Knowledge for Development

Related developments

The Ethics of Innovation in Agriculture: Inclusivity and Reflexivity

By Kristal Jones, Research Associate, National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, University of Maryland, USA    Kristal Jones asks whose values and which ethics should drive innovation in agriculture and makes the case for an ethic of innovation in agricultural development that is built on the foundation of inclusivity and reflectivity. 


A new Bio-Economy web site

A newly launched website, Bio-Economy, of the South African Research Chair in the Environmental and Social Dimensions of the Bio-economy provides a platform for researchers, policy makers and students to engage with and learn more about approaches within the bio-economy that facilitate poverty reduction in a manner that is socially just and environmentally sustainable.  On the site, publications and other information are arranged according to five themes: (i) governance and rights; (ii) biodiversity use and trade; (iii) seed and knowledge; (iv) access and benefit sharing; and (v) the impacts of emerging technologies.    (Platform for Agrobiodiversity Research, 12/12/2014)


Reframing the evidence debates: a view from the media for development sector

The lack of clear standards for reporting evidence from media for development programmes, the limited efforts to date to collate and systematically review the evidence that does exist, and the lack of relevant fora in which findings of evaluations can critically be discussed, are significant barriers to evidence generation. The paper is part of the BBC Media Action’s Bridging Theory and Practice series and calls for an 'evidence agenda', which creates shared standards to systematically map the existing evidence, establishes fora to discuss and share existing evidence, and uses a strategic, longer-term collaborative investment in evaluation to highlight where evidence gaps need to be filled. Without such an agenda evidence producers, assessors and funders risk talking at cross purposes.    (MandE News, 09/08/2014)


Science, policy, and the transparency of values

Guiding principles for communicating scientific findings in a manner that promotes objectivity, public trust, and policy relevance have been proposed by Kevin C. Elliott (Michigan State University, US) and David B. Resnik (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, US) . These are based on current ethical, conceptual, and empirical studies of objectivity and conflicts of interest in scientific research. Both conceptual and empirical studies of scientific reasoning have shown that it is unrealistic to prevent policy-relevant scientific research from being influenced by value judgments. Conceptually, the current dispute over an EC report on its regulatory policy for endocrine-disrupting chemicals illustrates how scientists were forced to make value judgments about appropriate standards of evidence when informing public policy. Empirical studies provide further evidence that scientists are unavoidably influenced by a variety of potentially subconscious financial, social, political, and personal interests. The authors conclude that when scientific evidence is inconclusive and major regulatory decisions are at stake, it is unrealistic to think that values can be excluded from scientific reasoning. Thus, efforts to suppress or hide interests or values may actually damage scientific objectivity and public trust, whereas a willingness to bring implicit interests and values into the open may be the best path to promoting good science and policy.   (Environmental Health Perspectives, 01/ 07/2014)


Academic self-publishing: a not-so-distant-future

The Open Scholar C.I.C. argues that the current structure of scientific journals is restraining scientific progress, caused by rejection rates and lack of access. They see the urgent need for academic self-publishing. Open Scholar proposes LIBRE, a five step bottom-up workflow that will help the science community move from competition to collaboration and from closed to open access.    (Open Scholar C.I.C, 19/06/2014)


Interpreting academic studies: a primer for media

Justin Feldman lists a series of question every science journalist should ask when reporting on a new scientific study. His article is part a Journalist’s Resource (JR) project, that examines news topics through a research lens. Feldman's guide looks at how a journalist should understand a research project's hypothesis, variables, unit of analysis, causation logic (such as Randomised Controlled Trials, systemic reviews or meta-analysis for example), results generalisation potential, intrinsic limitations and conclusions.   Editor's note: The following annotation offers a great example of insightful journalism, where a difference in field research methodology can influence the end results in a surprising way.   (Journalist’s Resource, 27/05/2014)


The need for post-publication peer review in plant science publishing

In this opinion article, Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva, of the Kagawa University in Japan, argues that the discussion among scientists about the quality of a published paper should be a constant, dynamic process, even beyond the act of publication. According to the author, although there has been an increase in the level of verification by publishers in the first step, the traditional scientific publishing process is still far from being a fail-safe system, seeing how it fails to reveal duplicate submissions. He suggests plant scientists as a community of researchers, reviewers and publishers, must urgently address errors and ethical loopholes to ensure strong and respected publication ecosystem. Plant Sci., 04/12/2013)


Decoding 'orphan crop' genomes and making the information free to boost harvests

Howard-Yana Shapiro, the agriculture director of the $36bn US confectionery corporation Mars, led a partnership that sequenced and then published in 2010 the complete genome of the cacao tree from which chocolate is derived. He plans to work with American and Chinese scientists to sequence and make publicly available the genetic makeup of a host of crops such as yam, finger millet, tef, groundnut, cassava and sweet potato.  More on the cocoa genome research at Mars Corp.  (The Guardian, 02/06/2013)


Finding appropriate IP policies for Africa

Intellectual Property Watchreports on the efforts made by several countries in Africa to find appropriate intellectual property policies and discussed at the Africa IP conference (February 2013). The issue of applying intellectual property rights to indigenous knowledge, in order to protect holders of this knowledge from exploitation, while at the same time leveraging it for development was a vibrant thread of debate throughout the conference. also reports on the March 2013 workshop 'Practical Approaches to IP Utilization and Protection in Africa' co-organised by the US Commerce Department and the African Intellectual Property Group (AIPG), a new pro-IP association of stakeholders. Participants there emphasised the need to set an Africa IP agenda, more research on the impact of strong IPR protection, and to debunk the idea of a 'one-size-fits-all' IP policy for Africa. More recently, wrote about the draft protocol for the protection of new varieties of plants proposed by an inter-governmental African regional economic community, the Southern African Development Community (SADC). It reported that the Plant Variety Protection (PVP) draft protocol is provoking the ire of civil society concerned about its potential impact on small farmers, and the lack of consultation of farmers. According to the draft protocol, plant breeders' rights 'in the region will allow farmers access to a wide range of improved varieties to contribute to the attainment of the regional goal of economic development and food security'. The civil society groups said that the protocol would not develop a suitable regime to the needs of SADC member states and their farmers. The latter rely heavily on farm saved seed, exchanges with relatives and neighbours, bartering with other farmers or local markets to access seeds. (Intellectual Property Watch, March/April 2013)


CIRAD/INRA Ethical guidelines for partnerships

Partnerships, which are a founding principle for many institutional research centres, are covered by a recent statement by the CIRAD-INRA Joint Consultative Committee on Ethics in Agricultural Research. The statement presents a partnership approach centring on reflexion and debate, and encourages the development of an ethical frame of mind by providing guidelines. It also makes recommendations for the different stakeholders in partnerships. (CIRAD, 14/06/2012)


Researchers failing to make raw data public

A study, led by Heather Piwowar at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, North Carolina, USA, reveals scientists are failing to make raw data publicly available, even when prompted to do so by journals, and a wide variation exists in data-sharing policies and in researchers' adherence to them. The findings come amid a growing push for sharing raw research data – both to facilitate further research and to better prevent fraud or error. (Nature, 14/9/2011)


The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity endorsed by European Science Foundation’s Governing Council

(via AlphaGalileo, 18/7/2011)The European Science Foundation (ESF) announces the endorsement ofThe European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity by its Governing Council in Lisbon on 22-23 June 2011. The code, which was launched at the World Conference on Research Integrity held in Singapore last July, was developed from a series of meetings and workshops involving the European Science Foundation Member Organisations which are 78 national funding bodies, research-performing agencies, academies and learned societies from 30 countries. They worked in close collaboration with the All European Academies (ALLEA). This code offers a reference point for all researchers, complementing existing codes of ethics and complying with national and European legislative frameworks. Representing an agreement across 30 countries on a set of principles and priorities for self-regulation of the research community, it provides a possible model for a global code of conduct for all research.


Successful African alternatives to corporate ‘green revolutions’

This article is part of the Journal Development’s issue on the future of agriculture ( This article proposes African alternatives that honour farmers' rights and agricultural biodiversity and still permit sustainable food production.Andrew Mushita and Carol Thompson argue that while the ‘green revolution for Africa’ promotes private foreign ownership of genetically modified seeds and focuses on increased yields of a few crops, African alternatives honour farmers' rights and agricultural biodiversity, through innovative legislation and protocols, in order to increase sustainable food production.The authors explain how the global agricultural crises have affected the African continent. Starting with exploring the dud that are agrofuels and the profound multi-faceted market failures of agricultural corporate policy, the authors then move to examine impacts of the piracy of African biodiversity wealth. At a later point, they carry their analysis to the African alternatives “that are working on the ground”, and focus on the Farmers’ rights international principle and the African Union Model Law for the protection of rights of local communities, farmers and breeders.Pambazuka republished recently the article at Pambazuka, 24 Mar. 2011; Photo credit: Neil Palmer CIAT)


Does research reduce poverty? Assessing the welfare impacts of policy-oriented research in agriculture

This paper surveys the literature and identifies different ways of assessing the impact of ‘policy-oriented’ research. It then takes the available literature on agriculture as a specific focus of study. The author examine the different types of ‘policy-oriented’ research; the literature on the ‘theories of change‘ for policy research in international development; methodologies for analysing the impact of policy-oriented research; the relevant agriculture literature and outlines the types of indicators that can be used for impact assessment of research with examples.More than ever before, every dollar spent on development research will have to count towards sustainable poverty reduction. However, the understanding of the impacts of development research on policy change and on poverty is weak at best, with agriculture being no different. The area of research impact is not a new area of enquiry but an emergent one.(Reference: Edoardo Masset, Rajendra Mulmi and Andy Sumner; IDS Working Papers 360; 2011)


The ethics of biofuels

In a paper released today by the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, authors Michal Moore, Senior Fellow, and Sarah M. Jordaan at Harvard University in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, look at the basic question of whether the so-called ‘green’ energy sources are ethical. In addition to arguing that the greenhouse gas benefits of biofuel are overstated by many policymakers, the authors argue that there are four questions that need to be considered before encouraging and supporting the production of more biofuel. These questions are: What is the effect of biofuel production on food costs, especially for poor populations? Should more land be used for biofuel when the return of energy per acre is low? Are there better uses for that land? In addition to worrying about the impact of global warming, should we not consider the impact on land of massively expanding biofuel production? What are the other economic impacts of large scale production of biofuel? (Source: EurekAlert, 14 December 2010.)


Patent Grab Threatens Biodiversity and Food Sovereignty

A new report by ETC Group (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, based in Ottawa, Canada) reveals a dramatic upsurge in the number of patent claims on 'climate-ready' genes, plants and technologies that will supposedly allow biotech crops to tolerate drought and other environmental stresses (i.e. abiotic stresses) associated with climate change. The patent grab threatens to put a monopoly choke-hold on the world's biomass and future food supply, warns ETC Group. In many cases, a single patent or patent application claims ownership of engineered gene sequences that could be deployed in virtually all major crops - as well as the processed food and feed products derived from them. (Source: Pambazuka News, 11 November 2010).


Sugar cane to return to Angola in biofuel move

Angola will begin planting sugar cane for the first time in more than 30 years as the oil-rich country takes its first step toward biofuels. A 30,000 hectare (74,000-acre) site in Malanje province, east of Luanda, is the first biofuel project to get off the ground in Angola where the government is trying to revive farming after decades of war. The scheme is also part of efforts to diversify the economy away from its dependence on oil and diamonds, which have powered a post-war boom since Angola's civil conflict ended in 2002. The leftover fibrous remains from the cane, along with the leaves and waste heat from the sugar processing will be used to produce electricity – around 217 megawatts a year – which will be used locally. Angola is the latest in a line of African countries giving over land to companies for non-food crops, a trend that raises concerns for rural communities at the level of the United Nations. (Source: AFP, 30 August 2009)