Democratising Agricultural Research for Food Sovereignty in West Africa

Farmers’ assessments of public research in Mali and citizens’ juries on the governance of food and agricultural research in West Africa.

The West African part of the action-research programme - Democratising Agricultural Research for Food Sovereignty - has made a conscious effort to include members of both advocacy and practitioner movements in all key aspects of this participatory process. In 2008, a multi-actor steering group was set up to co-ordinate and design the overall process of citizen deliberations. The epicentre of these activities is in Mali, where the steering group is currently composed of representatives of 15 organisations from all sectors (government, academia, producer organisations, small-scale private sector, civil society and media).

Farmers’ assessments of public research in Mali

The first step in the process was to organise an independent farmer-led assessment of public research on plant breeding and the management of agro-biodiversity in Mali. In November 2009, african partners and IIED organised and facilitated this assessment of the work of national agricultural research programmes (plant breeding and seed management) in Mali and of an international centre for agricultural research (ICRISAT). The assessment was conducted by and for farmers – both men and women – using participatory methodologies. This allowed farmers to assess the quality of public research using their own criteria for evaluation and according to their own priorities. The assessments included discussions between farmers and researchers during a 12-day farmer “caravan” that visited 4 main agro-ecological zones in Mali in November 2009. Twelve farmers from Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso and France participated in these discussions with scientists. The findings and conclusions were fed into the citizens' juries that were subsequently held in January-February 2010 (described below). A full report on the process and outcomes of the farmers’ assessments of public research on plant breeding was produced: “Les Variétés Améliorées des Stations de Recherche ne sont pas Toujours les Meilleures” (BEDE, 2009). PDF available in French.

Citizens' juries on the governance of food and agricultural research

Following the research described above, two citizens'/farmer juries were then held, the first in January and the second in February 2010. These two public events took place in Mali, in the village of Selengue-Nyeleni where the International Forum on Food Sovereignty had been held in 2007 ( The two 6-day long citizens' juries were the climax of this regional process of deliberation and citizen inclusion in debates on the governance and transformation of food and agricultural research. The citizens' juries were designed as safe spaces in which expert and experiential knowledge were put under public scrutiny. The two citizens' juries complemented each other and allowed farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk, forest dwellers and food processors to hear contradictory evidence and specialist witness arguments on the following issues: 1. Citizens' jury one: What kind of knowledge and agricultural research do small scale producers and food processors want (or not)? Specialist witness presentations and farmer discussions focused on: i) different models of agricultural production; ii) land tenure and property rights; and iii) economics of food and agriculture. 2. Citizens' jury two: How can we democratise the governance of food and agricultural research? These discussions and specialist witness presentations focused on: i) the funding of research; ii) the organisation and practice of research; iii) partnerships between private-public sector; (iv) ways of working of scientists and researchers; (v) institutional innovations for greater citizen oversight and participation in the governance of research. The small-scale producers and food processors who took part in the two citizens' juries were organised into four separate commissions:

  1. Farmers’ and Forest users’ Commission
  2. Women’s Commission
  3. Herders’ & Fishermen’s Commission
  4. Food Processors’ Commission

Based on this collective analysis and the discussions after the presentations and cross examination of the specialist witnesses, the jurors developed a series of recommendations for policy makers. These are shown in Boxes 1 and 2 for each of the citizens' juries held in Nyeleni.

Box 1. Recommendations of the citizens' jury on priorities for knowledge production and agricultural research

A. Farmers’ and Forest Users’ Commission

  1. Generate knowledge that will facilitate a fundamental rethink of agricultural policy: knowledge that fully recognises the work of farmers so that we can achieve food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture
  2. Rebuild (reconstruct) agricultural policy by giving farmers a central role in defining this policy
  3. Generate knowledge about local land tenure and its management in different communities and territories, and present this information in local languages so that everyone can understand it. Develop knowledge and practices to ensure that the interests of men, women and children are taken into account
  4. Generate knowledge about markets and how they function, and develop strategies to promote and strengthen the local economy by adding value to local agricultural produce (greater security for farmers to avoid standing sales, predatory pricing, etc.)
  5. Identify and investigate mechanisms that will enable the national economy to fund research, thereby avoiding dependence on external funding
  6. Ensure research focuses on the concerns and resources of the poorest sectors of society
  7. Involve farmers in every stage of creating and selecting varieties. Focus research on local varieties. Under no circumstances should the creation and selection of varieties produce hybrids and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
  8. Focus research on improving the productivity of local varieties (growing practices, local adaptation, land use, and soil fertility management)
  9. Generate knowledge and technologies to support sustainable agriculture (agricultural tools and machines adapted to small-scale farming)
  10. Involve research much more in producing knowledge on local biodiversity in order to add value to its use and values.
  11. Conduct research on how to best use national mineral resources (e.g. Tilemsi phosphate and limestone)
  12. Develop new strategies for integrated pest management and train producers to use them by taking into account local knowledge
  13. Directly involve producers, users and consumers in controlling, conducting and monitoring research activities
  14. Recognise and protect producers’ landholdings and territories
  15. Generate knowledge that will facilitate consultative and negotiated solutions to conflicts over land tenure and use
  16. Develop mechanisms to implement the arrangements set out in the Framework Agricultural Law (Loi d’Orientation Agricole) for the retirement pension scheme of producers and for disaster management funds.

B. Women’s Commission Models of production

  1. Raise awareness/inform producers about good farming practices and maintaining the potential for soil productivity (combining and rotating crops, conserving crop residues, retaining tree and shrub species in fields)
  2. Research should make an inventory of different local varieties of seeds, animal breeds, plants and fish fry so that they can be conserved and multiplied
  3. Develop techniques to make more productive use of Tilemsi phosphate and organic manures
  4. Train farmers in single animal traction and disseminate this practice on a large scale
  5. Focus research activities on producers’ concerns and needs
  6. Involve male and female producers in the research process
  7. Develop strategies to ensure that research is mainly funded by the state

Land tenure

  1. Devise strategies to increase women’s representation on land tenure commissions (50%) and give them more responsibility
  2. Develop research into how to allocate land titles to women
  3. Develop strategies to prioritise riverside local residents (men, women and children) in the allocation of developed land (70% of land should be allocated to local riverside residents)
  4. Provide producers with accurate information about land registration procedures
  5. Generate new knowledge on tenure issues related to the management of croplands and the management of water used for irrigation

Macro-economic context

  1. Conduct more in-depth research into the impact and consequences of imported products (stock cubes, milk, seeds, tinned foods, etc.) on food quality
  2. Take into account local products such as datou, soumbala, dried fish, etc. in research protocols and topics, and their potentiel to replace imported condiments like stock cubes
  3. Develop procedures for consultation to identify producers’ needs before starting any negotiations on priorities for agricultural research

C. Herders’ & Fishermen’s Commission

Models of production

  1. Develop strategies to establish a framework for consultations on natural resource management between the authorities and rural actors
  2. Develop strategies to recognise and valorise the profession of livestock herding and fishing
  3. Develop strategies for wide-scale dissemination and enforcement of the Pastoral Charter
  4. Develop schemes to facilitate access to water on grazing lands by digging large-diameter wells and developing suitable waterholes
  5. Research should develop strategies to promote the consumption of local food and agricultural produce
  6. Develop strategies to replace plastic packaging with biodegradable materials
  7. Research should develop strategies to replace pesticides with plant based products that are not harmful to human, animal and aquatic health

Land tenure

  1. Develop strategies to register locally-recognised land holdings and facilitate universal access to the land registry
  2. Research should develop strategies to establish a framework for permanent consultation and dialogue between farmers and herders to facilitate good conflict management

Macro-economic context

  1. Find a mechanism for fostering the political will needed to implement measures that encourage the economic exchange and sale of agro-sylvo-pastoral products
  2. Develop strategies to subsidise and support local food and agricultural products by involving different actors in the supply chain
  3. Identify approaches and develop schemes that can enable producers to access funding tailored to their needs
  4. Develop strategies to facilitate sales of our products on markets

D. Food Processors’ Commission

Models of production

  1. Develop mechanisms to ensure that agricultural research focuses on producers’ real needs
  2. Find strategies to promote local seeds as a means of achieving food sovereignty. Hybrid seeds and GMOs should be avoided.
  3. Develop strategies to enable the state to provide material and financial support for agricultural research
  4. Do research on mixed cropping systems and techniques, producing knowledge on how to give them more recognition and value
  5. Identify ways to build on traditional knowledge and introduce village-level training to enhance local capacity to master production and processing skills and techniques
  6. Identify strategies that will make producers, processors and markets more secure through the development of a convention
  7. Build on and disseminate farmers’ agro-ecological knowledge and innovations (on seeds, fertilisation, etc.)

Land tenure

  1. Develop strategies to get women recognised as fully-fledged professional farmers, rather than just as farmers’ wives
  2. Identify and develop ways of increasing women’s representation on land allocation committees
  3.  Do in-depth research and reflect more deeply on the issue of land titles

Macro-economic context

  1. Conduct participatory research to clarify how water charges and development funds are managed
  2. Conduct research into how the processing of local produce (fruit, fish, meat, milk, etc.) can provide the basis for a sound economy, nutrition and health
  3. Develop innovations and appropriate technologies that will help support men and women food processors
  4. Develop mechanisms to help protect the local market and local produce from unfair competition from imported products.


Box 2. Citizens' jury recommendations on the governance of food and agricultural research

A. Farmers’ and Forest users’ Commission

Research funding

  1. Agricultural research should be wholly government-funded to ensure its sovereignty 
  2. 10% of the national budget should be allocated to agricultural research

Organisation of research

  1. Boost and strongly encourage participatory research by providing funding to the existing system

Research practice

  1. Ensure that the land that is part of the national research estate is secured through legal means
  2. Conduct off-station research, with agricultural producers fully participating in the design and execution of protocols and experiments

Control over research

  1. Produce guidelines for a new type of agricultural research in which producers are involved in defining strategic research priorities and in the evaluation of results
  2. Open up research to private national structures, with government providing the regulatory framework and rules
  3. Train researchers and producers in participatory research methods and practices.

B. Women’s Commission

  1. Research should be largely government-funded to guarantee food sovereignty
  2. Establish consultative frameworks between the State, producers and researchers so that producers benefit more from the results of research
  3. Develop strategies to encourage research institutions to employ young people, especially women
  4. Promote women’s participation in bodies that make decisions about agricultural research
  5. Generate research information about local products so that they can be developed and given more value
  6. Conduct research on seeds in order to adapt them to the local environment
  7. Producers need to organise themselves to ensure that their concerns are fully reflected in legislation, - so that they can control agricultural research
  8. Make innovations more accessible to producers (cost, proximity and timing).

C. Livestock Herders’ & Fishermen’s Commission

  1. Implement the legal arrangements for funding agricultural research, with particular emphasis on the livestock sector and fisheries
  2. Conduct participatory research and put producers at the centre of the research process
  3. Revitalise the Regional Commissions for Users of Research Findings (CRU) and make them more operational at the regional level
  4. Prepare and adopt a new, open and flexible type of memorandum of understanding between different research partners
  5. Observe the clauses in the memorandum of understanding (see 4)
  6. Consolidate partnerships between the actors involved in research
  7. Increase efforts to circulate and disseminate the results of participatory research
  8. Involve producers in the design, preparation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of research activities
  9. Strengthen producers’ own research capacities
  10. De-concentrate and decentralise research structures to bring them closer to users
  11. Decision-makers should build on local knowledge and give more value to it
  12. Use local languages to disseminate the knowledge gained from research.

D. Food Processors’ Commission 

  1. The State needs to invest more financial resources in agricultural research
  2. Organise citizen conferences to define the overarching policies and strategic priorities for agricultural research
  3. Involve producers in preparing national strategic plans for agricultural research
  4. Promote research that takes into account local social, economic and political realities
  5. Conduct more in-depth research into the techniques that can be used to process, develop, preserve and market local agricultural produce
  6. Increase the number of staff in research institutes and train them in participatory research
  7. Implement participatory research as agreed
  8. Involve elected officials in disseminating the results of agricultural research
  9. Develop mechanisms to implement the Framework Agricultural Law (Loi d’Orientation Agricole) and the Pastoral Charter
  10. Agricultural research should mainly focus on local varieties
  11. Establish frameworks for consultation between researchers and the users of research results so that they can participate in every stage of the research process
  12. Producers need to set up lobbying groups to defend their interests
  13. Facilitate and strengthen communication between the leaders of peasant farmer organisations and their grassroots members.

The West Africa Steering Committee members have developed a website ( to describe the process and outcomes of the West African citizens' juries on the directions and governance of agricultural research in both Bambara and French.