What are the barriers and opportunities for scientists and other knowledge holders to contribute to informing policy for more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems?
Recognizing the importance and urgency of leveraging the potential of science and innovation to overcome the intertwined social, economic and environmental challenges of agrifood systems in a globally equitable, inclusive and sustainable manner, FAO’s first-ever Science and Innovation Strategy (the Strategy) was designed through an inclusive, transparent and consultative process. It is a key tool to support the delivery of the FAO Strategic Framework 2022-31 and hence the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The Strategy states that FAO’s technical work and normative guidance will be based on the most credible, relevant and legitimate evidence available and that evidence will be assessed in a rigorous, transparent and neutral manner. The Strategy is grounded in seven guiding principles, and its three mutually re-enforcing pillars, which define its main priorities and group together its nine outcomes, are: 1) Strengthening science and evidence-based decision-making; 2) Supporting innovation and technology at regional and country level; and, 3) Serving Members better by reinforcing FAO’s capacities. Two enablers are mainstreamed throughout the three pillars: transformative partnerships and innovative funding and financing.
Decades of development efforts around the world have shown that narrow approaches and technological quick-fixes do not work, especially in the long-term. Science and innovation can be a powerful engine to transform agrifood systems and end hunger and malnutrition, but only when they are accompanied by the right enabling environment. These include strong institutions, good governance, political will, enabling regulatory frameworks, and effective measures to promote equity among agrifood system actors. To respond to this, the Strategy emphasizes the need to ground actions on science and innovation in the guiding principles: rights-based and people-centered; gender-equal; evidence-based; needs-driven; sustainability-aligned; risk-informed; and ethics-based.
Another lesson, integrated into the scope of the Strategy, is that single disciplines on their own are not able to address systemic challenges in a holistic manner, leading to a growing appreciation of the need for supporting sustainability science, interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity. While science is fundamentally important, the Strategy also recognizes the knowledge of Indigenous Peoples and small-scale producers as an important source of innovation for agrifood systems.
RATIONALE FOR THIS CONSULTATION
Science and evidence are essential for sound decision-making, but do not necessarily provide a singular course of action. Scientific findings may be limited by insufficient data, uncertainties, contrasting results, and can be contested. Decision-making is often influenced by a variety of both structural and behavioral drivers and barriers as well as numerous stakeholders with diverse values and with significant power asymmetries.
One of the nine outcomes of the Strategy (Outcome 2 under Pillar 1) focusses on strengthening science-policy interfaces for agrifood systems. The Strategy indicates that FAO will strengthen its contribution to science-policy interfaces (SPIs) at national, regional and global levels to support organized dialogue between scientists, policy-makers and other relevant stakeholders in support of inclusive science-based policy making for greater policy coherence, shared ownership and collective action. The added value of FAO’s contribution is to focus at national and regional levels in addition to the global level, to address issues that are relevant to agrifood systems taking into account as appropriate information and analyses produced by existing SPIs, such as the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE-FSN), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), and to enable ongoing and effective dialogue through the institutional architecture provided by the FAO Governing Bodies.
Integration of science and evidence into effective agrifood system decision-making processes remains a significant challenge. For example, and for a variety of reasons, policymakers may not inform scientists and other knowledge holders about their needs while scientists and other knowledge holders may not actively engage in the policy-making process. Additionally, many obstacles may compromise this participation.
It is against this background that this online consultation is being organized by the FAO Chief Scientist Office to further identify and understand the barriers and opportunities for scientists and other knowledge holders (drawing their knowledge from other knowledge systems, including Indigenous Peoples, small-scale producers, etc.) to contribute to informing policy for more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems.
QUESTIONS TO GUIDE THIS CONSULTATION
We invite participants to address some or all of the following discussion questions (as relevant to their experience) and provide examples as appropriate.
Analysis of the complexities and practical problems associated with science-policy interfaces
Knowledge production for policy
Knowledge translation for policy-making
Comments are welcome in all six UN languages (English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Chinese).
Your contributions to the online consultation will be compiled and analyzed by the FAO Chief Scientist Office. The results will inform work on the development of guidance for strengthening science-policy interfaces as well as science- and evidence-based policy processes for agrifood systems, helping to ensure that effective policy decisions are made based upon sufficient, relevant and credible science and evidence. Proceedings of the contributions received will be made publicly available on this consultation webpage.
We look forward to receiving your valuable input and to learning from your experiences.
Dr Preet Lidder, Technical Adviser in the Chief Scientist Office, FAO
Dr Eric Welch, Professor, Arizona State University
 The Strategy defines the term ‘Science-Policy Interface’ as mechanisms for organized dialogue between scientists, policy-makers and other relevant stakeholders in support of inclusive science-based policy-making. Effective science-policy interfaces are characterized by relevance, legitimacy, transparency, inclusivity, and ongoing and effective dialogue through an appropriate institutional architecture.
This activity is now closed. Please contact [email protected] for any further information.
Dr. Preet Lidder
Thank you to all the participants who contributed to the online consultation on “What are the barriers and opportunities for scientists and other knowledge holders to contribute to informing policy for more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems?”. We truly appreciate the time and effort that you put into submitting your comments and participating in the discussion, and encourage you to take advantage of the consultation to review the insightful contributions from other participants on the FSN website.
There is consensus that science and innovation are critical for transforming agrifood systems but ensuring that the best available evidence is used is not as straightforward as it sounds. Social, economic, and political forces shape how evidence is understood and valued. Decision-making processes vary across individuals, communities, institutions, and governments, and are informed by different forms of knowledge and experience in different ways.
Due to its unique position as a facilitator of intergovernmental processes, FAO provides an essential and neutral platform for exchange between countries, allows Members to establish international consensus on global policy issues related to science and innovation, serves as an authoritative source of guidance, and supports the development of new codes of practice, guidelines and standards.
FAO has many experiences to build on and strengthen the interface between science and policy, including through its Governing and Statutory Bodies. Your valuable insights will be instrumental in shaping the direction of our efforts on the development of guidance for strengthening science-policy interfaces as well as science- and evidence-based policy processes for agrifood systems.
Proceedings of the contributions received as well a summary document will be made available shortly.
Dr Preet Lidder, Technical Adviser in the Chief Scientist Office, FAO
Dr Eric Welch, Professor, Arizona State University
The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)
Dear FSN Moderator,
Thank you for giving The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) the opportunity to provide comments on the FAO consultation -- “What are the barriers and opportunities for scientists and other knowledge holders to contribute to informing policy for more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems?” We look forward to the outcomes of this online consultation that will stand to inform work on the development of guidance for strengthening science-policy interfaces as well as science- and evidence-based policy processes for agrifood systems, helping to ensure that effective policy decisions are made based upon sufficient, relevant and credible science and evidence.
For the past 20 years GAIN’s programmes have delivered impact locally and inspired policy for national and global action. Our programmatic activity directly benefits over one billion people globally and forms the basis for the policy actions we advocate with partners. The focus of all of our programmes is on transforming food systems so they deliver better diets for everyone - particularly for those most at risk of malnutrition as they have poor quality diets. (20 stories of impact; 2017-2022).
Please find the extended comments in the attached file.
Contribution from the Global-Hub on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems.
Analysis of the complexities and practical problems associated with science-policy interfaces
In 2021 during the UN Food Systems Summit, the Global-Hub on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems together with many Indigenous Peoples from across the world contributed to the global debate on sustainable food systems, highlighting how their knowledge systems could inform the global debate on sustainable food systems. This was achieved through the coordination of the writing of the White/Wiphala paper on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems that compiles 60 contributions from Indigenous and non-Indigenous experts from 6 of the 7 socio-cultural regions. The paper played a fundamental role in the recognition by the international scientific community of Indigenous Peoples’ food and knowledge systems, and their role in the sustainability and climate resilience.
The Global-Hub has contributed to the several consultations:
Despite those great achievements, Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems, still remain often relegated to the lowest level of hierarchies of evidence (Global-Hub on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems, 2021). There are still several barriers for Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems to be fully considered as a valid source of evidence for policy making. Three of them are identified and described below:
Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems are based on observations, know-how, local appropriate technologies, techniques, creation stories and ceremonial practices. Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge is likely not found in written publications. It is rather mainly oral and transmitted within Indigenous communities for millennia through storytelling, skits, popular folklore, songs, poems, art, dance, objects and artefacts, and during ceremonies. In this context, it constitutes a body of knowledge that is pluralistic, linked to the local ecosystems, the culture, the values, the languages, the spirituality and the cosmogony of Indigenous Peoples. It is therefore not possible to consider Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems in dissociation with the people who generated and maintained the knowledge through time, and associated with this, their culture, language, and ecosystem in which they live.
Unless shared by Indigenous Peoples themselves, Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge and innovations often remain de facto unknown and hardly accessible by the scientific community.
Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems are often regarded as un- or less scientific, anecdotal, and inapplicable to and/or incapable of addressing emerging global challenges because of their common characteristics of being based on accumulated observations of local phenomena, often held in oral rather than written forms, and holistic rather than specialist. On the contrary, dominant scientific knowledge is written (mostly in English), can be stored and analysed, and has historically been conceived as universal knowledge that can be transported and usefully applied in multiple and diverse contexts (Global-Hub on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems, 2021).
As a result, there are countless historical examples whereby dominant science and technologies have been privileged over traditional knowledge systems, resulting in the top-down implementation of irrelevant, contextually inappropriate and ineffective policy solutions that have exacerbated social disparities and social exclusion (Global-Hub on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems, 2021). Despite well-intended, several development policies have failed to reach Indigenous Peoples through not having taken account of Indigenous Peoples' perceptions of well-being and what they themselves deem as necessary to improve their status.
Indigenous Peoples holds the traditional knowledge that they have developed for millennia to ensure their survival and the sustainability of their food systems and livelihoods. It is an element of proof showing the sustainability and resilience of their food systems. Indigenous Peoples have demonstrated their capacity to innovate through time, while adapting the ever-changing environmental conditions in their territory, and sometimes shocks. Undervaluing Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems disregards this strong adaptation capacity of Indigenous Peoples, while ability to maintain a rich biodiversity on their territories.
In this context, traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples constitutes a body of knowledge that is pluralistic, linked to the ecosystems, the culture, the values, the languages, the spirituality and the cosmogony of Indigenous Peoples. It is not possible to consider Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems in dissociation with the people who generated and maintained the knowledge through time.
Recognizing that Indigenous Peoples are knowledge holders is the pre-requisite in policy-making that could affect them. In addition, Indigenous Peoples have rights that pertain to them. Their knowledge systems are associated to a bundle of rights for which Indigenous Peoples have fought for several decades. In particular the right to self-determined economic, social and cultural development as per the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the right to free, prior and informed consent as per the ILO Convention 169. As a recommendation, the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples in policy-making should be go beyond participation. It should rather ensure full ownership on their knowledge and data for innovation by them and for them or others (with their consent). This is a concern and a request that Indigenous Peoples have made in many occurrences, not only when it comes to policy-making, but also when it comes to knowledge preservation or co-creation with other actors.
However despite those challenges, the recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ traditional knowledge systems is not new. There has long been acknowledgement that Indigenous Peoples are well placed to provide expert contributions to global debates on sustainable food systems. The increasing recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge and perspective in global assessments produced by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), confirm this trend (Global-Hub on Indigenous People’ Food Systems, 2021).
There is an urgent need to acknowledge Indigenous Peoples as both knowledge and right holders.
Indigenous Peoples’ rights are framed in international frameworks. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples affirms the rights to self-determined economic, social and cultural development, the right to food and the right to free, prior and informed consent as per the ILO convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.
Indigenous peoples have experienced violation of their rights for centuries, in particular through the extraction of their knowledge. Use of plants and animals traditionally held by Indigenous Peoples by the pharmaceutic industry is a well-known example. Practically, the principle of co-creation of knowledge needs to be implemented, from the design of research methodologies, to the use and ownership of results and data in accordance with their own traditional governance systems.
Co-creation of knowledge needs to be at the center, ensuring that knowledge systems are considered with same level of respect and consideration. On the one hand, too often Indigenous Peoples have seen their knowledge extracted for commercial purpose without their consent. On the other hand, too often Indigenous Peoples have been imposed innovations from other dominant actors denying their traditional knowledge systems and practices.
Knowledge production for policy
Knowledge translation for policy making
The White/Wiphala paper on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems played a fundamental role in the recognition by the international scientific community of Indigenous Peoples’ food and knowledge systems, and their role in the sustainability and climate resilience. It has been pivotal towards in the creation of the Coalition on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems as one of the outcomes of the UN Food Systems Summit. The paper compiles 60 contributions from Indigenous and non-Indigenous experts from 6 of the 7 socio-cultural regions. On the occasion of the publication of the White/Wiphala paper, the Global-Hub organized an exchange of knowledge with the Scientific Group of the UN Food Systems Summit, and in presence of the FAO Chief Scientist, and FAO Chief Economist.
The Global-Hub on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems is currently coordinating the drafting of a new collective paper on Indigenous Peoples’ mobile livelihoods and collective rights to their territories, lands, waters, and natural resources. Similarly to the white/wiphala paper, the collective paper will compiles contributions from Indigenous and non-Indigenous experts from across the world.
The Global-Hub is planning to organize two other exchanges of knowledge:
- In March 2023, in the frame of the working session organized by the FAO division on Inclusive Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division (ESP) on Shaping priorities for investment in Resilient, Inclusive Rural Transformation (RITI). The exchange of knowledge will focus on Indigenous Peoples and indicators of poverty;
- during the first trimester of 2023, with the High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) to share perspective on the contributions Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems could bring to the global debate on sustainable food systems.
The Global-Hub on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems. Rethinking hierarchies of evidence for sustainable food systems. Nat Food 2, 843–845 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-021-00388-5
 Recommendations expressed by Indigenous leaders during the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit, and based on the White/Wiphala paper on Indigenous Peoples’ food systems. See also the Indigenous Peoples Rome Declaration on the Arctic Region Fisheries and Environment, the final report of the 2018 High-Level Expert Seminar on Indigenous Peoples’ food systems, and many other examples.
Dr. Siyanbola Omitoyin
i. Policy formulation not based on research findings. Most of the time it is political.
ii. Policy not adoptable as critical stakeholders are left out of the process
Omitoyin Siyanbola (PhD)
Fisheries Administration, Policy and Gender, Department of Aquaculture & Fisheries Management,
University of Ibadan, Nigeria.
Adjunct Lecturer, University of Ibadan School of Business (UISB), Ibadan, Nigeria.
Mr. Lal Manavado
From the outset, we will make sure that the reader is certain of what is presented here. Our heading is clear because we have added the word ‘relevant’ to it while deleting ‘scientists’ and the species named as ‘knowledge holders.’ To the vast majority of us who do not speak ‘institution speak’ scientists could be concerned with nuclear physics or Volcanology, none of which has much to do with food and agriculture. We will not comment on the obvious grammatical and syntactical errors in the title of the present discussion, because our remarks on similar faults in the parallel discussion has been expertly ignored.
As for ‘knowledge holders’, those may range from an electronic data base, a library or even a box of old books in an attic. Assuming this curious phrase refers to people who know something, we again face the problem of its relevance. Moreover, one may know everything about cycling from a book, but that knowledge would be of little use to him in cycling in the real world. A policy is intended to direct and guide goal-directed actions in the real world, and for its shaping, we need those who possess the relevant knowledge and the skill required to put it into practice. This knowledge and skill constitute the competence relevant to policy design and implementation.
We have now cleared the ground so that it would be possible to engage in a rational discussion on the subject, but we very much doubt that that this exchange would be no different from the previous ones i.e. contributions more or less adequately summarised for posterity, for they do not seem to have any significant effect on the conceptual scheme of the FAO on food and agriculture. For instance, in the current parallel discussion, the ungrammatical use of the English preposition ‘for’ has been retained even though this has been pointed out in the run up to it.
Let us keep one fact firmly before us; policies are man-made to serve a given human aim. As such they are tools shaped by the norms of the society in which they operate; thus, their use represents a social practice in action. Success of this usage depends on how skilfully a suitable action has been carried out. A successful policy design and implementation therefore implies the possession of the relevant knowledge and skill by all those who are involved in the process.
This is the context in which we will have to proceed with the discussion. As every policy emerges from the norms governing how a given general purpose is to be achieved, let us note some of them briefly:
• Food systems that are sustainable, robust, resilient and are operated in a manner benign to the environment are necessary to attain the objective of our policy.
• Their output is physically available and is affordable and will enable people to procure a wholesome, varied and balanced diet.
• Food systems will support the continuance of world’s food cultures and would enhance global agricultural bio-diversity.
Our point of departure is that there is already an ample body of relevant competence required for sound policy formulation and indeed, implementation. We hold that the solution of the problem lies not in ‘searching for opportunities’ but in removing the barriers or obstacles that everyone with relevant competence has encountered when dealing with institutional inertia and the masterly inaction of the authorities.
In the next section, we will identify the levels of relevant competence involved in policy design and implementation. Often overlooked, it results in inappropriate deployment of expertise which leads to unsound policy and fragmentary implementation. An analogical situation would be to invite an electronics expert to design a rocket and ask a rocket engineer to make the required electronic components.
Levels of Policy design and Implementation
It may surprise the expert policy designers to learn that a sound policy description should be cogent and brief. It embodies the general goal of the policy and its implementation at the strategic level. For instance, in the present case, the relevant policy may be thus described:
• The authorities shall undertake the appropriate actions required to found or modify the national food systems as well as the other adjunctive measures necessary to enable the people to procure an adequate quantity of wholesome food they need to enjoy a varied and a balanced diet relative to their individual dietary requirements. They shall undertake all requisite measures to ensure that the food systems used are sustainable, robust, resilient, environmentally benign and promote the increase of agricultural bio-diversity.
Next, it will outline the strategies to be employed in its implementation. This is the point at which superfluous verbiage flourishes like weeds in a field. Let us consider some of generic strategies while keeping in mind the distinction between the strategy and its qualitative attributes.
• Success of a policy depends in part, on the degree to which it is in harmony with the other policies in a given national policy set. We have described this inter-policy harmony in detail in our previous contributions to this forum and will not be repeated here. Very briefly, impact of environment, legal, industry and employmemt policies on food systems is indisputable. Indeed, this is extremely difficult to achieve, hence the failure of most policies on food and agriculture. Therefore, it is imperative to undertake vigorous measures to attain this strategic objective.
• Ensure that the strategies of implementation chosen do not conflict with the goal of the policy involved. All too often, implementation strategy lacks this intra-policy harmony owing to the flaws inherent in committee’ism, which is the preferred method use in strategy design. It may be democratic, but none could live on such abstract notions for they are highly non-nutritious.
• Ascertain as well as possible the amount of various food the country needs to meet the goal the policy has specified; due attention should be paid to the national food culture when food varieties are considered.
• Ascertain the actual quantity, quality and varieties of national food production through feed-back from food producers and harvesters; if and when reliable, figures from food traders may be used as a supplementary source.
• Identify the shortfalls in quantity, quality and variety, inappropriate items i. E. Those are injurious to health. This provides the basis on which food systems may be founded or modified.
• Undertake measures to found or modify food systems with reference to the shortfalls mentioned above; this generally involves empowering regional and local bodies to make those measures operational at the field level.
• This empowerment involves any one or more of the following actions guided by the requirements of sustainability, benignity to the environment, resilience and robustness:
We shall now outline how the foregoing may be made operational at the regional and/or local levels according to the size of a country or the administration of its internal affairs. Here, the strategy will be implemented with reference to the local possibilities which are best known to the local food producers or harvesters like fishermen. For instance, while a markedly wet region would be suitable for rice production, in a semi-arid area cultivation of drought resistant pulses like chick peas would repay the cultivator. Such operational niceties should be delegagted to the competent local professionals. Thus, it is obvious that it is imprudent to specify how the implementation strategy of a sound food and agriculture policy may be made operational. However, we have offered here some of the generic factors that should be taken into consideration during the process.
The Barriers and Their Elimination
The very first obstacle we face is the unreadability and understandability of policy and strategy documents. This arises from two sources; the prevalent belief that such a document should run to many pages because its importance is proportional to its length. The second is a desire to impress readers with jargon and circumlocutions of most inane kind. A classic examples are phrases like ‘main pillars’, ‘to strengthen’ etc. An attempt should be made to employ people able to think in a logically coherent manner to produce such documents.
• Diploy people with an excellent command of the language involved to edit and shorten the documents. Language skills of most technical experts are obviously inadequate to the purpose.
The next barrier has been with us for centuries. Never openly expressed, it is the belief that an expert in a limited field is an infallible authority on other areas. Perhaps, some may recall how the great medical authorities like ‘the father of modern pathology’ Prof. Rudolf Virchow ridiculed Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis when he advocated those who attended women in labour should sterilise their hands by washing them in chlorine water. Naturally, the ‘great man’s’ word was accepted, Semmelweiss was driven out to die in obscurity, more and more pregnant women succumbed, but the profession believed the word of the famous pathologist even though he was not a medical microbiologist.
• Therefore, it is incumbent on the authorities to diploy people with the relevant competence at the appropriate level. The question is whether the authorities have the competence required for such rational deployment of abilities.
Our next hindrance is the institutional inability to undertake pro-active measures. Reactive response is so ingrained in the institutional mind, it is difficult to see how this state of affairs may be changed. Perhaps, higher education may carry out a change in their basic conceptual tools imparted to the students by making them think pro-actively i.e. anticipating the results of their potential actions before they are undertaken. At present, their education is concerned with how to conduct ‘research’ after the event! The good results of such an endeavour however, is a long term prospect.
• Assuming this is achieved, then it is possible for ecologists to guide the strategies that may impact on the environment. Meanwhile, meteorologist, geologists, soil scientists etc., to play a vital advisory role in the way some of the strategies are made operational. Such interventions would not only enhance the output of food systems, but would also diminish the risk of soil salination and erosion, pollution of water ways etc. It is obvious that the only way to avoid those undesirable consequences is by pro-active measures approved by the relevant expertise.
Transport and trade sub-systems are important components of every food system. But they are not within the perview of food and agriculture authorities. Although there are several other good reasons for it, this alone makes inter-policy harmony crucial to the success of a sound food and agriculture policy. This age-old obstacle blocks any fruitful deployment of those competent in policy harmonisation.
• We find it hard to demolish the wall of institutional autonomy behind which monoliths of inertia, incompetence and varying degrees of corruption continue to thrive. Unless this barrier is broken down soon, those who are skilled in policy harmonisation cannot be suitably deployed.
We have already remarked on ‘committee’ism’ which represents the commonest but the worst possible way to determine the implementation strategy of a policy. Generally, the most vociferous members of the committee or one with impressive but irrelevant qualifications would succeed in introducing strategies that would result in intra-policy disharmony, and thus leading to a failed policy.
• It is critical to radically revise how an implementation strategy if formulated. Only those who are aware of the needs a policy is designed to address in detail, know people’s competence, available resources and most of all capable of logical thought and possessing lucid language should be entrusted with the task. This is easy to say, but institutions seem to be either impervious to reason or display a touching belief in irrelevant qualifications.
At this point, we will anticipate some attempts that may be made to cloud the issue by introducing certain worthwhile but inappropriate items into the current discussion. We have already stated that one should clearly distinguish between strategies and their attributes. Let us now consider some of these attributes:
We know that some would criticise our view because they do not include certain social problems here. While being sympathetic to them, we cannot include what obviously concerns other social norms in a discussion of this sort without being irrelevant, or worse, riding one’s own hobby horse on an ego trip that does not yield anything with a nutritional value to the public at large.
Deployment of Competence
Once more, we will emphasise certain scientific competence is necessary not on policy and strategy formulation, but rather on ensuring that they possess the attributes of strategies and making them operational as we have outlined here. For instance, early warning of a change in future rain fall or an earth quake could enable the farmers to modify what they are going to cultivate or even stop wasting their resources which might be damaged beyond recovery.
Most of the scientific competence should be deployed at the operational level before field implementation in order to be pro-active. For example, no useful purpose would be served by a reactive deployment such resources when arable land is lost due to inprudent use of fertilisers. Competence would strive to ascertain the consequences of using certain crops, household animals and methods prior to their field use.
As for research relevant to policy on food and agriculture, much imagination and a quantity of resources have been used. However, extremely little of this is pro-active, but we have a considerable body of results from reactive research; and as everyone knows, few are able and willing to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors. Moreover, Virchow Semmelweis syndrome is still very much alive among us.
If governments could be induced to be guided in their design of food and agriculture policy and its implementation by scientific recommendations based on locally conducted investigations to answer the following questions, much may still be gained:
The reader may have noticed that we have not recommended the involvement of the experts on ‘high-yield’ varieties; this is a lesson we have learned from the damage caused by the ‘green revolution’. It is imperative such experts, gene manipulators and those of that ilk should have no place in policy design or in its implementation.
Those endeavours are in part, political undertakings aimed at meeting a real need of the living people, and as such, authorities should only resort to those whose relevant competence has been acquired by working for an adequate period in the area concerned. Satellite pictures may pick up a cigarette end on the ground, but not the exact cause of the havoc resulting from a long period of inappropriate land use.
While we hope the institutional ills we have outlined may soon be ameliorated, we also hope that the notion of proper deployment of competence may find a toe hold on the slope up which streams of relevant and irrelevant competence seem to climb with flying elbows and magnificent gestures. Leaving this very picturesque scene before our readers, we will now withdraw wishing them a happier new year!
Lal Manavado, Oslo
Ms. Bibiana Muasya
It is important for scientists and other knowledge holders to proactively engage with policy-makers and other stakeholders, to build relationships, and to communicate their findings in a clear and accessible manner. Additionally, there should be more opportunities for scientists to be embedded in policy-making processes to provide real-time scientific research that speaks to policies within agrifood systems
Jubilant Ogechi Umeh
Studies have shown that majority of our farmers contributing to sustainable food system are small holder rural farmers in the villages. This implies that there local content knowledge that really helps them to thrive and continue production.
Inability of such local content knowledge to be harnessed and upscaled through policy still hinders sustainable food system.
There is need for an extension communication process that will reach out to the last mile, study and harvest the indigenous or local content knowledgeable that has helped the farmers build resilience, build on the knowledge through favourable policy formulation to strengthen the food system. This process may also be location specific.
Jubilant Ogechi Umeh
Department of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike, Nigeria.
Ms. Foluke Areola
What are the barriers and opportunities for scientists and other knowledge holders to contribute to informing policy for more efficient, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable agri-food systems?
This is a question of priority and knowledge gap in governance. There are situations where even when the best ideas are presented and the government is not thinking in that direction, nothing will happen. There is the question of priority. Is the contribution of research findings to informing policy the priority of the government? Are the issues of efficient, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable agriculture systems the priority of government? Are there knowledgeable people enough to push the ideas (researching findings and the use) forward when decisions are being taken at the various levels in agriculture? A government that is looking at food shortages, how to have resilient agriculture, and ensure the supply chains are not broken even though there are inflationary trends and so on, would source research findings in informing policy. In developing countries, policy trust seems to be more important.
In Nigeria, the scientists and other knowledge holders and policy decision makers who generally think as politicians and civil servants, are not interfacing or collaborating as they should. The issue is to create linkages between the two groups for exchange of information. The various platforms that can be used for such linkages to bring the two groups together could be through a Think-tank, Research accessibility, Need -oriented research and Personal interaction between the two groups at various levels (Executive, Legislative, Political). A lot more fora must be created for them to be able to exchange ideas. The scientists (specialists and academicians) should not see their work as done once they publish their research findings. They must put more efforts to make it a point of duty to get the research findings across for the use of the community. One of the ways by which they can get this across, is to form think-tanks by which they will be available, for the politicians, to communicate their findings, and for the researchers to be focus specific. This will be more useful than the scientists are researching, publishing, and hoping that the politicians and civil servants who are the policy decision makers will find what they have published relevant or useful. This means specific investigation instead of just trying to pick out what has been published. In the areas of linkages, specificity, the language at times when scientists put out some of those findings, in publications, also need an expert to interpret them. The language ought to be simple and suggestive of where it could be useful, not just leaving it as a general scientific publication and hoping that anybody reading it would be able to make the work translatable. The best way is when the politicians can understand how to translate the findings into policy. Such that when they are elected, they already have a policy agenda. That is better than when they get into the office and are complete strangers to what is needed for policy decisions. One must go a step further, to each politician seeking office into the executive and legislative positions, to know there is a place they can tap ideas from which could be a Think-
Tank. There are some Think-tanks in Nigeria and most of them tend to be economic and political. There are few scientific ones, and that means essentially very few in agriculture. These must be created. The formation of Think-tank is very important for the success of incorporating research findings into policy. Once these are created, there must be provisions for funding them. It may be that some of the ideas must be paid for in the future. A policy maker who is not a professional or does not have the requisite understanding, can also deploy an appointee to help study the utility of research work/findings and be advised on the utility of the work to the political agenda.
Research Accessibility: The universities also must present themselves as the knowledge baskets of the country. At times, some lecturers carry out research to get articles into some journals without thinking of how relevant the findings are to the country, state, local government, or communities. That must be turned around so that the universities and research institutes or other institutions are made to focus on service and utility to the communities. This means more of adaptive research, purpose-led research, need-led research. However, the recipient or end-user of data sometimes must have an input into how the data is collected and generated. The scientist cannot continue to fund research themselves to generate data and government collect the data free of charge without adequate funding for research.
The universities must not be seen as institutions where the ordinary man only goes to seek admission for their children and wards to study for a degree. The wall must be broken down for a farmer to have easy access to researcher and for both to be able part of the policy process. Other issues include:
Education: It is a barrier if people you are trying to work with do not understand the reasons why the inclusion of research findings and knowledge holders in informing policy/policies.
Education and access: The scientists and knowledgeable people have insights that the policy decisions makers do not have and so should be involved in informing policy.
Economics: the contributions of scientists and knowledge holders (farmers downstream), to informing policies are important in understanding the intended and unintended effects of the policies. Culture: It is a barrier not to understand the culture of the communities for which policy decisions are being taken. Economics: Data is needed to calculate the financial implications of any policy at the planning, formulation, and implementation stage. How much to implement? How much will be gained?
Foluke O. Areola.
Dr. Stefano Marras
The following comments are provided by the Bayer Crop Science Regulatory Scientific Affairs (RSA) team. RSA is made of nearly 50 scientists with combined expertise in environmental science, chemistry, biology, biotechnology, microbiology, cell biology, microbial genomics, biodiversity, water quality, microplastics, soil carbon, entomology, pollinators, animal science, epidemiology, medical toxicology, public health, nutrition, digital agriculture, social and behavioural science. The RSA team is spread across the globe, in North and Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.
RSA promotes food, feed, and environmental safety and sustainability, both, inside and outside the company. Internally, it guides the company’s R&D process based on external scientific, policy, and regulatory developments; it contributes to the development and implementation of Bayer’s biodiversity and habitat strategy; and it promotes employees’ education and awareness through newsletters, online portals, and trainings.
Externally, RSA drives the company’s transparency initiatives. It engages in dialogues and partnerships with policymakers, regulators, universities, medical and scientific societies to develop, disseminate, and promote sound science through joint research, academic publications, conferences, workshops, education programs, capacity building, and a regulatory visitors program. The team prepares and provides science-based background information to support policy and regulatory processes enabling the delivery of current and future products that bring value to farmers, the environment, and society. The team constantly address academic and regulatory concerns and publications, ensuring timely communications and appropriate documentation.
Since 2017, Bayer has been disclosing safety-relevant study summaries and granting non-commercial access to full study reports for our marketed crop protection products and genetically modified (GM) crops. https://www.cropscience.bayer.com/transparency-crop-science
Companies in the private sector are generally well-informed about the development or revision of policies that are relevant to their business. However, they face barriers that hinder their ability to access and contribute to such processes with scientific inputs, mainly due to perceived conflicts of interest, lack of transparent mechanisms, and communication issues. Such barriers can lead to governmental policies that are not informed by the best available scientific evidence, or that fail to address important issues.
1. Perceived conflicts of interest – Often, policymakers tend to be reluctant to engage with and accept inputs from private companies' scientists. This is all in all due to their concerns about the impartiality and accountability of private sector’s scientists.
Since private companies have a vested economic interest in the outcomes of policies that relate to their business, the intellectual independence and scientific impartiality of private company’s scientists are often deemed undermined by a “conflict of interest”, and their scientific research (even when published in peer-review journals) is preventively disregarded by many as biased and incomplete, designed to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of a product, rather than to fully investigate any potential risks or downsides.
Such general suspicion is based on the unsubstantiated idea that private interest (e.g. profit) is inherently incompatible with and antithetical to public interest (e.g. human health and environmental sustainability). Such idea applies particularly to companies that develop agricultural technologies (e.g. agrochemicals, fertilizers) that, despite their extreme utility, can have negative impacts on people’s health or the environmental, if not properly managed.
This rationale does not consider that companies that sell agricultural inputs have not only a heightened responsibility and a unique potential, but also a rational business interest in championing sustainable agriculture: indeed, if farmers thrive, the whole value chain thrives, up- and down-stream; and for farmers to thrive, they must: (a) be healthy and rely on healthy soil, pristine water, functional biodiversity, predictable weather, hence their need to mindfully select and manage safe inputs and preserve their natural assets; (b) have access to markets, hence their need to deliver food that meets the local and international safety standards (e.g. Maximum Residue Limits – MRLs) required for food to be traded and sold to consumers.
For these reasons, to ensure their own business success, input companies are well aware that they need to deliver solutions that are, at the same time, highly performing (e.g. high-yielding, resistant to abiotic and biotic stresses) and safe for farmers, consumers, and the environment. Private companies’ scientists are motivated to make this happen, by developing better and better solutions, and in turn compensated for their efforts.
Science is evolving, and technologies with it. But it takes time and resources. In order to develop and register continuously more sustainable alternative technologies and always provide the most effective and appropriate solutions to protect people and the environment, a sufficient transition period is critical for the agricultural input industry. It takes 11 years on average between the discovery, development, research tests and the final registration and marketing of a new active substance (16 years for GM crops). For every active substance that is registered for use, there are about 160,000 potential candidates in private companies’ pipelines that do not make it past the research stage. This huge endeavor needs large investments (it takes nearly €250 million to deliver a single new active substance), which are only possible if input companies keep thriving by making farmers and others in the food value chain thrive.
For the safety assessments of active substances, Bayer applies criteria that reflect the standards of reference authorities who represent different agronomic realities and whose programs for regulating pesticides are generally well developed (e.g. in the US, Canada, Brazil, the EU, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and China). In 2012, Bayer stopped selling any World Health Organization (WHO) acute tox class 1 pesticides (formulated products), regardless of regulatory approval status. Additionally, since 2016, the company has committed to only selling products with active ingredients that have a registration for use in at least one OECD country or, for new active ingredients, have a complete OECD safety data package. The company continues to build on international standards as laid out in the FAO/WHO International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management and support the work of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to improve and harmonize testing and risk assessment methodologies as well as pesticide registration processes across countries and regions.
Before they are put on the market, Bayer’s genetically modified (GM) crops undergo more food and environmental safety testing and oversight than any other agricultural product – including conventional (or non-GM) crops. The guidelines for establishing safety of GM crops that are followed by Bayer (and all other GM crop developers in the public and private sectors) and recognized by regulatory authorities globally were developed over many years by international scientific bodies like the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission and the Organization for Economic Development (OECD). Only after Bayer has met internal safety testing requirements is the GM crop submitted to global regulatory authorities for their review to demonstrate that they are safe to eat, safe to grow, and safe for the environment.
The contribution that private companies’ scientists can provide to policy making processes is not limited to “hard science”. Socio-economic and behavioral studies are carried out by companies to understand farmers’ motivations for (not) applying safe and sustainable products and practices (e.g. uptake of personal protective equipment by smallholder farmers in low-income countries). These studies drive companies’ trainings and stewardship services and can help shape more effective policies.
So, yes, private companies do have their own interests (just like any other stakeholder who engages in policy processes), and such interests are not in “conflict” but rather fully supportive of more efficient, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable agrifood systems.
“Implementation science” is the scientific study of methods to promote the uptake of research findings and evidence-based practices into regular use by practitioners and policymakers. Industry can provide private scientists, academics, and policymakers neutral tools and methods to build and unbiased collaboration.
2. Lack of transparent mechanisms - Private sector’s scientists are proactive in seeking out opportunities to provide inputs to policymakers by building relationships (mostly through industry associations) and attending policy-related events and conferences. However, more formal channels/mechanisms enabling private scientists to provide inputs to policymakers are not always there (e.g. in some countries, private companies’ scientists are not allowed on scientific panels of policy and regulatory bodies, even after they have left the company), and it is not always clear which information, data, evidence is requested, and in what format; and the degree to which inputs can or will be incorporated in the policies.
We highlight the need to mainstream in all policy processes at international, regional, and national level formal channels/mechanisms enabling private companies to clearly know what scientific inputs are needed, when, how they must be submitted, and to who. Such mechanism would enable private entities, as well as those in the public sector, to most efficiently and effectively invest resources to generate and share the most relevant inputs. Such mechanisms should be open to continuous submissions of updated scientific knowledge as it becomes available. This would enable policymakers to (re)shape their decisions in more timely and effective ways.
3. Communication issues - When developing and designing policies and regulatory systems, an understanding of both the theoretical scientific principles and practical and application-related aspects in agriculture is essential. Yet, even when regulators and policymakers are PhD scientists (more frequently the former ones, less the latter ones) and have deep theoretical knowledge within a certain scientific area, they may not be aware or have a deep practical understanding of the latest related technologies that industry (applied) scientists are more likely to be familiar with. When policymakers have a low level of scientific expertise, the specialist technical jargon of scientists may be difficult for them to translate into relevant policies and guidelines.
Publishing in peer-review journals jointly with academics and scientists from public institutions is a common practice and a good way for private sector scientists to contribute to policy topics, but it may not always be the most effective way to reach policymakers. Rather, to fill this gap in communication between scientists and policymakers – which is likely expanding as the pace of scientific discovery and technological development is accelerating thanks to digital tools – there is the need for more science communicators trained to translate science and innovation to audiences with different degrees of scientific proficiency. More education programs at university level to train science communicators should be funded.
In full alignment with the core principles of the first-ever FAO Science and Innovation Strategy, our company puts science and evidence-based knowledge at the basis of all its decisions, and we emphasise the need for science and innovation to be rights-based and people-centered, gender-equal, evidence-based, needs-driven, sustainability-aligned, risk-informed, and ethics-based.
We recognize the importance of the FAO Strategy to guide the development of more inclusive science-policy interfaces, in support of science-based policy making for greater policy coherence, shared ownership and collective action.
We praise the Strategy’s promotion of partnerships with the private sector to enhance FAO’s access to relevant knowledge networks and support knowledge dissemination, harness private sector-led innovations to achieve improved production, nutrition, environmental sustainability, and human welfare, and promote incentive mechanisms to make appropriate new technologies accessible in low- and middle-income countries.
From our side, we are willing to work with FAO to support its technical work and normative guidance by providing the most credible, relevant and legitimate evidence, knowing that it will be assessed in a rigorous, transparent, and neutral manner.
Prof. Antoine KANTIZA
Performing and Sharing Best Practices of Indigenous Knowledge in Agriculture for more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems
The performance in integrating indigenous knowledge in agriculture productivity could be a Key pathway of reaching sustainable food security as recent researchs have highlighted that the Indigenous knowledge in agriculture could reinforce the efficiency, the inclusion, the reliance and the sustainability of of agrifood systems all over the world taking account of crops and/or animals growing in varied biodiversity or adverse agro-ecology.
Indeed, my current input is mainly based on the latest publications related to the mandatory integration of indigenous knowledge in agriculture.
The first paper inspiring my post is entitled:" Digitalization of Indigenous Knowledge in African Agriculture for Fostering Food Security" ( KANTIZA, A., and alii, 2021) which has been completed somewhat by the paper : " Indigenous Knowledge is a key for sustainable food system" (ALEXANDRE, A., 2023)
Analysis of performance in food security towards the integration of indigenous knowledge
The two papers are complementaries in analyzing the foundation of agriculture science from the Indigenous knowledge even if the modern agriculture science leads to high productivity by putting before the use of improved seeds, inorganic fertilizers and other pecticides while the Indigenous knowledge safeguards old best practices in using almost the same practices of seeding.
The KANTIZA's paper published by IST-Africa 2021 Conference aims to assess the current indige'ous assess the current state of indigenous knowledge in African agriculture as well as to list the best practices driven from traditional knowledge in African agriculture like the fair and inexpensive system of grains' storage such the ikigega used during many centuries in the Great Lakes Region of Africa and nearby or the system of conservation during long term of foods and seeds mixed with wood ashes found in many countries of Central and East Africa.