which consider the diverse tasks and roles of agricultural companies and agro-ecological systems (see also > Agroecology & Multifunctionality).


Technology Transfer or Joint Innovation?

In the course of the Green Revolution, it was national and international public research centres and institutions in particular, which implemented the Transfer of Technology model. International enterprises further developed this hierarchical model. Industrialised nations still apply the model today. The focus was on increasing productivity, with success being measured in terms of rates of return, i.e. the economic yield per dollar spent on research. As a result, successes and costs that cannot be measured from a market economy perspective, such as environmental, health and social factors, were not included in this assessment.
Since the 1970s, concepts have existed which include the knowledge of farmers, communities, institutions and NGOs, as well researchers from different disciplines which aim to define and solve problems. There is also a growing understanding within official research and technology organisations that the present concept of technology transfer must be changed. One possible way to achieve this would be to give up the fixation on science as the only place for research and development (R&D), and to democratise the production of knowledge. Despite convincing successes, these concepts of innovation have only established themselves to a limited extent. One reason for this is the lack of economic interest in improving common goods and increasing general prosperity. It all comes down to quick revenue. However, science itself is also opposed to innovative concepts: new approaches question their traditional authority as a universal and unbiased method to describe the objective truth (see also > Hunger in Times of Plenty & Health).

Decline of Public Agricultural Research

In most industrialised nations the public sector is increasingly withdrawing itself from organising and financing general agricultural research and teaching. It is being replaced by agro-chemical and seed companies who are providing a declining number of farmers with technological package solutions for standardised methods of cultivating staple crops and oil seeds, as well as for high-performance livestock farming.
In a few emerging economies in Asia and Latin America this trend of privatisation is being confronted with an increase in public agricultural research. However, in most developing countries these public investments have stagnated in the past decades.
Even the 15 international agricultural research centres (CGIAR) managed by the World Bank, whose cultivation and technology transfer programmes played a crucial role in the Green Revolution, have a comparatively small yearly budget (US$696 million in 2010). (see also > Seeds and Patents on Life).


Traditional and Local Knowledge

Traditional and local knowledge often eludes scientific description. One reason for this is the regional, cultural and spiritual diversity of the systems in which traditional knowledge is used and passed on. When such connections dissolve, knowledge is quickly lost. One example is the loss of regional and local languages, with which the concepts and knowledge of local biodiversity, and its use, also disappear. The IAASTD lists many examples of valuable traditional knowledge which are not part of the perception of “modern” agricultural research and development. These include centuries-old forms of sustainable water and soil management, biological pest control and joint seed development, as well as the immense stock of knowledge and experience with regard to the variety and use of seeds, wild plants, animals and micro-organisms for nutrition and medicine.
Combining traditional and local knowledge with the findings of modern science, in such a way that is practical and gives both forms of knowledge equal recognition, entails huge opportunities. However, it also bears risks. Many guardians of traditional knowledge have become suspicious due to experiences of their knowledge being simply taken or even expropriated through patenting. For example, to date there are no international agreements in place which prevent biopiracy (see also > Industrial Agriculture and Small-scale FarmingFood Sovereignty).


Investment in the Future

The IAASTD calls for a huge increase in public investment in agricultural knowledge, and urges that it be conveyed on all levels. Public funds must be used to serve global, regional and local public goods, addressing strategic issues that do not attract sufficient private funding such as food security and food safety, climate change and sustainability.
Public investment should support effective change in agricultural knowledge systems and be directed to:
- promote interactive knowledge networks (between farmers, farmer communities, scientists, industrial representatives and actors in other knowledge areas),
- improve access to information and communication technologies for all actors,
- support ecological, evolutionary and social sciences as well as those relating to food, nutrition and complex systems. Effective interdisciplinarity should also be promoted.
- establish capacities and facilities to offer life-long learning opportunities to those involved in the agri-food arena (Synthesis, p. 33).


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 Verlag der Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft e.V. 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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