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Democratising agri-food research systems

Michel Pimbert

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Paper presented at the workshop on "Agri-food research: participation and the public good". Organised by the Food Ethics Council on 25 March 2004 in London. While recognising the need for `participation' and `agricultural research to serve the public good', many organisations and professionals place clear limits on the form and degree of participation that they tolerate in local contexts. Research organisations, professionals (agronomists, foresters, planners, agricultural economists, engineers, plant breeders) and their funding agencies generally interpret the term "participation" in ways which cede little or no democratic control to citizens. This democratic deficit has become more acute with the privatisation of agri-food research in a globalising food system. A radical shift is required from an increasingly corporate-controlled agricultural research system to an approach which devolves more responsibility and decision making power to farmers, food workers, consumers and citizens. The whole process should lead to the democratisation of agricultural research, diverse forms of co-inquiry based on specialist and non-specialist knowledge, and more transparent oversight. This implies 1) cultural values that emphasise more direct citizen participation in determining research agendas, regulations and policies 2) new professional values, participatory methodologies and behaviour, 3) the adoption of a learning process approach in the production and validation of knowledge, and 4) enabling policies that offer citizens adequate material security and time for democratic deliberation in the context of more localised food systems and economies.

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