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Transforming Knowledge and Ways of Knowing for Food Sovereignty and Bio-Cultural Diversity

Michel Pimbert


Paper for Conference on Endogenous Development and Bio-Cultural Diversity, the interplay of worldviews, globalisation and locality Geneva, Switzerland, 3-5th October 2006. New social movements for food self-reliance in the context of endogenous development are arising worldwide. In the face of the organised power of science, business and mainstream politics, the more diffuse but networked power of this growing food sovereignty movement is confronted with many interrelated challenges. In this paper I focus on only one of these: the need to transform knowledge and ways of knowing to regenerate locally controlled food systems. More specifically, the food sovereignty movement is increasingly challenged to actively develop more autonomous and participatory ways of knowing to produce knowledge that is ecologically literate, socially just and relevant to context. This implies a radical shift from the existing top down and increasingly corporate-controlled research system, to an approach which devolves more responsibility and decision-making power to farmers, indigenous peoples, food workers, consumers and citizens for the production of social and ecological knowledge. The whole process should lead to the democratisation of research, diverse forms of co-inquiry based on specialist and non-specialist knowledge, an expansion of horizontal networks for autonomous learning and action, 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. These themes are explored through practical examples and case studies drawn from ongoing action research in a diversity of bio-cultural contexts.

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How and under what conditions can decentralised governance, capacity building and participation by farmers promote food systems that adapt to changing conditions and climates and maintain agricultural biodiversity?

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