Dear colleagues –
The International Year of Family Farming is coming to an end. 2015 will be the International Year of Soils. While the buzz will shift from one theme to the other, let's not forget how both family farming and soils, when taken together, are intrinsic to agricultural sustainability and to the people and nations who depend on the economic returns from their endeavour. They serve as invaluable pillars in the quest to elevate the sector to the place it deserves in the modern, globalized, post 2015 MDG society that is to be ours. The reality of family farming is one of struggle, of perseverance and of constant innovation. Family farms around the world fight an uphill battle for a true and lasting recognition of their rights and societal role; matter-of-factly, issues of land tenure, self-determination in choice of production and technological pathways, market inclusion, and then some. These are what the international collective must address in their support to farmers and the communities relying on agriculture. Putting science, technology and innovation (ST&I) to good use in this context is a challenge in itself.
First, the modern understanding of the definition and role of "ST&I" is shifting. For too long, the component parts have been evolving in silos – which is understandable giving their controlled nature –, and today, we simply can't ignore the call to break down the walls guarding the science, technology and innovation pathways and which are preventing them from being used by those who need them most, family farms. This is why future developments in agricultural ST&I must continue to incorporate the notions of social system, of world view, of traditional knowledge, that are the bridges to appropriate and impactful R&D results. Working with smallholder farmers and by including them from the start in ST&I endeavours is crucial for success across the board. The notion of "innovation systems", formulated by experienced scholars, equally challenged by other scholars, embraced by the ACP S&T community and beyond and which we have featured on the K4D knowledge platform, offers real promise and concrete tools to redefine the agricultural ST&I rules of engagement as well as the ST&I governance and policy processes which can guide and sustain the momentum.
Second, ST&I is now seen as fitting many more matrices and formulations than initially conceived. As the concept is being applied, we wish more often than not, from the "bottom up", ie. the farms and related small and medium scale enterprises, we are now talking about multiple sciences, technologies and innovations, using the plural form and their integration. The fact is that family farms across the globe don't fit one single model to be studied and supported, and that ST&I, in the broadest sense, is to be rooted somewhere to serve its purpose. There are as many "ST&Is" as there are farming communities.
Third, family farming will continue to evolve and so must agricultural ST&I. In order to synchronise these evolving body of knowledge for achieving maximum positive impact, resonance in trajectories must be found. This in turn will ask of all stakeholders – farmers, scientists, policy makers and civil society – to find a common ground for dialogue and optimise the viable channels for continuous exchange that will permit an enabling environment for positive change. The International Year of Family Farming has certainly helped put these issues in the limelight and hopefully not end there as we get ready to launch yet, another international year.
Now, my question is: what did we learn from 2014's focus on Family Farming and how can we make use of the lessons in the 2015 Year of the Soils? What is the evidence that should guide policy and practice going forward?
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