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INSAM homepage until October 2009

Last modified October 01, 2009 11:25

INSAM homepage until October 2009

At the end of June and the first day of July, I participated as an invited speaker in an OECD policy meeting at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, on “Sustaining soil productivity in response to global climate change: Science, policy and ethics”. OECD is the Organization for Economic and Cultural Development based in Paris. My paper on the most interesting first day was on “Rural response to climate change in poor countries: ethics, policies and scientific  support systems in their agricultural environments”. You may find a draft under “New information for agrometeorologists” that also shows the literature I used.

I strongly believe that ethics, such as the choice for a “farmer first” paradigm, should come first. Then policies should be derived in accordance with these ethics and then science should come with research and application choices supporting the policies. Why does it almost nowhere work like that? If ethics are the moral principles governing or influencing our conduct, why are actually internal ethics of conduct in science discussed more than external ones by scientists themselves?

Research priorities and research agendas incorporate values of what is seen by research managers as worthwhile. Research priorities and research agendas determine the future of research by selecting scientific and technological pathways that often cannot easily be changed. Even in the selection of materials and methods and the products of science are values incorporated, especially as they relate to the impact on society. In general, the research priorities of scientists are now criticized by many and often it is these days expected of science to reduce the gap between poor and rich countries. So, external ethics is these days a thoroughly accepted reason to decide to work in and for developing countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, a decision that I took more than 40 years ago.

Early in that period, when I was a professor at the University of Dar es Salaam (1975-1984), neither my African colleagues nor myself were those early days anywhere connected to decision makers, policy makers or anybody representing farmers or farming that could be taken serious. There were no NGOs, there were no farmers in our lives as scientists in Tanzania. The closest you could come were plantation owners who occasionally would show interest, but they were just outside mainstream agriculture. The political situation and the dissociated peasantry were the main reasons for this. There was no way that science could play a role, there were no institutions anywhere linking scientists to the reality of peasant farming.

Ethics could this way play no role through science. It could, however, through education, fighting for the development of a different role of science under different policies and different institutional behavior, starting at the Universities. It is interesting to note that during my work in the Sudan (1984-present), the local situation there was basically conducive to such a role of science, but here institutional extension bottlenecks limited successes to initial target groups. But there were such successes.

In the paper I have concluded that in managing the politics of change, that appears to be a condition for rural responding to climate change in poor countries, institutionalization to address this challenge is crucial. This must be done through extension that may belong to the organizations that deliver the scientific support (NMHSs, Research Institutes, Universities) and/or through an extension service established for that purpose or given the mandate to do so.

Governments must develop educational commitments to rural areas. General ones and specific ones. The farmers as end users of services need to be trained by the extension in the establishment of agrometeorological and other related services. The extension officers as intermediaries need training themselves, among others in (i) better communication with farmers on their needs, (ii) the role of farmer innovations and (iii) the consequences of climate change for the livelihood of farmers. We developed curricula for such training, because this is presently often the weakest link in the chain of getting agrometeorological services established and validated.

So, rural response to climate change has ethical starting points, needs policies derived and proposed by scientists and science managers from the politics of change and needs scientific support systems. The latter should encourage the development of policies based on products generated by operational support systems in which understanding of farmer livelihood conditions and innovations have been used.

Once more I have to state here that the co-operation of members in bringing items to our website leaves very much to be desired. Our attempts to stimulate this with nominating additional vice-presidents and local correspondents also largely failed over time. Too few people appear to realize that the INSAM website is simply never better than staff and members make it. To leave it to the volunteering staff is highly limiting the potential of our site. If you want a better INSAM website, do something about it yourself.

In my book “Applied Agrometeorology” that will appear this year, a group of scientists led by Julian Dumanski concludes that on a global scale, grassland management, agroforestry, integrated zero tillage technologies (conservation agriculture), and reduced greenhouse gas emissions from animal production have emerged as the strategies with the highest potentials for greenhouse mitigation in agriculture. In potential only surpassed by carbon sequestration policies and practices. At the same time, resilience of farming systems to face climate change may be clearly improved by such measures. Why not send us your own experiences here?

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