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Sharing Power: Learning-By-Doing in Co-Management of Natural Resources Throughout the World

by Grazia Borrini-Feyerabend, Michel Pimbert, M. Taghi Farvar, Ashish Kothari and Yves Renard, with Hanna Jaireth, Marshall Murphree, Vicki Pattemore, Ricardo Ramirez and Patrizio Warren

A joint publication by IIED and IUCN/CEESP, November 2004

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At the heart of ‘co-management’ of biodiversity and natural resources is a process of collective understanding and action by local communities and other social actors. The process brings about negotiated agreements on management roles, rights, and responsibilities, making explicit the conditions and institutions of sound decentralized governance. De facto, co-management is about sharing power. When successful, it spells out the peaceful and intelligent ways by which communities and other actors overcome environmental challenges, take best advantage of nature’s gifts and share those in fairness and solidarity. When it fails, it ushers conflict, human misery and environmental damage.

This book is designed to support professionals and citizens at large who wish both to better understand collaborative management processes and to develop and enhance them in practice. It begins by offering a variety of vistas, from broad historical and equity considerations to in-depth co-management examples. The understanding accumulated in recent decades on the appropriate starting or entry points for co-management, pre-requisites for successful negotiations (such as effective social communication and internal organization of the parties) as well as rules, methods and conditions of the negotiations themselves are illustrated in detail. Methods and tools, such as practical checklists distilled from different situations and contexts, are offered throughout. Examples of specific agreements and pluralist management organizations are discussed. The experience of social actors learning by doing and improving their management practices on an on-going basis has informed this book— together with the complex and inspiring ways by which the surrounding socio-political conditions can be improved through participatory democracy.

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Agroecology cover page

New publication from the Reclaiming Diversity and Citizenship Series:

Agroecology and the Struggle for Food Sovereignty in the Americas - by Avery Cohn, Jonathan Cook, Margarita Fernandez, Kathleen McAfee, Rebecca Reider, and Corrina Steward (Editors)

Co-published by Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, IUCN/CEESP and IIED, this publication is Volume 2 in the Reclaiming Diversity and Citizenship series.


This book seeks to examine the political, economic, cultural, and ecological dimensions of food sovereignty; generate and exchange technically informed and practically applicable knowledge; and provide an interactive space for the formation of cross-cultural alliances between the U.S. and Latin America among academics and practitioners. It addresses a recurring question on how to build stronger relationships between academics and practitioners, including farmers and NGOs, working at the intersection of food, agricultural, and environmental issues. With foreword by Michel Pimbert and Taghi Farvar.
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Sowing Autonomy: Gender and Seed Politics in Semi Arid India

Reclaiming Diversity and Citizenship Series

Carine Pionetti

September 2005

1 84369 562 6 (ISBN)

Price: $30.50 US (£17.00 UK), £5.00 to Non-OECD countries, £10.00 to students

Cover page for Sowing Autonomy
The author of this book looks in particular at women’s roles in saving and reproducing seed in the drylands of the Deccan Plateau, in South India. Detailed farmers’ accounts of why seed-saving is essential emphasise the interconnectedness between self-reliance in seed, crop diversity and nutrition. By extension, the realms of food culture and religious rituals (which entail the use of traditional crops) are also linked to seed autonomy. What is most significant about the intertwining of seed-saving, crop diversity and nutrition is that these three realms are largely under women’s control. However, the processes of industrialisation and institutionalisation in the seed sector are undermining the very basis of autonomous seed production. A radical re-orientation in public policies is needed to support autonomous seed production in the drylands of South India. Poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation both directly depend on a) the strengthening of diversity-based farming systems, b) institutional support for decentralised seed systems, and c) reversals in policies for technological and legal developments.
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A Global Look to the Local: Replacing economic globalistion with democratic localisation
Colin Hines

2004, 71pp
1 84369 5000 6
Order No. 9308IIED

This Discussion Paper seeks to identify the forms of economic organisation that might best support the institutionalisation of participation and people centred processes in environment and development. Written in a non academic and accessible style, the paper renews with traditions of political and economic philosophy that propose ethical norms to guide social relations and the organisation of economic life.

Using food systems as a unifying example, the author shows how localisation reverses the trend of corporate globalisation by discriminating in favour of the local. This approach to organising economic life has local self-reliance and the potential to increase self-determination at its core. A set of mutually reinforcing policies that can potentially increase control of the economy by communities and nation states are described. Localisation has the potential to foster and help institutionalise democratic participation in its broadest sense. For example it is anticipated that 'economic democracy' will occur via involvement in increasingly diverse national production. More 'electoral democracy' is likely since people have a greater incentive to vote when local and national governments have greater control over their own economies. Forms of direct and participatory democracy can also spread and become institutionalised under a localisation approach that introduces a guaranteed citizen income and re-affirms a commitment to self-determination.
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Pimbert, M. and Wakeford, T. 2002
Prajateerpu: A citizens jury / scenario workshop on food and farming futures in Andhra Pradesh, India
London: IIED
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This paper describes and analyses the process and conclusions of a citizens' jury which was convened in Andhra Pradesh (AP), India, to discuss future scenarios for food and farming in the state. The jury process was convened partly in response to the Government of AP's proposed 'Vision 2020' for the future of agriculture and food production in AP. Members of the jury were drawn from communities of small and marginal farmers from all over the state of AP, and most were either dalits (from the 'untouchable' caste) or adivasis (tribal peoples), and women formed the majority. The jurors' deliberations were informed by their interrogation of a range of witnesses including those from the Government of AP, a transnational agrochemical company (Syngenta), universities, local NGOs and government advisory panels. Facilitators used a range of methods to give jurors the opportunity to validate their knowledge and challenge the misunderstandings of decision-makers. Although there was a significant diversity of opinion among the jury participants, there was widespread agreement on their final statement, which included the following:

We oppose:

  • the proposed reduction of those making their livelihood from the land from 70 per cent to 40 per cent in Andhra Pradesh
  • land consolidation and displacement of rural people
  • contract farming
  • labour-displacing mechanisation
  • GM Crops—including Vitamin-A rice & BT-cotton
  • loss of control over medicinal plants including their export

We desire:

  • food and farming for self reliance and community control over resources
  • To maintain healthy soils, diverse crops, trees and livestock, and to build on our indigenous knowledge, practical skills and local institutions.

Pimbert, M. and Wakeford, T. 2002
Prajateerpu: Food and Farming Futures for Andhra Pradesh: A Citizens' Jury / Scenario Workshop
Economic and Political Weekly [India] 37 (27) (Review of Science Studies), 6-12 July: 2778-87

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In many countries 'representative' democracy that relies on the accountability of elected politicians has been heavily criticised for its frequent inability to protect the interests of a large proportion of its citizens. Over the past quarter century a number of 'participatory' methods have been developed to supplement conventional democratic processes by moving beyond traditional forms of consultation. Increasingly, the introduction of new technologies and all policy processes involves making decisions without being able to predict the effects of different courses of action. Participatory methods can be invaluable in such situations. Prajateerpu - a citizens' jury on food and farming futures in Andhra Pradesh - was a six-day exercise in deliberative democracy involving marginal-livelihood citizens from the different regions of the state. A report.

Pimbert, M. and Wakeford, T. (2003)
Prajateerpu, power and knowledge: The politics of participatory action research in development. Part 1: Context, process and safeguards

Part 1:
Action Research 1 (2): 185-207

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Prajateerpu (translation: 'people's verdict') has been devised as an exercise of allowing those people most affected by the 'Vision 2020' for food and farming in Andhra Pradesh (AP, India) to shape a vision of their own. We explore Prajateerpu as a case study in participatory action research that took place against a background of social, political and scientific controversy in which we were active participants. Having examined different methods in combination, including the citizens' jury, scenario workshop and public hearings involved in the Prajateerpu process, we assess the safeguards that were put in place to ensure a balanced and credible deliberative process. We suggest that the exchanges between the five organisations that formed the core team, the facilitators, oversight panel, witnesses and jurors in Prajateerpu, along with the use of a set of carefully designed safeguards, may contain valuable lessons for those who wish to engage in collaborative inquiries where the political stakes in the outcome of this way of knowing are high.

Wakeford, T. and M.P. Pimbert (2004)
Prajateerpu, power and knowledge:
The politics of participatory action research in development

Part 2: Analysis, reflections and implications

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We examine the roles of the diverse co-inquirers involved in the power-equalising action research project known as Prajateerpu. While privileging neither official expertise nor experiential knowledge over the other, we suggest the need to create arenas where expert knowledge is put under public scrutiny as a means of contributing to a redressing of the power imbalance that exists between the poor and elite social groups. We emphasise the important tensions that arose in Prajateerpu between the views of those participants whose analysis had become marginalised from decision-making processes and those who were positions of power. Having reflected on our own actions as action researchers, we look at the potential contributions processes such as Prajateerpu could have towards processes that aim to democratise knowledge and promote social justice.

Pimbert, M., Wakeford, T. and Satheesh, P. V. 2001
Citizens' juries on GMOs and farming futures in India
LEISA Magazine on Low External Input and Sustainable Agriculture 17 (4): 27-30

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Over the past quarter century a number of participatory methods have been developed to democratise policy-making. The citizens' jury is one such method that is being used widely to get farmers involved in the debate on GMOs, which has a direct impact on their lives and livelihoods. This article describes two such juries conducted in India, in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. In both instances, the farmers clearly said 'no' to GMOs, and supported localised food systems instead.

Michel Pimbert, Tom Wakeford et Periyapatna V. Satheesh
Des petits paysans et des marginaux ruraux s'expriment sur l'agriculture et les OGM
La Revue Durable No.6 (2003)

En Inde, en Afrique et en Amérique du Sud, des expériences de démocratie délibérative permettent à des marginaux ruraux – petits paysans, paysans sans terre, ouvriers agricoles et petits transformateurs et consommateurs – de donner leur avis sur l’avenir de l’agriculture et les organismes génétiquement modifiés (OGM).Cet article décrit quatre de ces expériences.Toutes convergent vers le rejet des OGM actuellement sur le marché.

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Pimbert, M.P. 2002
Towards Democratic Control and Participation in the Management of Agricultural Biodiversity

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"Community based conservation" and "peoples' participation" have become part of the conventional rhetoric and more attention is being paid to this approach on the ground by international and national organisations. There are now several examples of projects which involve local communities in conserving and sustaining biodiversity important for food, agriculture, health, local livelihoods and culture in a variety of settings.

However, community based or local management of agricultural biodiversity remains a relatively isolated practice. Its spread to more people and places is constrained by at least three interrelated and mutually reinforcing trends:

  • public sector and civil society organisations that understand "participatory" development in ways that cede little or no devolution of power to local communities engaged in conservation and development
  • the emerging structure, organisation and reach of the global food system that yields disproportionate benefits to corporations and their shareholders.
  • development options that increasingly shift economic power and control over policies, resources and institutions from local citizens to global corporations.

This paper identifies some of the reforms needed to encourage democratic participation and more genuine local control in the management of agricultural biodiversity. Emphasis is placed on strengthening diversity, decentralisation and democracy through the regeneration of more localised food systems and economies.

Pimbert, M.P. (2002).
Social learning for ecological literacy and democracy: emerging issues and challenges.

Proceedings of the International Learning Workshop on Farmer Field Schools (FFS): Emerging Issues and Challenges, 21-25 October 2002, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. CIP UPWARD, The Rockefeller Foundation, FAO and Field.

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In essence, farmer field schools (FFS) are a form of social learning, negotiation, and effective collective action that focuses on society's relationship with nature. The spread and scaling up of FFS principles from integrated pest management (IPM) in rice to other areas have been remarkable. However, much still needs to be done. This paper discusses three broad challenges and emerging issues for FFS futures:

1.       Social learning for ecological literacy and democracy. The dynamics of self-discovery learning and participatory action are needed to expand knowledge of agroecology for sustainable agriculture, people-environment interactions, and deliberative democracy.

2.       Institutionalizing social learning and participation. Different understandings and meanings of participatory development lead to fundamentally different approaches to mainstreaming social learning and participation.

3.       Regoverning food systems and the commons. New forms of governance are needed to safeguard the rights, livelihoods, and environments of farmers and other citizens confronted by rapid and uncertain global change.



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