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Editorial – Co-creation of knowledge

‘Agro ecological farming can double the food production in ten years while mitigating climate change and alleviating poverty’, said Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, emphasizing the need to shift to more eco friendly farming for future sustainability. This view is also supported by several studies including the IAASTD report. Obviously, the challenge for the 21st century is not only about increasing food production but about strengthening the resilience of our food production in the face of increasing stress on the ecosystem. In this backdrop, agroecological farming is increasingly being recognized as one of the ways in overcoming the challenge.

As an approach, agro-ecology aims to make agriculture economically, ecologically, and socially more sustainable.  It is highly knowledge-intensive, based on the know-how of small-scale producers and on agro-ecological science and experimentation. 

Need for knowledge co-creation

Food produced adopting conventional agricultural practices largely depends on a set of package of practices which are high external input based, directed towards monocultures. In this system, farmer is considered as a ‘recipient’ of new knowledge flowing from the lab or the scientists. It fails to account for the complexity of agriculture, local conditions, farmers needs and priorities or farmers increasing need to adapt to the challenges of climate variability. It does not recognize farmers knowledge or their capacities to adopt, while completely ignoring the knowledge of women farmers.

On the other hand, agro ecology is highly context specific and knowledge intensive. It depends on the know-how of small farmers, the agro ecological conditions and experimentation. There are no fixed prescriptions in agroecology about how to produce, process, market or store food, feed, medicine and fibre. Rather, different practices work in different ways depending on each specific context and ecosystem. Farmers continuously build situation-specific knowledge that allows them to succeed under unpredictable and changing circumstances.  Agro ecology also needs the support of knowledge based on evolving agro ecological science and experimentation. All this makes co-creation of knowledge, arising out of various forms of knowledge systems, most essential.

Emerging initiatives

Knowledge cocreation has been happening in various ways, especially with the efforts of the Civil Society Organisations. Various participatory processes like Participatory Varietal Selection (PVS), Farmer Field Schools (FFS) and Participatory Technology Development (PTD) have been largely instrumental in co-creating knowledge. Other initiatives include, setting up of village knowledge centers, facilitating knowledge sharing meetings, multi stakeholder workshops etc. This issue highlights some of them.

Farmer Field Schools have been considered an effective platform for co creating knowledge among farmers, facilitators and researchers. Interactions, discussions and hands on training during FFS provides an opportunity to revive and sustain traditional knowledge while making improvements through modern science.(Mohanty and Sahu, p.24).

Science Field Shops similar to FFS, are serving as a response to climate change, in Indonesia. Farmers are learning to prepare and cope with climatic variations better by observing, learning and interacting with other farmers and researchers. (Stigter and Winarto, p.20)

ANTHRA in Andhra Pradesh has promoted preservation of local knowledge on livestock rearing by documenting the practices and wisdom of the tribals, pastoralists and the women in the communities, (Nitya Sambamurti Ghotge, p.14). The collective knowledge created in the form of books, photographs, publications and training materials is aimed to serve as a repository of local knowledge which could be used in future.

In conventional knowledge management system, information control lies with conventionally educated groups. This creates knowledge banks, but not effective ‘knowledge societies’ that engage poor people. In an effort to move towards creating knowledge societies, Practical Action, Bangladesh has been promoting grass root Knowledge Centre called GyanerHaat, a knowledge service for generating, sharing, updating, disseminating, internalising and conserving knowledge. (Faruk-Ul-Islam, Mohammad Kamrul Islam Bhuiyan, Saikat Shubra Aich, A.M. Shamsuddula, p.6)

With farmers’ knowledge gaining more recognition, many events where farmers gather are increasingly serving as platforms for knowledge sharing. PGS (Participatory Guarantee Systems) meetings have been shown to hold great potential, to encourage knowledge sharing between farmers, and thus contribute to nurturing farmers’ knowledge. PGS initiatives like Keystone in India and MASIPAG in the Philippines have acknowledged that PGS functions as a key tool in preserving traditional knowledge or even re-establishing already almost-forgotten knowledge and practices. (Cornelia Kirchner, p.9)

Participatory processes like FFS enable knowledge exchange
Participatory processes like FFS enable knowledge exchange

Support for knowledge co-creation

Agroecological methods of food production have been applied and spread by many farming communities around the world, primarily through a process of farmer- to-farmer knowledge sharing. The experience of farmers and food-producing communities around the world using agroecological methods has provided a growing body of evidence of the economic, social and environmental benefits of these methods. Successful examples of scaling up agroecology show that there is a need to enhance human capital and empower communities through training and participatory methods that seriously take into account the needs, aspirations and circumstances of smallholders.

Greater investment in research on agroecological food production methods which builds on traditional knowledge and existing best practices is needed. Also increased support for the establishment and expansion of farmer-to-farmer networks at local levels for the sharing of information and best practices in agroecological food production is necessary. Enabling policy environments at national and international levels will go a long way in scaling up agro ecology. The Multistakeholder Consultation on Agroecology for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok organized by FAO in November 2015 (T M Radha, p.36) is definitely a positive step towards that end.