The research programme shows how it is possible to support civil society organizations to re-invent biotechnology, in order to encourage a different bottom-up technological development in food production. In different contexts, such as ‘schools in the field’ for farmers in India, urban agriculture in Cuba, participatory plants genetic improvement in Ecuador and food networks in Ghana, these best practices show how biotechnology can be re-created from a social point of view. A different biotechnology can be a real alternative to exploitation and the power of big corporation on the food global chain. Supporting poor and empowering communities. .
Critical Technology Construction, research group of Rural Sociology Department of Social Sciences, Wageningen University - NetherlandsLead applicant
Sociological scientific research on endogenous agrarian developments facilitated by tailor-made biotechnologies.
Politecnica Salesiana University - EcuadorInitiative partner
Instituto de Investigaciones en Agricultura Tropical - CubaInitiative partner
INIFAT has set up the Cuban Urban Agricultural Program (CUAP), which illustrates the effort to reconstruct an export-oriented, large scaled and mechanized farming system towards a shortened food chain in which food production and consumption is organized within urban centers.
Science and Technology Policy Research Institute, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research - GhanaInitiative partner
Interdisciplinary research on agriculture and food issues for sustainable developments in Ghana
University of Catania - ItalyInitiative partner
How Agro-Biotechnology can be disconnected from agro-industrial interests and be re-connected to endogenous patterns of agrarian development.
The past few decades have seen an impassioned scientific and political debate on the pros and cons of biotechnology. Tailor-made biotechnologies points out the possibility to go beyond it and to present a new ‘third way’ showing the opportunity to integrate more equal social relations and environmental sustainability within the code of (bio)technological development. Usually, scientific knowledge is produced in academic or research institutions and then imposed to passive farmers or citizens. The main innovation idea is that technology must not be separate from society and that technical code must be open. It can be produced with a bottom up participatory method involving scientists, technologists, citizens and farmers, in order to develop a scientific innovation attuned to interests, social practices, skills, and traditional knowledge of rural communities (savoir and savoir-faire). The natural issue of this process is also a kind of ‘open source biotechnology’.
The background is of the hegemony of the agro-industrial biotechnological development strongly connected multinational corporations interests and worldviews. These interests have produced some ethical and social ‘monsters’ such as infertile seeds or seeds which can only “work” in various local environmental conditions with the intervention of strong chemical support. Against that background various new initiatives are emerging in which other forms of biotechnological developments are designed which we refer to as “tailor-made biotechnologies for endogenous developments” (TMBT). The context of these TMBT is that of unprivileged social communities with reduced bargaining power within agro-industrial context but with new opportunities for sustainable developments facilitated by these developments of TMBT.
Concretely, In India, we involved farmers to scientifically improve the production of bio-insectisides from a local specific tree used in traditional practices: the neem tree (Azadirachta indica). This practice provide an additional income to some farmers and the opportunity to get low cost spray to all farmers. Moreover, they convert regional waste products into new natural resources used as bio-fertilizers. In Cuba, local soil bacteria are used by scientists to protect local crops from pests and malaria, in decentralized production units. With the aim to transfer know-how to render these units independent. In Ecuador, farmers and scientists cooperate to improve traditional local crops and food as they show great adaptability and resistance to harsh environmental conditions. This is made by using genetic material of endogenous local crops. In Ghana, cooperation focuses on the quality of traditional dishes and on a different distribution according to social equality principles.
Farmers, citizens, consumers, school children, women, local communities in some particular areas of developing countries: Ghana, Ecuador, Cuba and India.
The TMBT initiatives in India concerning the conversion of waste products in resources as well as the development of bio-insecticides from the neem tree are performed by thousands of farmers supported by a group 10 scientists while the decentralized production systems of location specific Bacillus Thuriengiensis (Bt) spays is carried out by a number of villages and a group of four scientists. The Cuban Urban Agricultural Program concerned two million workers while the street food vending takes care of 37% of the food provisioning in urban centers of Ghana.
The main difficulty is the dominant perception of technology as being a neutral instrument, neglecting that technology contains a social-technical code through which the dominant social relations are inscribed in the technological artifacts. Going beyond pro/anti debate in which the advocates as well as the opponents of agro-industrial biotechnology applies this neutral vision on technology has become a delicate issue.
The whole concept of “tailor-made biotechnologies” has been developed in relation to grassroots initiatives to support agro-biodiversity and cultural diversity of national dishes and local food patterns, leading to a broadened and diversified perception on technological innovations.
The achieved results have been disseminated in various publications and PhD research projects and thesis writing. Particularly the book “Biotechnology-in-development: Experiences from the South” (Wageningen Academic Press) has become an important tool to disseminate the perspective of this other biotech development. The book contains a theoretical explanation of the TMBT concept as well a DVD in which four documentaries are presented with tailor-made biotechnological experiences in India, Cuba, Ecuador and Ghana. The book is translated in Italian, Turkish and will also appear in Portuguese.
The achieved results have been disseminated in various publications and PhD research projects and thesis writing. Particularly the book “Biotechnology-in-development: Experiences from the South” has become an important tool to disseminate the perspective of another biotech development. The book contains a theoretical explanation of the concept as well a DVD in which four documentaries are presented with tailor-made biotechnological experiences in India, Cuba, Ecuador and Ghana.