Project « Co-construction of knowledge and of decisions in research: the example of participatory plant breeding in agri-environment »

mercredi 29 février 2012


The project « Co-construction of knowledge and of decisions in research: the example of participatory plant breeding in agri-environment », was directed by the  Fondation Sciences Citoyennes, in partnership with the Réseau Semences Paysannes (Peasant seeds network). The project was funded by REPERE program called Network of Exchange and Projects for Research and Expertise Governance. The French Ministry of Environment implemented it.

The project focused on experiences of participatory research in agriculture, or participatory plant breeding, initiated since 2000 in France, on bread wheat, durum wheat, fodder, cabbages, cardoon, sunflower, and maize. In these projects, farmers, scientists from the National Institute for Agronomic Research, technical staff, but also consumers, food-processors retailers or NGOs, worked together to develop and evaluate new seed varieties. The goal of the project was to show the relevance and importance of partners from associations in research through the example of participatory plant breeding, which is linking sustainable agriculture, food and environment. One of the goals was also to define concretely a real participation of field members all along the process: definition and co-guidance of the project, research making and dissemination. The project was implemented between november 2010 and august 2011.

Through several events (two workshops and a regional forum), interviews with all the actors, and the follow-up of an on-going participatory plant-breeding project on bread wheat, it was about assessing at a first stage these participatory researches, identify constraints and success conditions and establish appropriate recommendations. A book on peasant visions on research in the context of participatory plant breeding was published. The dynamism of participatory research project is strong and generates changes. It is nonetheless difficult to reach and mobilize scientists. The support of such projects must continue.

1/ Preliminary conditions for a real participation of fields actors in the process of participatory plant breeding projects:

  • Sharing of knowledge and mutual respect

Many bridges have been established around plants between the world of scientist knowledge and the world of farmer/popular knowledge. The importance of the respect of all these knowledge (link to the plant, intuitive or intellectual approach, part of mystery, etc.) appeared as an essential condition for the implementation of projects.

  • Interdisciplinarity

Participatory plant experiences take place in interdisciplinarity through the different scientific knowledge they are composed of: genetic, ethnology, agronomy, nutrition, sociology and philosophy. Participation of consumers, food-retailers and interested citizens must not be neglected.

  • The scientific acknowledgement

Making credit to participatory research means necessary scientific acknowledgement to scientists, by their peers, of the work accomplished. For the peasants, allowing scientific acknowledgment of the innovative element of their work (varietal creation and methodology of selection), thanks to the partnership with scientists, is also very important.

  • Implication of all the actors, from formulation of new question of research to explanation and validation of working methods and discussion of results and dissemination.

The success of such a research project involves the implication of all the actors from the beginning. Participation of peasants to a project involves a co-construction and not only participation to a project written by scientists.

  • Coordination of a participatory project

The coordinator, between scientists and peasants, is a key actor in the success of a partnership. He is close to the peasants, but has also often the same background than the scientists. For this he is linking the two worlds. Meanwhile ensuring mediation between actors, at the formulation or the process stage, he contributes to the success of the project and keeps away misunderstandings. He also ensures the functioning of the collective structure: collect of grants, dissemination of information, meetings organization.

2/ Major success factors are liable to a participatory research project:

  • The human factor and the social network

The tools of a partnership between peasants and scientists are often very fragile. Their resistance is linked to the personality of the actors, who learnt to know and trust each others: if one goes, the whole project could collapse. The success of a participatory plant-breeding project, as in general the success of partnerships between associations, scientists and citizens, comes from the human factor. Each project is the result of a very specific construction that must be respected.

  • The method/the process

The co-construction process, rather than the product in itself (the developed variety), is the key element for the success of a project of co-construction of knowledge. The writing of a contract of the partnership is an excellent methodological tool.

  • The project set-up and grants allocated

A long-term funding, on several stages : it is necessary to give time to the research programs and to plan several stages : one two-years construction stage, one seven years experimental stage, and one two-three-years dissemination stage. These stages are linked but involve a funding support on the whole process. The support to the associations have thus to be formulated on several years.

A funding allowing the participation of all the partners, with a minimum of permanent actors on the project. This is important to build and maintain trust. The involvement of non-institutional partnerships goes through a compensation, for a real co-construction and not a simple « participation ».

A funding allowing partnership from the beginning until the end of a project: a budget for translation allows all the actors of a program to understand and discuss the results of a project they participate to. Peasants participating to research programs need a translation for the results to be understood by everyone.

3 / Recommendations:

During the second project call in the program REPERE, FSC, RSP and INRA wished to go on their collaboration. The necessary establishment of the partnership with the agreement of the scientific direction of INRA complicated a lot the drafting of the project, following the needs and wishes of scientists and practitioners. These constraints significantly reduced the opportunity to be innovative and to stimulate the rising-up of a research question. It is a contradiction to decide to involve citizens in research while letting scientific directions of institutions to decide of the future of a project.
FSC faced the problem of 50% of the total amount for the project credited at the end of the project. This gap is a huge constraint for the functioning of a small association because of the expenditures (salaries, travels and events organization). This meant to ask the Ministry to receive the final 25% before the reception of the last reports. Better would be to have 30 % of the whole amount at mid-term, when receiving mid-term reports, and then to receive 20% of the credit when receiving final reports. The payment of the first 50% of credit, at the beginning of the project, when signing the convention, stays an inevitable preliminary.