Democratizing Agriculture Research in Europe, or D.A.R.E., is a European Union funded Grundtvig project that aims to foster face-to-face exchange of experiences, practices, methodologies and co-operation between agricultural producers, researchers and food activists to increase awareness on the cultural, social and economic dimensions of European agro-environmental initiatives. DARE is built on a partnership between 4 organisations: the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) at Coventry University in the United Kingdom, Fondazione Italiana per la Ricerca in Agricoltura Biologica e Biodinamica (FIRAB) in Italy, Biodiversité, Échanges et Diffusion d’Expériences (BEDE) in France and the Fédération romande d’agriculture contractuelle de proximité (FRACP) in Switzerland.
Over the course of the project (2014-15) each partner hosted one international exchange visit where participants deliberated on agro-environmental themes of mutual concern and shared best practices to promote a model of agricultural development that strengthens agrarian peasant cultures for sustainable economic development.
Quick links to DARE meetings and photo galleries:
i) DARE 1 – Italy, ii) DARE 2 – France, iii) DARE 3 – Switzerland, iv) DARE 4 – UK
Through its inclusive participatory approach, the DARE project strengthened the relationship between participating farmers, food activists, environmentalists, citizens and researchers, thereby providing a unique opportunity to integrate local practices and experiential, informal knowledge with scientific innovation processes. In this process DARE sought to facilitate the sharing of views, experiences and lessons from pioneering initiatives in democratising food and agricultural research.
Themes covered by DARE include: methods for deliberative and inclusive processes for deciding on strategic research priorities in the natural and social sciences, accountability and the governance of food and agricultural research, policies and investments in low expernal input farming, innovative models of agroecological production, food processing and ground-breaking solutions for food trade and distribution as well as sustainable rural and urban development.
Manifesto on the Democratization of Agricultural Research
Early on in the DARE project, participants identified the need to articulate a statement that called for the democratization of agricultural research in order to foster an agriculture and a food system that reflected a just, democratic and sustainable society. This sentiment arose out of debates during our exchanges about the state of agricultural research, which participants argued to be dominated by the interests of agri-business and which marginalizes the knowledge of food producers in favor of narrow elite scientific ways of knowing. The farmers and scientists involved in DARE discussed how the problems with the methods and approaches that scientists use in research as well as existing streams of research funding and governance systems prop up an unjust and unsustainable corporate industrial model, and are a significant impediment to a sustainable and just food system.
After the second DARE meeting in France, it was decided that a Manifesto would be created to call for the Democratisation of Agricultural Research in Europe (and beyond). In the subsequent two exchanges, first in Switzerland and then in the U.K., the consortium engaged in a series of participatory workshops and debates to develop the Manifesto. The resulting document will focus on two main pillars that are required to democratize research:
- Transforming the institutional public research system. The Manifesto argues that agendas of public funding bodies, universities and other research institutions are being captured by corporate interests and must be reclaimed by citizens and farmers and to be transformed to serve the public good. This requires citizen (particularly food producers’) oversight, participation and empowerment in research priority and agenda setting. Further, universities and the practice of scientists need to be transformed in order to support transdisciplinary and participatory research methods where public funding for research and the orientation of scientific practice becomes focused on the priorities of citizens and food providers.
- Supporting self-organised farmer/citizen-led research. Crucially, local knowledge needs to be a starting point for agricultural research and development and there is a plethora of knowledge and innovation being generated in fields, CSAs, markets, farmer organizations, cooperatives and social movements that are autonomous from formal and institutional agricultural knowledge systems. This innovation goes largely unrecognized, it is self-organized and citizen-led, and it can lead to innovations for problems that scientists with their own agendas often are not looking for. Locally adapted and indigenous farming and food production practices often stem from hundreds of years of collective observation and trial and error in communities, who are constantly adapting their practices and innovating. This involves Peoples’ control of the research agenda, objectives and methodology’ as well as ‘horizontal exchanges (peasant-to-peasant, fisher-to-fisher, pastoralist-to-pastoralist, consumer-and-producer, etc.) and intergenerational exchanges between generations and across different traditions, including new ideas. Women and youth must be prioritised.’ (Nyéléni Declaration on Agroecology)
In addition to the text of the Manifesto, we have incorporated the voices of farmers and scientists in the form of video testimonials, which will be embedded within the Manifesto and hyperlinked (i.e. readers will be able to click and watch these videos as they relate to specific parts of the Manifesto). We plan to publish this Manifesto in December 2015 and to distribute it widely amongst our networks and use it to guide the research in our own organizations.