Rural communities have little say in their own future and in directing support to create the innovations to get there. Those with greatest need and the least voice – poor and smallholder farmers, women, youth – are precisely those most strategic to involve in order to reach the SDGs. These farmers and social groups are experimenters, producers of knowledge and researchers in their own right, hence they need to be empowered to drive the innovation processes. As key partners in co-research initiatives, development programmes and organizations that place their aspirations and capacities at the center, they can become dynamic, pro-active players in the pro-poor governance transformation of agricultural innovation systems. Approaches to improve governance include participatory research and foresight, institutionalizing the rights of rural women and recognizing farmers’ rights to genetic resources. Rights to access, use and ownership of open data by smallholder farmers are also crucial as data becomes the new frontier in agricultural development.
The following Collective Actions are part of the DeSIRA-funded GFAR programme aiming to contribute to climate-relevant, productive and sustainable transformation of agriculture and food systems in low and middle incomes countries.
GFAR Collective Action on Forgotten Foods
The pervasive homogenization of global food production based on a few staple crops has had severe repercussions on people's lives. Production systems are increasingly more vulnerable to climate change and other shocks, while consumers are left with fewer choices for nutritious and healthy diets.
Nevertheless, many countries are still endowed with hundreds of nutritious and resilient food crops, locally developed and cultivated, but neglected or forgotten by formal research systems. "Forgotten Foods" are derived from a diversified set of Neglected and Underutilized Species (NUS) produced within traditional production systems particularly adapted to marginal environments constrained by water scarcity, poor soils and increasing temperatures. Focusing on Forgotten Foods and crops hence means strengthening the local knowledge that supports them, as well as the coping strategies, resilience and livelihoods of the population living in those areas. Beyond this, these actions can contribute to more adapted and adoptable support services, and to mitigating and adapting to climate impacts.
The "Manifesto for a new vision of research and innovation systems to support Forgotten Foods", which is the first deliverable of this Collective Action, aims at bringing together the vision and intentions of a vast group of diverse actors on the role and potential of Forgotten Foods. These actors are joining forces to reach a consensus on the transformations at local, national, regional and global levels needed for a paradigm shift to enhance bio-cultural diversity and leverage investment in these life-saving crops.
There is a double potential in the development of Forgotten Foods: material and non-material. We can improve the livelihoods of poor farmers relying on these crops, especially women, by enhancing their value on the market, or intervening at the level of other bottlenecks along the production to consumption chain. We can also, by unveiling the rich local knowledge behind Forgotten Foods, raise farmers' awareness of what they are and what they do. This can in turn lead to the discovery of the potential of their own communities, and unlock their creativity as agents of change.
How is GFAR facilitating this Collective Action?
To address the problematique of Forgotten Foods, and the related neglected crops, knowledge and people, GFAR has helped mobilize among its partners a vast coalition of concerned research and innovation stakeholders in Asia Pacific, Sub-Saharan Africa and Near East and North Africa by engaging Regional Research Networks. The dialogues have sought to involve farmers’ organizations from the beginning, as well as NGOs and civil society organizations, ensuring their views balance the perspectives of other key research and innovation actors.
Taking stock of the game-changing actions required to provide effective services to the custodians of these varieties, left behind by technological revolution and mainstream research, will be a collective effort of diverse constituencies carried out with the custodians themselves. With the Manifesto, different Regional declarations will be brought together to outline a new model of bottom-up research governance, translated into a Plan of Action to be proposed to donors.
GFAR Collective Action on Inclusive Digital Transformation of Agriculture
Farmers in general and smallholder farmers in particular are not harnessing the benefits of the ongoing and accelerating digital transformation. Digital Agriculture (DA) is expected to increase agricultural production and productivity, help adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change, bring about more economic and efficient use of natural resources, reduce risk and improve resilience in farming, and make agri-food market chains much more efficient. The lack of inclusion of farmers in the design and governance of DA processes widens the gap between bigger and smaller actors in the DA value chain, and discourages small farmers from fully embracing DA. Consequently, the benefits that DA could bring to the efficiency, transparency and equity of agri-food value chains, as well as to climate change mitigation and adaptation, are not being realized.
To address these challenges, Partners in GFAR have started an action on Inclusive Digital Transformation of Agriculture. The first phase will be launched in Latin America and the Caribbean led by Forum of the Americas for Agricultural Research and Technology Development (FORAGRO) and co-designed and co-implemented with World Farmers' Organization (WFO). A scaling out and replication phase is foreseen towards the end of 2021.
How is GFAR facilitating this Collective Action?
The action will build on stock-taking exercises already conducted on the topic and will take an iterative approach: each phase will include a) surveys for a farmer-centric needs/constraints assessment, b) multi-stakeholder consultations for co-designing farmer-fair business models and best practices for digital transformation, c) capacity development tools and events, d) input for launching pilot implementations, e) advocacy for policies. The identified needs and the devised models and best practices will be the basis for capacity development, pilots and advocacy.
The final objectives are that a) farmers contribute on equal terms with other actors to the design, governance, sharing and use of DA data, technologies and processes, as well as promotion and support of pertinent policies and practices; and b) farmers perceive the DA value chain (technology, money, data, knowledge) as farmer-fair and embrace DA technologies that help them increase productivity and income, reduce risk, use natural resources sustainably and mitigate/adapt to climate change.