Friday, 29 November 2013

“AIDS has a woman’s face”, or does it? Beyond the Gender and HIV Dyad

By Elizabeth Mllls, KNOTS fellow

As we approach World AIDS Day, and move into 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, I am prompted again, to reflect on some of the important links between gender-based violence and HIV, and also some of the problematic assumptions that perpetuate uncritical thinking on the gender-HIV dyad.

A Discomfort with Development Categories

Meet Zama, a 33-year old South African woman and an old friend of mine; she has been an AIDS activist and professional HIV treatment literacy practitioner in South Africa since the height of AIDS denial in the early 2000s.  Zama lives in Khayelitsha, which means ‘new home’ in isiXhosa. Its name is rather cynical, given that in this area homes are rarely ever permanently sunk into the earth. Space matters here when the only source of water is a leaky tap, whose muddy veins run down unlit side alleys where women risk rape when they leave their homes at night, or when all adults and children risk electrocution (from illegal wires that wind through the sand) when walking to the single toilet that also serves their 500 – 1000 closest neighbours. Khayelitsha is also the space where women have stood with men, in conjunction with the Treatment Action Campaign and Médecins Sans Frontières, to call on the state to provide essential AIDS medicines; it is the place where these medicines were first made available through the MSF trial in 2001.

Like almost 33% of Khayelitsha’s residents, Zama is also HIV-positive; and like almost two million South Africans, she is on ARVs. She explains,

“It’s like when the skies fight, when the clouds are angry and dark. They crash into each other and lightning flies across the sky. You never know where the lightning is going to hit. That’s what it’s like with HIV” (Zama, 2011).

In this conversation, Zama told me how she had initially found it difficult to negotiate safe sex, or sex at all, when she was a young woman. Zama had been wary of narrating this ‘illness history’ because it colluded with the ‘development category’ of the poor, black HIV-positive woman who was unable to actively navigate her own life. In fact, she eschewed labels like ‘HIV-positive woman’ and considered herself to have substantial personal power to negotiate her current sexual, socio-economic and political relationships.

Looking beyond Victimhood: Between Agency and Structure

While the presence of gender inequality, and its brutal manifestation as sexual violence in girls’ and women’s lives, is a strong feature of my work, I – like Zama – have been confronted by the explanatory limitations of epidemiological assertions that stipulated a correlation between gender inequality and higher rates of HIV infection among women compared to men. I do not dispute this correlation; my research has been informed by the multiple and intersecting inequalities that seemed to drive HIV, in epidemiological terms, into women’s lives and bodies. This was most striking when, in 2008, young women in South Africa were almost four times as likely to be HIV-positive compared to young men of the same age (20 – 24) (Johnson et al., 2013, Dorrington et al., 2006).  Overall prevalence in this age group has subsequently declined, but the characteristics of prevalence according to sex remained the same: young women are still more likely to be HIV-positive than men (UNAIDS, 2012).

Studies link these statistics to sexual violence. Articles with titles like “AIDS has a woman’s face” or “Troubling the angels” proliferated in research that explored this correlation.  Other research suggested that sexual violence and its relationship to HIV occurs against an inflected backdrop of pervasive and entangled inequalities in South Africa, where gender, sexuality, race and class powerfully intersect to reinforce poor Black women’s vulnerability (Dworkin et al., 2012, Jewkes and Morrell, 2012).

Although these studies give texture to the correlation between gender inequality and high rates of HIV incidence among women compared to men, they may also (unwittingly) support a paradigm that has fuelled development interventions to ‘empower’ women by foregrounding women’s relative lack of power compared to men. Ascribing HIV transmission, in epidemiological terms, to entrenched gender inequality does not, in itself, engage with the complex pathways that women navigate between desire and risk in their sexual relationships, and in extremely difficult socio-economic contexts.  In this respect, my research shows that women are subtly, and sometimes with great difficulty, negotiating their intimate relationships with men by forming separate households and by working and establishing their financial independence. This was not a straightforward matter of asserting agency or submitting to intersecting structures of inequality.

The Biopolitics of Violence: Bringing a Global Network of Actors into View

In my research on gender and HIV, and now as I convene the Sexuality, Poverty and Law Programme at the Institute of Development Studies, I suggest that we – researchers, policy makers, activists – need to be careful about situating vulnerability in individual bodies and relationships. I propose that we nuance our analyses to look at how people’s bodies and lives are located in a far more complex network of actors. I suggest, then, that the gender-HIV dyad is problematic not only because it positions women as passive victims of men who are, conversely, held to be active perpetrators (or even more unhelpfully, ‘vectors of transmission’). More fundamentally, it is problematic because these discourses direct our attention towards individuals or ‘cultures of inequality’ and away from the biopolitics of violence in which national, regional and global actors are implicated.

While we certainly need to address the manifestation of inequality in people’s lives, the bolts of lightening, we also need to explore the context – the skies that fight – in which women’s lives are located. This includes a recognition: of the subtle ways that women hold agency, albeit fraught and contested; that men are a part of the solution in working towards equality; and that national, regional and global actors need to be held to account for the ways they intimately affect our lives, from a distance, at the most molecular level.

Dorrington, R., Johnson, L., Bradshaw, D. & Daniel, T. (2006) The demographic impact of HIV/AIDS in South Africa: National and provincial indicators for 2006. Cape Town.

Dworkin, S. L., Colvin, C., Hatcher, A. & Peacock, D. (2012) Men’s Perceptions of Women’s Rights and Changing Gender Relations in South Africa Lessons for Working With Men and Boys in HIV and Antiviolence Programs. Gender & Society, 26, 97-120.

Jewkes, R. & Morrell, R. (2012) Sexuality and the limits of agency among South African teenage women: Theorising femininities and their connections to HIV risk practises. Social Science & Medicine, 74, 1729-1737.

Johnson, L. F., Mossong, J., Dorrington, R. E., Schomaker, M., Hoffmann, C. J., Keiser, O., Fox, M. P., Wood, R., Prozesky, H. & Giddy, J. (2013) Life Expectancies of South African Adults Starting Antiretroviral Treatment: Collaborative Analysis of Cohort Studies. PLoS medicine, 10, e1001418.

UNAIDS (2012) World AIDS Day Report - Results 2012. UNAIDS.

Monday, 25 November 2013

More than numbers: Why counting heads in the climate talks won’t do women farmers any favours

Image: World Bank
Agnes Otzelberger of CARE's Poverty, Environment and Climate Change Network has written for the CCAFS blog about the inclusion of gender in international climate change negotiations:

At the COP19 climate change conference, for the first time, gender is being discussed as a formal part of the agenda – a major achievement after long-standing existence of the issue on the fringes of the climate negotiations.

So, as organisations putting gender equality at the heart of our work on climate change, food and agriculture, can we sit back and relax? Definitely not. Having established that gender equity is not optional, what’s needed next is a common understanding of what this means for policy and action on climate change, and for the research that informs both. And what needs to be understood here, first and foremost, is that gender equity in climate policy, action, and research is about more than numbers.
Read Agnes Otzelberger's full post on the CCAFS CGIAR website

Making Agricultural Investment Work for Africa: parliamentarians from Central Africa respond to the ‘land rush’

by Ruth Hall, Associate Professor, PLAAS.

How should African politicians respond to the ‘land rush’?

Parliamentarians from the member states of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) met last week to debate this question. The two-day meeting was held in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, and was convened among others by the Pan African Parliament, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), and Future Agricultures.

You can download the programme (pdf) and the final declaration (pdf) from the event.
As private investors’ interest in African agriculture grows, African states need strong policy and legal frameworks in order to benefit from it: both in order to ensure that local people’s land, water and other natural resource rights are protected, and to provide a secure environment for private investments. This means renewed attention to land and other tenure reforms – the kind that the FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines and the G8’s Land Transparency Initiative are designed to support.

The meeting in Malabo was the third in a series of regional meetings of parliamentarians (previous meetings were held in Cotonou last October, and Kigali in April). The next regional meeting is planned for Johannesburg in 2014. The impetus behind this series of meetings was a two-day seminar at the Pan African Parliament in July 2011, co-hosted by Future Agricultures, PLAAS and IISD. That meeting had produced a declaration (pdf) which led directly to the African Union’s Nairobi Plan of Action, adopted by the Land Policy Initiative in October 2011.
This article summarises the discussion, including the recommendations from the Malabo meeting.

A collective response to agriculture and food security is needed

The Honourable Hon. Vincent Mavoungou Bouyou, president of the CEMAC parliament, opened the event. Honourable Gaudencio Muaba Mesu, speaker of parliament in Equatorial Guinea, welcomed parliamentarians and academic researchers to the new CEMAC parliament building, and called for the meeting to generate ‘pragmatic recommendations’. “We want national and international organisations to work together to respond collectively to these challenges. Our citizens are threatened by this problem. We need to tackle agriculture and food security so that communities can benefit”, he said.
The first Vice President of the Pan African Parliament, Honourable Roger Nkodo Dang of Cameroon, presented an argument in favour of the ‘industrialization’ and commercialization of agriculture:
“We really need to attract investments in the agricultural sector and members of parliament need to work on that… It is very important for us to work to find the solution for food shortage that we have. Most African countries have an old-fashioned agriculture. The industrialization of agriculture is very important. We need to have great areas of land to use agriculture. We see that when Africans do agriculture, it is not the type of agriculture that is bringing development. We have great, great areas of forests, and we need to work so that we can use those lands. How we reconcile the development with the people who are in rural areas?”

What land deals are underway in Central Africa?

Ward Anseeuw of the University of Pretoria and Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD) provided an overview of large-scale land-based investments in Central Africa.

About 4 million hectares of land in the Central African region has been leased out to foreign and multinational companies since the mid-2000s. This means that it is less affected by large-scale land-based investments than other regions such as East and Southern Africa – but nevertheless the scale of the land being transacted is substantial in several countries, like the Republic of Congo, Chad, Gabon, Central African Republic and Cameroon. At the same time, a further 4 million hectares was transacted in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), alone (DRC is not officially part of the CEMAC region).

Forestry and palm oil dominate land deals

Investments for the production of food is minimal, yet all countries in the region are net food importers. Some are heavily dependent on imports, with over 90% of national food supply coming from elsewhere.
Where land deals have been struck, these are mostly for forestry – often involving harvesting of hardwood trees from the tropical rainforest – but also for agriculture. The major agricultural investments in the region are for the production of palm oil, often on large swathes of land where the forest is clear-cut. Despite hopes of benefitting from the UN Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation programme, this has not materialized, according to delegates in Malabo. “None of the countries of the Congo Basin have received the carbon money”, said Honourable Ndang of the Pan African Parliament. So while large areas of forest are being sold off or leased out, incentives under REDD to preserve the forest and its ecosystems services are ineffective.

Water, climate change and shrinking Lake Chad

While part of Central Africa is well endowed with water (such as Gabon), other regions are water-scarce (such as Chad). Yet land deals across all countries involve ceding water rights over long periods of time.
“In terms of water, there is not good information, but there is a correlation between acquiring water rights and investing. In the Niger and Nile Basins, the correlation is very strong. Infrastructure and markets are also important.”, noted Anseeuw.
Honourable Bubakari from Chad observed that there is “huge potential for agricultural intensification”. The ecosystem of the Lake Chad basin, spanning four countries, is hugely valuable in the form of fishing, irrigated crop production and other production systems. Here, the rapid shrinking of the lake was adding to conflicts between farmers and pastoralists, and a regional response by all affected states was needed.
Matt McCandless of IISD argued that, in order to preserve Lake Chad, “ecosystem services need to be protected and trade-offs between investments and outputs, and ecosystems services need to be managed”. Investment contracts need to include explicit provisions on ecosystems services, especially the rights of downstream water users.
MPs agreed. One said: “We want to work also to tackle this issue of Lake Chad so that we can save the waters we still have. There are conflicts between herders and those in agriculture. We see that those conflicts are growing and we don’t want those conflicts to affect the investors. We need to preserve every opportunity for reconciliation, so that investments remain. We need to do everything to attract investors and when they come, they should also preserve the social and cultural realities of each country, for the welfare of our people.”

Who are the investors in Central Africa?

There is a widespread view that Chinese companies are at the forefront of large-scale land deals in Africa. However, in Central Africa, the major investing countries are the traditional powers of France, USA, Canada and Belgium – as well as a growing number of domestic investors, sometimes in partnership with international capital. In Cameroon, for example, domestic investors are more predominant. But, whether domestic or foreign, some similar challenges arise.

Land deals and climate change

This is an urbanizing region, aggravating the need to scale up food production. “Many people are leaving rural areas to come and live in cities, and so depend on others to produce food”, said Iyebi-Mandjek. “After the Amazon, there is the jungle of Central Africa, which is very important as a global resource. If we keep on abusing this forest, it will contribute to global warming. We must fight global warming and preserve biodiversity."

Investment and production, but for which markets?

What markets are supplied? Production by foreign investors is often for foreign markets, not for domestic markets. They are mostly motivated to gain profit through global markets. If someone is producing rice, they want to sell the rice at the highest possible price, and derive profit – which might not be in local markets. So local people might not benefit from increased production in their vicinity.
Whatever investment comes, it must first of all meet local needs – for instance, palm oil production must contribute towards energy security for local people, rather than going as renewable fuel for the cars of Europeans.
“Central Africa needs investment in agriculture to reduce food shortages. There is a need to adapt land laws to the new situations that we face. We need to go from family agriculture to mass agriculture because family agriculture is not really able to meet the needs of the people. It does not boost the agricultural market”, noted Iyebi-Mandjek.

Impacts of land deals on African farmers

Che-PropacInvest in African farmers rather than giving away their land, argued Alangeh Romanus Che, of the Regional Platform of Farmers’ Organisations of Central Africa (PROPAC), a network of membership-based farmers’ associations across 10 countries in Central Africa. PROPAC, a supporter of the African Union’s Land Policy Initiative and its Nairobi Plan of Action, as well as the FAO Voluntary Guidelines, called for transparency and inclusive processes in governing large-scale investments.
The lack of land reforms and of participatory governance meant that existing farmers were largely locked out of key decisions that would affect them:
“Farmers do not have a voice in land management. Some farmers are displaced and land seized to be sold to multinationals for foreign direct investment, and no rehabilitation process is put in place. There are serious deficits in the negotiations processes over land deals”, said Che. “All farmers depend on land as their principal capital, any denial of this access will impact negatively on farmers. An ‘advanced form of slavery’ is being introduced as farmers are denied land rights which are given to foreign investors.”
The outcomes of elite-based land investments were a decrease in local farmers’ output, leading to declining incomes, increased food and nutrition insecurity, a decrease in the employed labour force, increase in social conflicts, and growing hunger and abject poverty in rural areas.
Similarly, Dr Naomi Kipuri of the Arid Lands Institute showed how when governments tell investors that the land is under-utilised or idle, existing land uses including secondary uses (mostly by woman and pastoralists) go unnoticed. Water, firewood and traditional medicines are secondary uses that are often ignored when land deals are struck. The commercialization and monetization of land undermines customary land rights and provokes evictions of pastoralists and hunter-gatherers. This produces landlessness, she argued, and the principle of ‘free, prior and informed consent’ contained in the FAO Voluntary Guidelines, is ignored.
Honourable Ndang of the Pan African Parliament confirmed the critiques presented at the meeting:
“The kinds of investments we are seeing in Central Africa are not really helping local people. When we look at those investments, there are also conflicts in those areas. When you have 200,000 hectares for agriculture to one person, there is a problem. More and more, the populations are left aside, and investors are taking all the profit… Someone is producing rice, but rice is expensive in local markets because investors are selling where he can get more profit.”

Can Africa help secure the world’s food supply?

At the same time that parliamentarians discussed the chronic dependence of their countries on food imports, presentations from foreign experts suggested that Africa’s agricultural commercialization was needed to respond to global food shortages.
Matt McCandless of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) pointed out that while food production has more than doubled since 1960, the amount of food available per person on average has grown and food prices have fallen, the number of hungry people is in fact increasing. He argued that in developed countries, agricultural potential has been fully developed, nearing the theoretical maximum of food production. “It’s in the developing countries and in sub-Saharan Africa that cultivable land is still ‘available’,” he said.
Agriculture is an industry worth a trillion dollars a year and contributes 25% of GDP in Africa. It is also the mainstay of people’s livelihoods: while 22% of the world’s population is in the agricultural labour force, this is far higher in Africa, where 60% of the population is employed or self-employed in agriculture.
Henk Jan Ormel, Vice President of the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa (AWEPA), told the parliamentarians: “The world is looking to you: farming and agriculture is becoming more and more a geopolitical issue. The world population will rise from 7 to 9 billion people in the coming 20 years. The demand for animal protein will rise 70%. This will not come from Europe or United States, but from East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.”
Farmers are the backbone of the rural economy, and if African states lost sight of this, they would end up chasing the farmers to the big cities. ‘The big demographic shift to the cities ends up with people in slums with no jobs, and then we are creating the revolutions of the future. By investing in people of the countryside, we are investing in feeding the world’, he claimed.
“How to feed the world? One of the answers is here in Central Africa,” said Ormel.

Preferential terms for investors means disadvantaging local farmers

Fiscal advantages for foreign investors were inequitable, MPs agreed. As Honourable Ndang stated: “Somebody who comes to invest is told: for the first five years you will not pay taxes. It’s a problem! This is happening in the whole of Central Africa. The national investors are not protected in this way.”
Another MP echoed this sentiment: “We as MPs need to know exactly what is going on in our countries in terms of foreign investment. The laws that are favourable to foreign investors are to the detriment of local investment. Our states are giving more favour to foreign capital than to national interests; are states complicit and against the interests of their own populations?”
The worst situations arise when local farmers are displaced, but investment does not materialize. MPs agreed on an urgent need to review existing deals, as many of them have not been implemented. “We need to know their status and reasons for them not working out the ways planned,” argued Che.

Secure women’s rights before negotiating with investors

Land reforms will need to provide women with independent land rights, as a basis for development, agreed many of the parliamentarians. Even though women contribute most labour to cultivation, few own their own land. As one MP observed:
“Women don’t have land, if a woman asks for land, the husband says well, she should go to her parents. She gets to her parents, [but] they say no, you are married, you must go to your husband! So we need a legal framework where women will be owners of land.”
With the commercialization of agriculture, people are being asked to renounce their traditional rights, observed Honourable Ndang. “The people who are living in that land are displaced. We should do something to preserve the traditional rights. The investors who want to use that land, should be made to respect the rights of the indigenous people living there. We need to update our legislation.”
As Kipuri insisted, invest first in farmers themselves and, where external investment is to affect people’s resource rights, the basic yardstick to be applied is this: compensation must leave people better off than they were before.

Transparency is a precondition for inclusive investments

The information collated by the Land Matrix, an international collaboration of research and civil society organisations, shows that contracts are not publicly available, and the terms of the deal are often shrouded from view.
Olivier Iyebi-Mandjek of the Paul Ango Ela Foundation (FPAE) and Catholic University of Central Africa (UCAC), relished the opportunity to provoke the parliamentarians, arguing that the lack of transparency was the major challenge in the region: “the one thing I think must be talked about is transparency”.
There was no transparency in the ways investments were made between investors and local officials. One of the problems we have is that we don’t have enough employment; investors might create jobs, but they are often insecure and seasonal, and local people do not benefit substantially.
“Our study shows that there is a great need for transparency in the way transactions are done, so that everybody will know what is going on, and be satisfied”, said Iyebi-Mandjek. “There are African politicians who have shares in foreign companies that are getting land – they should be punished. That is real corruption. Even traditional chiefs are involved.”

Frank words on transparency and politics

MPs were at times refreshingly frank. Patrick Mucheleka, an MP from Zambia and a member of the Pan African Parliaments, outlined problems with transparency and the role of electoral politics.
“Contracts signed between our government and investors are not well known; these are not done in a transparent manner. Most of us are not well informed. We need to use the AU protocols and charters and domesticate them within our own national land laws and land policies – and then ensure transparent monitoring and evaluation systems, because that is what we are elected to do. At the same time, we face challenges and constraints, as some of us come from ruling parties, so are we able to side with our people? We tend to side with our parties, for fear of the next election and pursue the party interests, rather than to the people who elected us.”
Other parliamentarians were also frank and forthright. As one participant observed: “As MPs, we have our own diversified livelihoods, and we become investors ourselves, and partner with foreign investors. Should we push for laws that protect the interests of our smallholder farmers?”

What should be done?

Investment is needed in agriculture, from both public and private sources. The question is what models of agriculture are being promoted, and what business models are being established.
I made a presentation on agricultural investment models in Africa, demonstrating that plantation agriculture, medium-sized commercial farms and outgrower schemes produce very different outcomes.
Routes to commercialization ‘from above’, by importing capital in return for land and labour, tends to produce less broad-based benefits than schemes to promote reinvesetment of capital by those who already hold the land and labour. Drawing on case studies from Nigeria, Zambia and Ghana, I argued that these models matter, and more attention should be given to models of investment that enable accumulation from below, among small farmers themselves, rather than replacing them with large-scale corporate farming.
MPs agreed that Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) needs to fit into wider visions for commercializing existing farmers
“We should not rely entirely on FDI. Where there is a real need for FDI, it must done through responsible agricultural investment that respects local people’s rights, generates employment, promotes infrastructure, protects the environment, ensures social protection, and ensures food and nutrition security alone the lines of food sovereignty. And any form of investment must focus on infrastructure that will add value to local farmers,” said Che.
Among the main recommendations of the meeting were that:
  • Governments should ensure that investment does not upset indigenous livelihoods and ensure women’s rights
  • Give priority to investments that support rather than replace primary production systems
  • Reform land tenure regimes to secure rights of indigenous communities and rights for women
  • Regulate and control investments to ensure benefits to communities, especially women
  • Ensure transparency and fairness in the conduct of investments
  • Ensure protection and preservation of biodiversity and special natural assets
  • Ensure observance of the principle of free, prior and informed consent for local people before FDI deals are concluded
  • Support diversification of women’s economic activities and include value addition to products that benefit them directly
  • Recognise the rights of indigenous pastoralists and hunter-gatherers
  • Ensure that rural women and not just men participate in development activities.

An important role for parliamentarians

cemac2Parliamentarians need to hold their governments to account, and push for investments on land and water and other natural resources which lead to technology transfer, quality job creation and improvements in livelihoods.
MPs both from ruling and opposition parties need to have the same information, so that they can exercise proper oversight of governments; at present, the legislature is often locked out of key information required to ensure transparency, observed Wolfgang Pinklhuber of AWEPA, the Association of European Parliamentarians for Africa, a co-sponsor of the seminar.
As Honourable Mucheleka of Zambia and of the Pan African Parliament insisted:
‘We need land laws and policies that secure land rights for our people. We need to create linkages with the private sector, but it should be a win-win situation for our smallholder farmers as well as the investors themselves. Civil society needs to play a role: local NGOs and farmers’ associations, also linked with international NGOs that can support research to inform the types of investment we should promote.”

Two hops from FHS: What can our Facebook page tell us about our network?

By Jeff Knezovich, FHS Policy Influence and Research Uptake Manager, Institute of Development Studies

The other week I had the good fortune of participating in an excellent meeting in Prague hosted by the Open Society Foundations: Policy Research, Technology and Advocacy Event @ the Hub. The event was designed to bring experts together from across Central and Eastern European think tanks to share ideas and learn from each other on innovative approaches to evidence-based advocacy and communications.

There were a number of interesting sessions from the two days (which I've expanded upon elsewhere) -- but I particularly appreciated a hands on session led by Josef Slerka, a lecturer in new media at Charles University in Prague. He showed us how to use some freely available tools to gain a better understanding of our position within social networks.

Making a network map

Based on any given page on Facebook, he walked us through how to find and map a network of other 'pages' (not individuals!) that like or follow that page. We started by scraping information from Facebook using Netvizz. They allow for mapping of up to two hops from any Facebook page, so I thought I'd start with the Facebook page for Future Health Systems (but Netvizz can also help you create a map of your own personal network, which I also did -- it was interesting to see the relationships!).

Netvizz produces a GDF file designed to be integrated with the network mapping programme Gephi (open source and free to download – but if you’ve recently upgraded to Mavericks on your Mac you may need to re-install Java first).

But it effectively creates a CSV file (comma delimited), which I imported into Excel, tidied with the vlookup function (probably my favourite Excel function, if I'm honest!), and then imported the whole thinginto GoogleFusionTables. If you haven't used FusionTables before, I recommend highly that you give them a go -- they can help create maps and lots of other interactive charts, not just network maps. Here's the result:

Click through for an interactive version!

One of the nice things about the interactive version is that you can reduce the number of nodes that it shows so you can really get a clear sense of how connected various parts of the network are. Also, if you'd like to open up the hood/bonnet and see how simple this really is, you can see the full Fusion Table (it also allows you to filter the nodes to explore specific relationships).

What does this tell us?

So we've got this map, but what's it good for? I haven't sat down to do a massively detailed analysis of this network, but even cursory glances can start to tell us a lot about the organisations that are particularly connected in this network.

  • Follow the donor: It's probably not that surprising, but some of the biggest nodes in this network are funders -- DFID, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF and USAID certainly stand out.
  • Birds of a feather cluster together: It's interesting to see some of the 'outlying' clusters that come together. There's a little New York Times cluster in there, and Johns Hopkins cluster (not surprising considering that they are the lead FHS partner), and a massive UNICEF cluster.
  • Strategies for developing a following: It's not entirely fair, as this is network is only two hops from the FHS page (and so it doesn't paint a ful picture -- but it is possible to add to the network!), but it's interesting to see the patterns of who follows whom on Facebook and the different strategies that the organisations are employing. Some follow many, while others hardly follow other pages at all. I'd be interested to see how the relates to cross-sharing of information.
  • Media still matter: Two clear nodes from the traditional media stand out. The New York Times and the Economist. Time to strenghten those media relationships, I guess!
  • Two hops to hop: The Guardian did a great interactive graphic relating to the NSA leaks on how quickly a network expands from hop to hop. This network map already gives me a clear sense of how quickly that expands, but it also gives me some great ideas of other pages to follow that I didn't know existed to grow a closer network.
But all in all, it was great to get the practice in developing a network map. Several FHS projects have been experimenting with social network analysis (SNA) to the policy influence and research uptake planning in their interventions. Knowing how to use tools like this can hopefully help directly strengthen our programme implementation. We'll keep you posted!

The ethics of emergent knowledge intermediaries

Flickr/nyayahealth - Bi-weekly health catch up at a community
health centre
By Paula Boddington, Hertford College, Oxford University

[Editor's note: This blog is the final in the FHS blog series Exploring the Implications of New Technologies for the Self-Management of Illness]

The use of new knowledge intermediaries in the public health sphere gives rise to a host of ethical issues. These include questions about fairness of access; the quality of the technology used and information generated; who has access to and control of such information; the impact of commercial interests within a healthcare setting; and regulation across borders. How do we address all of these from within our current frameworks of ethical thinking in medicine? In fact, can we?

Medical ethics has historically focused on the interactions between professionals and individual patients. It has thus been concerned with the professional’s role and responsibilities, ways of minimising harms and maximising benefit to the patient, and respect for the patients' rights. These questions make sense within an ethical framework focusing on the patient-doctor diagnoses and treatment model. But with the use of new technologies for the self-management of illness, the traditional model of medical ethics is beginning to flounder.

The current model of medical ethics has of course developed over time and in relation to changes within the health system it scrutinizes. It currently faces challenges from many quarters, including the following points of strain:

The model focuses on discrete interactions between a professional and an individual patient. Challenges then arise, e.g. with genetics, where the nature of genetic information means that the patient’s information may be relevant to biological relations.
  • There has been an implicit assumption that standard treatment consists of intervention for a condition which is then cured, with less attention then on chronic conditions and long-term care. This is a bigger challenge now that the burden of disease is shifting towards long term conditions.
  • There has been a focus on medical care, rather than on public health (although there has been more work on ethical issues in public health in recent years), and as Slim Slama pointed out in his blog, a focus on disease rather than social and personal aspects of health and illness.
  • There has been a focus on consent to treatment, and on patient confidentiality. Behind both of these lies an implicit model of information-giving and of action. Crudely, the professional is the agent, the patient the one upon whom actions are performed; the professional has the medical knowledge, the patient receives this; and all this within a limited time frame, in an enclosed informational setting.
Self-management of chronic illness challenges the old model of medical ethics in a myriad ways. The patient may become an expert about their own disease. Indeed, ‘the patient’ is not someone undergoing a discrete episode of illness, but more manifestly is a person living a whole life, connected to a community of others.

Furthermore, the use of technology to manage illness means that information is no longer primarily in the hands of a medical professional, but is dissipated across a much larger system, including commercial interests. Medical agency is dissipated to the patient, as technology can assist and enable them to manage and make decisions about their own condition without reliance on a doctor. In fact a professional may have taken no direct part at all in the process.

New technologies may offer highly effective means of providing both tailored and general health information. But with this, there are also many hazards in trying to provide adequate education and real understanding. In short, it is no longer just in the standard ‘medical encounter’ within which ethical issues arise and are addressed. Technology may help potentially billions of people to manage chronic conditions, but new medical ethics needs to consider the much more dissipated agency and fragmented information that it brings.

Interestingly, the problems now facing the traditional model of medical ethics, even within a standard clinical setting, are often remarkably similar to those faced by widespread use of technologies within a public health sphere. For example, there is a growing realisation that drug regimes prescribed are, overwhelmingly, adhered to only very poorly. It’s become clear that problems with communication between provider and patient impede delivery of effective treatments that the patient both wants and can manage effectively. Hence, addressing these issues of understanding and communication is an essential key to improving healthcare, even when there is apparently close interaction between provider and individual patient. Part of the answer might involve the use of technologies, including those which help to advance the patient’s understanding of medicine.

Medical information is now increasingly shared in both formal and informal markets. We need to understand fully how such information is controlled and accessed, whether it be by medical and research professionals, commercial interests, or by patient groups. With such dissipated agency and diffuse systems of information, circumscribed systems of medical ethics with clearly articulated professional roles and responsibilities are no longer going to apply. Ethical ways forward will involve making sure that the power to act, the power to know, and the power to understand is put firmly in the right hands those of the most vulnerable, and those needing care to manage health and illness.

(video) Innovations on the ground: Implications for ICTs in patient self-management

This series of interviews with participants in a recent workshop on patient self-management hosted by IDS at the Brocher Foundation explores how information and communication technologies are being used to help people cope with chronic diseases in Cambodia, Bangladesh and Uganda. From Cambodia, we hear from Maurits van Pelt of MoPoTsyo, a patient peer group for diabetes sufferers in Cambodia. Dr Mohammed Iqbal from icddr,b talks about chronic disease clubs in Chakaria, Bangladesh. And William Roy Mayega discusses advances in Uganda on treating chronic diseases.

Why we should embrace different stories in sustainability

How can critical views of ‘stories’ help in seeking pathways to sustainability?

I’ve recently got back from the Communicate conference where I talked about stories using examples from the STEPS Centre’s projects (see previous post). The conference strapline was “Stories for Change”, which taps into a growing awareness of the competing stories we tell ourselves – and each other – about people and nature.

Framing the theme around storytelling allowed us to explore three distinct but related questions:
  • first, what to learn from individual stories about people’s relationship with the environment (from a community project in Kent to an encounter of flooding in the West Country);
  • second, the lessons of campaigns or efforts to communicate about conservation;
  • and third, more critical questions about what stories are and how they are used, our responsibilities as storytellers or listeners, and which stories about sustainability become dominant, why and with what consequences.
I tend to think about the third one as the obvious entry point for me, as the STEPS Centre spends a lot of time looking critically at how stories (and framings and narratives) relate to social and environmental change. But you can use the third question to reflect on the answers to the first two.

To put it simply: since powerful stories can themselves prop up power, looking at and questioning different stories (ways of seeing the world, the words we use to describe things, the terms chosen to frame particular decisions) is an important part of seeking alternative pathways to sustainability. I talked about ‘big stories’ and ‘little stories’ as a way of introducing the idea of power, of asking how past and future visions from poor and marginalised communities can challenge the big narratives that hold sway. Sustainability should be for the people, by the people.

With this in mind, ‘environmental’ questions are interesting because they can be approached from so many angles and perspectives. Which wording, positioning and moral framework you commit to are all open to debate, or should be.

Diverse views of biodiversity

There were a couple of examples at Communicate that brought this home to me.

First, a project by Simon Christmas for Defra looked at how people understand variety in nature. People are able to hold conflicting views about the variety of nature at the same time – for example, that ‘Nature will find a way’ (return to balance after shocks), and that ‘Nature can’t catch up’ (that humanity is damaging Nature too rapidly for it to recover) – depending on the timescale in question. In the short term, nature can’t catch up – but in the long term, it will recover.

But what is Nature – how separate are we from it? Some interviewees in the Defra project started out defining nature as a pristine wilderness, but then admitted that, in the UK at least, such a wilderness is virtually non-existent. People’s understanding of their environment (including urban enviromment) is subjective and fuzzy, and affected through experiences and activity – from walking the dog to bird watching or bug hunting.

Branding vs. politics?

So if everyone has different views of nature, how can campaigners seek to mobilise concern and action among different public groups?

Ed Gillespie, the conference chair, described the process of creating a ‘brand’ for the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity. What does it mean to ‘brand’ biodiversity, though? Branding is about emotion – it’s all about distilling the vision of a particular influential actor into an identity that aims to connect with people’s feelings.

But if biodiversity means different things to different people, and responses to it are inevitably plural and political, what happens when it gets branded? Don’t birdwatchers, say, have a different take on the issue from people who rely on forests for their livelihoods?

In other words, what does branding do to the ‘little stories’? Is it possible to incorporate branding into a process where little stories are given due attention and alternatives are possible? This is a difficult challenge,  but in a world where brands are increasingly valued as a way of mobilising people towards environmental and social responsibility, I think this question deserves attention.

Looking at contrasting and conflicting stories opens our eyes to the political nature of science. First of all, this means looking at the content of stories themselves, and noticing what makes them different. But also: who’s telling them, why and what power dynamics exist to make some stories bigger than others.

A world within a woodland in Kent

The other example was a great story from a community in Kent that had seen chronic damage to a local woodland by fly-tippers and off-road drivers.

A group of residents decided to join together to repair the paths, clear rubbish and limit access (though not completely ban it) by off-road vehicles.

There is so much in this story. The contested claims over the woodland involved more than just local residents and fly-tippers or off-roaders. Parcels of woodland had been sold into private ownership and the details of owners and rights were unclear and hard to access. And local politics – the interest of an influential politician – was influential in kickstarting the project, as well as the determination of the local people involved in fundraising and in enlisting the help of the local Royal Engineers, local landowners, and others. But even after some hard work had already been done, the campaigners were dismayed when the National Grid cut a large band of woodland down to clear the way for power lines. A campaign on Facebook drew attention from further afield. One of the fly-tippers was also a landowner. The story does not end there – this is now being used as a case study to inspire other communities to take action.

At the centre of this story are questions over who has access to woodland, what it is for, how it should be used, the dynamics of ownership and land rights, and the roles that can be played by external agencies (politicians, local government officials, the National Grid, and helpful partners). The X Factor in all this may be confidence: the ability to think “I have the right to do something with this land, it belongs to me” and assert a claim over it, which will not always go unchallenged. What gives people the confidence to take action may be influenced by class, access to funding, access to helpful politicians and so on.

What do these stories about stories tell us? Since ‘environment’ is what’s around us, describing problems as ‘environmental’ inevitably carries a (hidden or obvious) ‘us’. But who ‘we’ are depends on where you look.

So we need to find ways to address injustice and inequality when we try to move towards sustainable futures.

Stories for change?

The STEPS Centre’s book Dynamic Sustainabilities has a section (p. 132-136) suggesting strategies to effect policy change, under five headings (the bits in brackets are my notes/explanations).
  • Telling persuasive stories (highlighting alternative stories, ‘little stories’ if you like which suggest how institutions and governance might change)
  • Building networks and encouraging champions of change
  • Encouraging reflexivity (in other words, encouraging policy makers to look at the situation on the ground or reflect critically on the policy process itself)
  • Opportunity, flexibility and adaptive governance (including taking advantage of a crisis, or big events like a change of government, to promote change)
  • Building new skills and professionals (crossing boundaries between natural and social science, and between people who focus on local or macro scales, for example)
These ideas suggest where stories can fit into a process of promoting change. A good starting point can be to tell some of the ‘little stories’ which expose and challenge the more mainstream ways of framing the problem.

‘Little stories’ not only show big stories up, they can be a way to represent marginal or less powerful interests. But they are part of a bigger picture too, working within institutions, governance, power networks and social and technological change.

The idea of big stories and little stories seemed to get a good response at Communicate, but it clearly leaves a lot out – it’s one part of a bigger conversation. I’d be interested to hear other people’s views on other ways to illustrate these complex ideas.

Photo: Bee carving by nathanoxley on Flickr

This post first appeared on the STEPS Centre blog.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

COP19: A push for pro-poor low carbon development

Julia Day, STEPS Centre Communications Manager

Solar lighting / Rising Powers projectAll too often discussions about low carbon technologies range around the interests of high and middle income countries, but fail to factor in the needs of Least Developed Countries (LDCs). But there are compelling reasons why a broader definition of technology can help low carbon, pro-poor pathways to sustainability that are beneficial for the development, environmental and economic agendas of all.

As the second week of climate negotiations gets underway at the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP19) in Poland, the development benefits of access to modern energy services hold a particularly strong salience as we approach the 2015 deadline for a new global climate deal and successors to the Millennium Development Goals.

Energy and development go hand-in-hand: lighting, cooking, mobility, heating, cooling and communications are all essential to development processes. But access to modern energy services is highly uneven across the world, with knock-on consequences for health, environment, wealth and social relations.

For instance, current trends suggest billions of the world’s poor will continue to rely on energy from traditional biomass – such as wood and waste – over the coming decades and the numbers reliant on biomass might even increase from 2.7 billion to 2.8 billion. The negative impacts on health, education and quality of life further deepens and entrenches poverty.

Meanwhile, by 2030 the number of people without access to electricity will fall by only a fraction – from 1.4 billion to 1.2 billion, according to Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and International Energy Agency (IEA) figures.

Two major policy instruments, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), aim among other things, to increase energy access and address climate change. And they both make use of markets to diffuse low carbon technologies in developing countries. But the poorest countries in the world continue to miss out on these investments with ‘success’ focussing on the deployment of low carbon hardware, and small increases in local jobs. Thus how much ‘development’ is achieved, let alone sustainable development, in technological or human terms is questionable.

If technology is simply perceived as hardware to be transferred from one place to another this situation is likely to continue, with cost and favourable finance remaining in place as the solution to diffusing technology.

The STEPS Centre’s work aims to put forward a broader definition of technology, recognising that characteristics such as relevant knowledge, skills and capabilities are needed to adopt, adapt, develop and make use of technologies. Attention to how technologies fit into current systems and people’s routines and cultural practices is also needed.

Development pathways which are more favourable to the poor can be fostered by policy-making and mechanisms that acknowledge a broader notion of self-determined technology. And with the control of technologies economic and political power can flourish.

Related links:

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Health in a changing climate

Source: Jessly Obando
by Fatema Rajabali

I am currently in Warsaw, Poland for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP19). On 16 November, I attended the Climate and Health Summit, which was organised by the Global Climate and Health Alliance (GCHA). I was particularly interested in this event as I have a narrow understanding of the complex climate change and health interconnections, especially around issues of mental health and well being.

With the tragic events of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines so recent, I wondered how other vulnerable countries, with less social welfare and support programmes in place, would meet development goals after such calamities. There is enough to deal with when you have lost loved ones, your community, home and all your basic possessions. And when people are displaced, there are so many other complex issues that come into play. For instance, as Liz Hannah from the Australia National University highlighted: ’there are an increase in rapes and sexual assaults among displaced communities.’

Building of collective momentum among the health community

At the summit, multiple presenters argued that climate change is a health issue and the sector should not be shy about participating in this dialogue. Even though the Copenhagen Accord only mentions health once, there are hopeful signs, which Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum from the World Health Organisation outlined as:

  • The public identifies with the correlation between health and climate change.
  • The World Health Assembly has a resolution to act on climate change.
  • There are expanding programmes on health adaptation although there is now a need to try institutionalise programmes.
  • There are new initiatives supporting climate change mitigation. This includes decreasing air pollution and its effects.

But the health community needs to be working at a larger scale, learning and leveraging from initiatives that have had major successes in the sector. This includes the public health action from the tobacco industry as well as the campaigns and work on HIV/AIDS programmes. The health sector is not poor, as one of the participants noted, but how do we make sure that money is being funnelled into these programmes?

Links between nutrition, health and climate change

What we put into our bodies is also a significantly important part of the discussion. Christina Tiraldo, a Professor at the School of Public Health at UCLA provided an interesting insight into some of the key links and challenges in building synergies in the nutrition and health sectors in a changing climate, especially as we work towards a Rio+20 world. She noted that Climate Smart Agriculture needs to have a nutritional component.


If not us, who: If not now, when?

And while the health sector engages in this debate, the youth of today, represented by the International Federation on Medical Students Associations (IFMSA) emphasised their need to be engaged in this process. Building the capacity of medical students across the globe so that they can develop the confidence and skills to lead in this dialogue sounds like a worthy investment. After all, as Charlotte Holm-Hansen from IFMSA noted: ’this is not just a role for middle aged white men to be playing’.

Following COP19?
If you’re interested in staying up to date with the latest research and commentary from COP19, with a focus on looking beyond the Millennium Development Goals, please follow our virtual narrative via Storify

Are there things we aren’t covering sufficiently? Let us know what you think:  /

If you’re looking for more cutting edge research on the interlinks between health, nutrition and climate change:

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

18 November: China and Brazil in African agriculture - news roundup

By Henry TugendhatCBAAnews

This news roundup has been collected on behalf of the China and Brazil in African Agriculture (CBAA) project. For regular updates from the project, sign up to the CBAA newsletter.

BRICS Ministers meet on Food Security
Agriculture Ministers and officials from the five BRICS countries met in Pretoria on 29 October to discuss food security. It is the third meeting of its kind, and appears to have focused in particular on food security in Africa. One of the commitments arising from the meeting is to minimise the negative effects of climate change on agriculture and food security by encouraging the production of foods which have less dependence on climatic effects.
(Global Times)

Small-holder growth in Zimbabwe and Chinese markets
The Guardian refers to research on Zimbabwe by CBAA project member Ian Scoones, which documents how some smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe have benefited from the land reforms in 2000. After years of economic contraction and poor production immediately following the land redistributions, this article looks at how the sector is now picking up. Among the reasons cited, attention is drawn to China as one of the biggest tobacco purchasers in the country.
(The Independent)

Ghana’s president looks forward to Brazil loan
 Brazil’s loan of $1 billion to Ghana is set to arrive soon, according to President John Dramani Mahama. The loan will be used for a number of projects, including agriculture, energy and infrastructure. In a recent speech, he focused on applying a large portion of the loan on housebuilding projects, which would also create jobs.
(Ghana Business News)

ECDPM conference: CAADP and emerging economies
Last week the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) hosted a meeting on ‘Emerging Economies and the Changing Dynamics in African Agriculture: What role for CAADP?’. The event was attended by CBAA’s Prof. Li and Henry Tugendhat; a follow conference is expected within the next year. The conference organisers prepared a discussion paper with the same title, ahead of the event:
Emerging Economies and the Changing Dynamics in African Agriculture: What Role for CAADP?

UK announces investment in Tanzania trade links
As part of the UK’s new move towards mixing aid with trade and investments, DFID has announced four projects worth £20 million in Tanzania’s agricultural sector. These projects are largely focused on tea-farming and agribusinesses that work with small-scale farmers.
(The Guardian)

SSA’s economic exposure to China
The Financial Times’ ‘Beyond BRICS’ blog cites findings from an IMF study that warns that Africa’s increasing dependence on Chinese trade, leave it at risk to economic shocks should China’s growth slow or demands change.
(Beyond Brics blog - FT)

Chinese investors sour on Brazil, and projects melt away
Brazil is falling out of favour with Chinese investors due to stagnant economic growth, heavy costs, and what they see as a political and popular backlash against their presence. Two thirds of the roughly $70 billion in projects announced since 2007 are said to be either on hold or cancelled. This is expected to be a particular problem for Brazil’s farming industry that was said to have been optimistic about Chinese investments in relevant infrastructure.
(Reuters, via SAFPI)

Free book downloads
Fundação Alexandre de Gusmão (FUNAG) have made a collection of books available free to download from their website, on topics including Brazil, BRICS, international relations, foreign policy and more (in English and Portuguese).

World Social Science Report 2013: Navigating pathways in the safe and just space for humanity

A framework for negotiating pathways to a safe and just sustainable future for people and planet is presented by Melissa Leach, STEPS Centre director, in a new article for the World Social Science Report 2013, launched today.

Prof. Leach and her co-authors Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) and economist Kate Raworth, combine the STEPS Centre's work on the three 'Ds' agenda of direction, diversity and distribution, SRC's work on planetary boundaries and Raworth's 'doughnut economics' to offer a new framework for addressing environmental change, enduring poverty and social inequalities.

In Between social and planetary boundaries: Navigating pathways in the safe and just space for humanity, Leach, Raworth and Rockström put forward a framework which can be used to identify alternative pathways to sustainability and inform deliberation about their social and political implications.

The framework sets out the social and planetary boundaries between which humanity can thrive and explores how the many possible pathways for getting into that safe and just space can be aligned with different cultures, visions and values, and with different distributions of costs, risks, power and benefits across social groups.

The article argues the process of adjudicating between the diverse outcomes for social justice is a deeply political one in which "a new interdisciplinary science for sustainability…needs to recognize sustainability as political, requiring inclusive debate and multiple voices."

Published by UNESCO, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the International Social Science Council (ISSC), the World Social Science Report, entitled Changing Global Environments, features articles by more than 150 leading experts from all over the world and represents the full gamut of social science subjects: anthropology, economics, development studies, geography, political science, psychology, and sociology.

The argument that underpins the 600-page volume is that people, human behaviour and societies need to be at the heart of all attempts to tackle the challenges of environmental change and phenomena studied by the natural sciences.

The Report issues a clarion call to the international scientific community, that a bolder, better, bigger and different approach to social science is needed.

It asserts that social scientists need to collaborate more effectively with colleagues from the natural, human and engineering sciences to deliver knowledge that can help address the most pressing of today's environmental problems and sustainability challenges. And they need to do so in close collaboration with decision-makers, practitioners and the other users of their research.

Useful links

Monday, 18 November 2013

African agriculture is under pressure from the global politics of climate change

ethio11As nations debate climate change this week at the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP19), addressing the urgent questions linking agriculture and climate change is not only politically, but morally the right thing to do. Agriculture tops the list of climate-affected sectors, with complex implications on food security and the economies of countries that depend on rain-fed agriculture.

The IPCC’s fourth assessment report (pdf) warns that if business in the agricultural sector continues as usual, rain-fed agricultural yields in some African countries could decline by as much as 50% by 2020. Prices of staple foods such as maize, wheat and rice could increase by an average of 53%, further exacerbating hunger and malnutrition in vulnerable nations where over a billion people are already reportedly food insecure. Agriculture is also a contributor to climate change – it emits about 14% of greenhouse gas partly through direct emissions and deforestation, according to the IPCC.

The story of agriculture and climate change is not new. However, prescribing solutions that take into account the interests of multiple actors engaged in the debate remains the biggest dilemma for the international community.

To understand why, we need to look at how the politics of agriculture in climate change plays out at a global level and how this results in pressure being put on national policy.

The politics of climate change and agriculture

Considerable politics revolves around negotiating Parties, organizations’ and sectoral interests as played out in past debates under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and national debates. These debates have, however, yielded mixed and unclear prospects for agriculture.

At a global level, the politics revolves around the debates on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), which appears to have stolen the limelight from agriculture.

At the same time, however, the interest in REDD+ may have provided a window of opportunity for concerned actors to push the agriculture agenda at the UNFCCC. While developing country Parties seem to be keen on engaging with REDD+ and benefiting from a range of relatively well institutionalized multilateral and bilateral funds, observer organizations at the UNFCCC’s COPs have coined a plausible narrative around the ‘unavoidable face of agriculture in REDD+’. The narrative argues that agriculture is the main driver of deforestation – so ‘a successful REDD+’ depends more on agricultural development strategies that retain and sustain forests, than it does on forestry strategies themselves.

Despite the logic behind this forest-agriculture nexus, many developing countries – those principally endowed with forest resources – have remained non-committal to supporting a work programme on agriculture, which appears to have been continually put on the back burner at the UNFCCC. These countries consider agricultural systems to be costly and complex to monitor and a challenge to consolidating REDD+ funds.

Mechanized agriculture

Coupled with a dominant narrative of achieving economic development through agriculture, the interests of developing country Parties lie more in mechanized agriculture as outlined in their national strategies and regional policies such as the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme. Such mechanization policies are often viewed as a quick fix to seasonal hunger problems and economic growth, and are not in line with more climate friendly approaches like conservation agriculture.

The global politics further take this sectoral dimension and plays it out in national and global debates. For instance, concerns have been raised that the Forestry departments of certain countries are interested in controlling the REDD+ funds, and so dominate the REDD+ readiness plans with little input from agricultural departments. At the UNFCCC meetings, similar concerns have been raised:
“We acknowledge that REDD+ success depends on action in agriculture, as also stated by Nicholas Stern in Forest Day. ....And yet, despite the strong recognition of linkages and interdependencies between the land based sectors, I note that the press release reporting on Forest Day 4 does not mention agriculture. Clearly, sector silos are still strong.”

Peter Holmgren, Director, Climate Energy and Tenure at FAO, during a plenary session at Forest Day 4 in Cancun in November, 2010

A policy vacuum?

Given the low commitment among some developing countries to a work programme on agriculture, a policy vacuum has emerged, giving external actors the opportunity to drive the climate change-agriculture agenda.

While these external actors have considerable de facto powers due to their finances and networks, they have very little de jure powers to domesticate such policies into the national agenda – and therein lies the dilemma.

In recent years, the ‘external actors’ have successfully pursued initiatives such as ‘climate smart agriculture’ and have tested their practicality in various African (and other) settings. The Future Agricultures Consortium has attempted to unpack how these initiatives practically play out.  A number of case studies across Africa, including Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, Namibia and Malawi, reveal mixed outcomes. Overall, the studies suggest that the promise of external funding often overrides state policy. These initiatives in most cases directly intersect with messier informal and local institutions, where farmers have little knowledge on the content and aims of these initiatives. The result is contested accountability and power relations in which most farmers lose out.

Such policy mismatches are further spaces for land grabbing and intra-state institutional conflicts over donor funds, as revealed in the Malawi case. The Kenya case further details implicit issues such as gender, land rights, water scarcity and poor capacity as impediments to the adoption of such initiatives.

Some ways forward

These concerns point to the need for negotiators this week at COP19 to take agricultural debates as a moral rather than a purely political agenda.

There is a particular need for more work linking global and national policy agendas to create a ‘nested’ policy framework.

Within developing countries themselves, the vital areas for attention include more capacity-building on climate change, consultations with local people in the policy process and  attention to wider development issues such as water access and gender imbalances. These are vital if farmers are to become more empowered to expand their opportunities and wellbeing in the context of climate change.

This post first appeared on the Future Agricultures blog.

Joanes Atela is a researcher in the Climate Change theme of Future Agricultures. He is pursuing a PhD in climate change and sustainability and is part of the STEPS Centre’s project on the political ecologies of carbon in Africa

Photo: Ethio drought 7 by aheavens on Flickr

Big stories, little stories


This is the (slightly edited) text of my talk at Communicate 2013, in a session called “liberating stories”. The pictures are some of the slides I used. The brief was to provide some suggestions about the role of the social sciences in ‘liberating stories’ for environmental communicators, through memorable examples. I only had 10 minutes so had to simplify a lot of things, but I’ve provided links in the text below, which you can follow to read about the proper, full description of the research and its findings.

We use big stories to make sense of a world that is increasingly complex and changing very fast and where everything seems to be chaotic. The climate’s changing, we need to feed more people than ever, demand for electricity is growing massively. And I think sometimes big stories are used to reassure people that someone’s in charge.

So we’re told we need to ‘tackle climate change’ by giving huge areas of land over to biofuels, or that questioning GM crops is ‘anti-science’ or ‘anti-progress’, or that large-scale industrial agriculture is the way to feed the world, and so on, and so on, and so on. There is a certain type of powerful story that likes you to think that it’s not a story at all.

When we hear these big stories being repeated as fact, when sustainability is just presented as a technical issue, or a scientific problem to be solved by experts, I think a massive alarm bell should ring. A sustainability klaxon, if you like.


I am interested in how we can tell different stories – little stories – that can challenge some of these assumptions about the way the world should be.

The STEPS Centre does this by working with poor and marginalised people in developing countries and looking at the different possible futures that they can see for themselves.

GhaziabadWater in peri-urban in India

There’s a STEPS project which looked at people on the edge of Delhi in India, in an industrial town called Ghaziabad that’s changed a lot in a very short space of time. The problem there is poor people are not getting access to water, or to clean water.

So the big official story in Delhi is the government is providing ‘access for all’ in the context of scarce water supply.

Through the research you see there’s a spider’s web of agencies that are supposed to deal with this. The problem is they don’t work together well, they’re not equipped to deal with things like inequality, informality and rapid change, as well as corruption and politics.

So you get this situation where there might be a massive water pipe running right through a poor area which might not even be on the map, on the way to the middle-class areas. People are having to run across a railway to get to the nearest pump and getting hurt.

So what about the little stories here?

There’s the ingenuity of people illegally tapping the water supply, building their own DIY irrigation systems. But there’s also pollution and illness. And also a lot of everyday life revolves around water, and there’s also a whole set of beliefs and stories about water as well – for example, it’s central to the mythology of various religions.
Photo: Pritpal Randhawa

So exposing the big story and telling these little stories creates a disruption, so it’s easier to put your finger on what the problem is and start doing something about it. So in this project we used film and photos, and a mini-graphic novel as well as more traditional research publications to tell these stories.
Picture from The Water Cookbook by Bhagwati Prasad

I love this description about the task of sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) by Prof Sheila Jasanoff: “to render more visible the connections and the unseen patterns that modern societies have taken pains to conceal”. There’s the idea that it’s actually quite important for those in power to try and disguise certain stories and certain connections – to pretend that they don’t exist.

What is it for example, about the story of inevitable progress towards large-scale industrial agriculture, enhanced by biotechnology and supported by corporate investment, that makes it such an attractive solution for agricultural development in Africa, and who wins and who loses from this story?

Maize in Kenya

Here’s another example from the STEPS Centre. It’s about climate change and crops in Kenya, where there have been a lot of droughts in the last couple of decades. The big story there is that science and technology will fix the problem, that scientists will deliver new drought-tolerant seeds to poor farmers through a kind of pipeline, where farmers are the end customers.

Photo: Sally Brooks

What our project did was go to some small farmers in a very dry region called Sakai, where they farm maize, and we listened to their stories and looked at how they actually make choices about which seeds or crops to use, how that fits with their daily life.

We used a technique called Multi Criteria Mapping to identify the farmers’ criteria for making their choices, like how important is the cost of seed, vs. how important is cooking, for your selection of crop. And we asked them to think about what they could do differently in response to all these droughts, and to rank the different futures that they imagined for themselves.


And then we compared this data from the small farmers, we compared it to what lots of other different groups thought the farmers should be doing – seed companies, scientists, policy makers etc. and what they thought the criteria were. And the stories were different, the little stories started to challenge the bigger story that everyone thought was obvious.

There’s a new section on the STEPS website all about methods which will explain how it works in more detail, and explains some other methods too.

The power of little stories

By comparing and exposing these stories we are saying: the big story is not the only game in town. There are always other pathways and other possibilities – however much some people would like to deny them, and it starts with listening to people and taking them seriously.

Stories don’t operate in a vacuum. These big stories are swimming in a sea of institutions and social and environmental change, shaped by politics and power. So in this context telling a different story is a profoundly political act.

When we see these big stories we need to look at who is winning and losing, we need to broaden out the debate about the future to include more people, more kinds of knowledge. It’s not only more fun and more interesting, I think you get a better result.