A tribute to Jan Douwe van der Ploeg – The walking teacher

On January 26 2017 at 16.00 p.m. Jan Douwe van der Ploeg gave his farewell address ‘The importance of peasant agriculture: a neglected truth’. It was lived broadcasted at WURTV and …

Source: A tribute to Jan Douwe van der Ploeg – The walking teacher

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Local Public Policies for Food Sovereignty – A recap of the International Seminar in Donostia, Spain

Food Governance

By Jordan Treakle

This entry is part of a special series of blog posts about the UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS): The Future of the CFS? Collectively reflecting on the directions of UN’s most inclusive body. Read more about this project here. This is not an exclusive project. If you would like to participate, please let us know: foodsecuresolutions@gmail.com

This week we take a diversion and focus on the outcomes of the International Seminar on Local Public Policies for Food Sovereignty that took place in mid-November in the Basque Country.  In this post Jordan Treakle identifies key themes to emerge out of the Seminar. We note that these themes relate to discussions taking place at the CFS and are thus relevant for this special series. Further, while focussing on global policies, there is a need to also address local-level policies.


In mid-November over a hundred participants from across…

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Are equity and accountability a likely outcome when foxes and chickens share the same coop? 

Food Governance

Critiquing the concept of multistakeholder governance of food security[1]

By Nora McKeon

This entry is part of a special series of blog posts about the UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS): The Future of the CFS? Collectively reflecting on the directions of UN’s most inclusive body. Read more about this project here. This is not an exclusive project. If you would like to participate, please let us know: foodsecuresolutions@gmail.com

Last week Carolin Anthes reflected on the role of human rights in the CFS and across the UN system.  This week we launch the third thematic cluster of this series: CFS: Multi-stakeholder or multi-actor? And does it matter? In this post, Nora McKeon presents a  critique of the rise of multistakeholder processes in food security governance, warning that a failure to take power imbalances and interests into account is working to reinforce the corporate food regime. 

There is a popular aspiration…

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To tackle the post-truth world, science must reform itself

Reposted under Creative Commons licence. See the original piece at The Conversation.

To tackle the post-truth world, science must reform itself

Andrea Saltelli, University of Bergen and Silvio Oscar Funtowicz, University of Bergen

Before Brexit and the US elections, Nature magazine columnist Colin Macilwain set out a challenge: “If Donald Trump were to trigger a crisis in Western democracy, scientists would need to look at their part in its downfall.”

Now Trump has become president, the possibility of crisis is real, including the spectre of a “Twitter ban” for scientists. So what of scientific introspection?

Macilwain argues that the scientific elite is inextricably linked to the centrist, free-market political establishment. In their continuous pursuit of funding, scientists reinforce the ruling nexus of politics and finance, oblivious to the evident cracks in the system.

We share Macilwain’s diagnosis, and note that the scientific community seems set to avoid a much-needed soul-searching about its responsibility in the twin crises of science and democracy, escaping introspection by using denial, dismissal, diversion and displacement.

These tactics need to be understood in order to address the current crisis and its potential solutions.

Denial and dismissal

Denial goes something like this: “There is no crisis in science. And if there is one, it does not impact the social role of science, including informing policy.”

International organisations studying the production and delivery of science, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and UNESCO seem to adopt this position, discussing scientific advice without admitting the problems in the science that underpins it.

Alternatively, researchers and policy-makers could acknowledge the existence of a problem but dismiss it as something to be treated with topical remedies. For example, one recent analysis shows how bad incentives drive off good science by sustaining a state of affairs that systematically encourages malpractice.

But responses from the field seem to conceive of the problem as one that requires only a refined technical solution from within the scientific establishment, not fundamental reforms.

Even a recent manifesto for reproducible science, which lists measures to improve key elements of the scientific process including methods, reporting and dissemination, reproducibility, evaluation and incentives, aims only to make science more efficient.

We argue that the present scientific crisis emerges, in part, from uncritically applying to science a mainstream economics concept of efficiency, unavoidably associated with measurements and metrics, when metrics are seen instead by many as part of the problem.

Diversion and displacement

Diversion is another way to avoid addressing the current problems with science.

This stance can be summarised as, “There is a problem, and this is due to an ongoing war on science between the educated liberal left and the ignorant conservative right.” It has been realised by the election of Donald Trump.

Because science is under threat, then, it holds that scientists should close ranks and reject criticism, as they have done in the past when faced with postmodern critiques.

This position feeds onto a persistent Cult of Science, portraying science as the master narrative to adjudicate on the full range of human and societal affairs, and scientists as a nobler domain of humanity.

But in doing so, scientists risk being perceived as just another interest group. Indeed, the public is increasingly wary about trusting scientists to be objective, and scientists would be wise to reflect on the nature of their activism.

Last but not least, displacement is perhaps the most widespread response, judging by the insistent claims about the onset of the post-truth era. This position implies that before Brexit and President Trump, we were living in a world where truth was commonplace in policy and politics.

Scientists accuse the public of incompetence on scientific matters such as vaccines and climate change. And Donald Trump fuels these fires by flirting with known vaccine bashers and shutting down the climate pages on government websites.

In this view, the world would be a better place if only the lay public and politicians better understood science.

But it is important when analysing the vaccine saga – or the ease with which conspiracy theories catch on – to consider the relations between the pharmaceutical industry and regulators, feeding on a series of documented instances of corrupted science, and ruthless industrial pressure.

The mistakes of the lay public should not be taken as an excuse to overlook science’s own faults. Let us not forget the parallel cases of Love Canal in the 1970s, and Flint, Michigan and Washington, DC today, where the same script seems to repeat itself, with residents having to rely on their own scientists to expose the truth.

What went wrong with science?

In one recent analysis, we suggest that science is in crisis because of contradictions between the practice and structure of science, and its public image and social roles.

In his 1963 book, Little Science, Big Science, Derek de Solla Price described how the small-scale, single-project research activities that characterised most scientific work in through the mid-20th century shifted dramatically to big science after the second world war. This resulted from the impressive growth in the scientific production and workforce, and was characterised by large projects requiring advanced technologies.

De Solla Price speculated that this current context might one day lead to a senility of science.

Big science.
Amir Cohen/Reuters

Our analysis – which owes to earlier works by philosopher Jerome Ravetz – follows on to argue that the sheer scale of science today is destroying the disciplinary peer communities of little science and demanding objective metrics of quality, which encourage perverse incentives and are subject to corruption.

No quantitative and formalised system of quality control can replace the old, informal system. Instead, resolution will require people and institutions beyond the scientific system.

For political scientist Dan Sarewitz, the degradation of science is also due to its engagement in what he calls a “trans-scientific” endeavour, meaning a problem that can be expressed scientifically but is not amenable to a scientific solution via existing scientific means.

Obesity, for example, seems to be a scientifically soluble problem only if we neglect the extremely complex chain of possible causes which could contribute to the condition.

Sarewitz argues that the miracles of modernity came not from “the free play of free intellects but from the leashing of scientific creativity to the technological needs of the US Department of Defense.”

From this perspective, the ongoing problems with reproducibility in scientific experiments result from researchers choosing to study trans-scientific issues to maximise their funding and publication metrics. Even though science is better, for Sarewitz, when constrained by clear mandates and control, for example, at the service of a market-driven technological development.

Still, the idea that “market” and “innovation” keep science clean begs the question of who keeps market and innovation clean?

What should be done?

Though science is often put at odds with religion, there share similarities in that both function as worldviews. And despite their existential crises, religion and science remain a source of hope for many.

For this reason, it is perhaps not far-fetched to look at the crisis of the church to gain insights for the scientific field.

Martin Luther started his Protestant Reformation in an outraged reaction to generalised corruption – economic and intellectual – within the church. Monk John Tetzel, who was selling indulgences (a remission to the amount of punishment a sinner has to undergo after death) in Germany around 1517, was an example of such corruption.

Today’s science crisis also reveals how the combination of corruption, rage and new technology can mobilise major social change.

Reconstructing science would require a broad democratic constituency, including humanists, technologists and citizen activists, as well as scientists, investigative journalists and whistleblowers.

At the moment, however, creating a blueprint for such a reformation seems delusional: we live in an age of increasing fragmentation, not inclusion.

We must be able to question the idol of objective truth without being accused of postmodern relativism. We must also critically view the co-evolution of science and power that Macilwain alludes to.

Any worldview shift today, scientific or otherwise, must also reconsider the present economic paradigm.

Science in society

None of these structural changes is easy to achieve, of course. So what we suggest, while conditions for this global critique ripen, is that science is at its best when it is explicitly embedded in society, enhancing knowledge rights to an extended peer community.

Taking cases of environmental degradation such as Love Canal or Flint discussed above, it is clear that corrupt administrations, operators and regulators, with their own science, may concur to produce disasters.

Here an extended peer community of concerned citizens and willing scientists can identify the problem and its possible solutions.

Citizens have the right to engage with ideological and political debates about science and question the governance processes that produced these failures. Instead, right now, they’re just being called to defend science from its purported enemies.

Andrea Saltelli, Adjunct professor, University of Bergen and Silvio Oscar Funtowicz, Adjunct Professor Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities, University of Bergen

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Governing food systems in a multi-stakeholder era, an example from Brazil

Food Governance

Is the Brazilian CONSEA a “multi-stakeholder process” or a platform for participatory politics?

By Matheus Zanella

This entry is part of a special series of blog posts about the UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS): The Future of the CFS? Collectively reflecting on the directions of UN’s most inclusive body. Read more about this project here.

We quick off the first post of the year by continuing with our third the thematic cluster: “CFS: Multi-stakeholder or multi-actor? And does it matter?”  In this post, Matheus brings us a national-level example, the Brazilian National Council on Food and Nutrition Security, aka CONSEA,  and argues that more conceptual precision is needed when comparing and assessing the transformative potential of multi-stakeholder platforms.

This is not an exclusive project. If you would like to participate, please let us know: foodsecuresolutions@gmail.com

If you have been following the CFS and food security governance at the…

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Book recommendation: Resilience, Development and Global Change

Ideas for Sustainability

By Joern Fischer

I would like to warmly recommend Katrina Brown’s new book entitled “Resilience, development and global change”. I found it a thoughtful, authoritative book that links and transcends several deeply entrenched ideas and discourses. As such, I think it is an excellent input (or even entry point) for people working on social-ecological systems – especially, but not only in the Global South.

The book articulates different, partly conflicting understandings of resilience, both in science and policy arenas. This overview of existing perspectives is useful, simply because resilience is used in so many different ways, by so many different people, that it’s helpful to get an overview of who actually means what. A key point here is that in much of development policy, resilience is employed to argue for status quo approaches to development. Perhaps needless to say, that’s a long way from the paradigm shift some…

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Food security and biodiversity: presentation at Stockholm Resilience Centre

Ideas for Sustainability

By Joern Fischer

Last month I visited the Stockholm Resilience Centre. Among other things, I gave a talk on our food security and biodiversity research. The resulting video was originally posted on the Resilience Centre’s website. I am reproducing it here to give an update of where our work (and thinking) is at.

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The Open Source Seed Initiative

It’s #GivingTuesday! So please use that excuse–or any other–to consider giving to the Open Source Seed Initiative, where I serve as a Board Member.

Founded in 2014, the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) is dedicated to maintaining fair and open access to plant genetic resources worldwide in order to ensure the availability of germplasm to farmers, gardeners, breeders, and communities of this and future generations. (From http://osseeds.org/about/.)

You can donate here.

And re-posted below is a blog post from our Executive Director, Claire Luby. The original can be found here, and of course info to your heart’s desire can be found at the OSSI Webpage and Facebook page.

Free the Seed!


The OSSI Community continues to grow and thrive. We’ve been working with plant breeders and seed companies to expand the open source seed offerings available to gardeners, farmers and plant breeders of this and future generations. We currently list nearly 300 OSSI-Pledged varieties bred by 34 Plant Breeders and offered for sale by 38 seed companies! We’ve also been working on developing partnerships with organizations such as Seed Savers Exchange, grocery stores, and seed libraries to spread the word about OSSI and open source seed.

OSSI has received high-profile media attention in both popular magazines and academic journals. The major popular article features from last seed catalog season include:

These articles were deliberately timed to reach gardeners and farmers during the seed ordering season so as to create the optimal publicity for our seed company partners.

Our recent academic articles include:

  • “Open Source Plant Breeding and the Open Source Seed Initiative,” by Claire Luby, Jack Kloppenburg, and Irwin Goldman. Plant Breeding Reviews, 2016.

Forthcoming promotion for OSSI will include the release in December of a Peak Moments TV/YouTube interview with Carol Deppe, complete with OSSI songs. In addition, there will be a 4,000-word article by Carol in the Jan. (Seed) 2017 issue of Acres/USA on “Thirty-three Great Open Source Organic-Adapted Vegetable Varieties.”

We’ve made some new additions to our OSSI leadership team. We were excited to welcome CR Lawn, founder and CFO of Fedco Seeds, to our Board of Directors in winter of 2016. CR founded Fedco Seeds, a hybrid consumer/worker farm and garden products cooperative in 1978 and has been one of its managing coordinators since. He is responsible for much of the distinctive writing and vivid variety descriptions in the Fedco Seed catalogs. CR holds a JD from Yale Law School. His contributions include past membership on the board of MOFGA and as Chair of the Common Ground Fair Steering Committee. He was a contributing editor of Organic Seed Production and Saving by Bryan Connolly (Chelsea Green, 2011) and of The Heritage Grain Grower by Eli Rogosa (Chelsea Green, 2016), and has written and spoken extensively on topics of economics and issues around seeds, farming and genetic engineering. We are thrilled that he is bringing his extensive experience and wisdom to the OSSI Board of Directors.

In June, Claire Luby started as our first half-time Executive Director. Claire is a co-founder of OSSI as well as a member of the Board of Directors, and as an experimentalist, has provided foundation data and germplasm to guide the theory and practice of open source plant breeding in the future. Claire recently completed her Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her thesis focused on assessing genetic variation and freedom to operate in a large collection of U.S.A. carrot cultivars, the first such study to be conducted for any crop. In addition, in collaboration with Irwin Goldman, Claire developed eight intellectual-property-free populations of carrot germplasm based upon market and color classes and released them as OSSI-Pledged varieties, thus providing ideal sources of material that all interested can use to breed new open source carrot varieties. In addition to her Executive Director appointment, Claire continues her research on genetic diversity and intellectual property rights through her half-time postdoctoral position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Board Member Jahi Chappell recently moved from his position as a Senior Scientist and Director of Agroecology and Agriculture Policy at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis, MN to being a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Agroecology, Water, and Resilience at Coventry University in the UK. There he will conduct collaborative transdisciplinary research and connect with communities in order to analyze, coordinate, and develop actions and policies to create a sustainable, decentralized, and deeply democratic food and agriculture system. Jahi has also been busy writing his first book, Beginning to End Hunger, which will be published by University of California Press in 2017. Being based in the UK, Jahi will be able to better support our UK-based Seed Company Partners and explore greater cooperation with breeders, seed companies, and others in the UK and EU.

OSSI has wrestled with the question of whether to go with a fully legally enforceable Pledge since our inception. Ultimately, we decided on our current Pledge, agreeing that working on the moral and ethical plane best fit our style and values. However, we raised the question of the legality of our Pledge with our lawyers. They advised us that they believe the Pledge to be legally enforceable.

We have continued to work through how the Pledge operates on a practical level for seed companies and breeders. After consulting with our breeder and seed company partners, we have developed guidelines for contracts and licenses that protect the full rights of farmers, gardeners and plant breeders to use seed, but that also allow the sort of seed multiplication and benefit sharing arrangements that facilitate seed production. Our formal policy is as follows:

The Open Source Seed Initiative permits any contract or agreement for seed increase and/or benefit sharing for OSSI-Pledged varieties in which the restrictions on the use of the seeds are limited to the two contracting parties. OSSI does not accept arrangements in which there are restrictions on the seed that extend beyond the two contracting parties. Seed companies can pass no restrictions on to breeders or customers. From the point of view of breeders or customers, OSSI-Pledged varieties must be unrestricted.

What freedoms does the Pledge protect? In order to better communicate to a wide variety of audiences exactly what freedoms the OSSI Pledge is protecting, we have developed the “Four Open Source Seed Freedoms” to explain what it means for a variety to be released under the OSSI Pledge.

The Four Open Source Seed Freedoms are:

  1. The freedom to save or grow seed for replanting or for any other purpose.
  2. The freedom to share, trade, or sell seed to others.
  3. The freedom to trial and study seed and to share or publish information about it.
  4. The freedom to select or adapt the seed, make crosses with it, or use it to breed new lines and varieties

When you buy, grow, or breed with OSSI varieties, and when you pass the Pledge along with the seed, you are protecting, extending and perpetuating these four essential seed freedoms.

me-at-soss-trials-seed-mattersClaire Luby is half-time Executive Director of OSSI and half-time postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in plant breeding and plant genetics. Claire’s research examines the impact of intellectual property rights on freedom to operate for plant breeding. Claire is also a co-founder of the Student Organic Seed Symposium (Photo credit: Matthew Dillon)

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Preliminary findings: Woody plant diversity in cultural landscapes of southwestern Ethiopia

Interesting work and results from the Leuphana group (as usual!)

Ideas for Sustainability

By Girma Shumi and colleagues

The following is the first of a series of upcoming summaries of preliminary findings from our ERC funded research. Details are subject to change.

coffee gradient.png

Maintaining biodiversity is a global challenge. Some scientists have argued for strictly protected forest areas, while others have suggested that farmland also can have conservation value. To assess the conservation value of farmland and forest for woody species diversity in southwestern Ethiopia, we investigated six kebeles in Jimma Zone. We identified woody plant species in 78 randomly selected 20 m x 20 m sample plots in forest and homegardens; and in 72 randomly selected 1 ha sites in arable land and pastures. We found 96 and 122 plant species in forest and farmland, respectively. In forest, woody plant composition was affected by coffee management practices, current and historical distance to farmland, and the effort required by local people to reach a given site (so-called “cost distance”). Mean species richness ranged from 13 at the forest edge to…

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A Despot in America

Sage, somber thoughts from Bill Moseley.

African political ecology

I am despondent and in shock after Tuesday night’s election results in the U.S. I had thought I would wake up Wednesday morning with a narrow Clinton victory and a sense that America had dodged a bullet. A Trump win was unfathomable to me – and now I must contemplate the unthinkable: Donald Trump as my president.

What do you do when a narcissistic, racist, nativist, sexist bully wins the fight on the playground and seemingly half the crowd was rooting for him? The short answer is that you get up, think hard about what just happened, go back to work, and continue to fight the good fight. Nonetheless, I really didn’t need another existential reminder that the most qualified person doesn’t always win, and that fear, manipulation and power sometimes rule the day.

The charitable side of me would like to believe that this was a working class revolt…

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