Hands up who views farmers as scientists? Despite our best efforts, most of us still associate ‘science’ with white coats, labs and passive, labyrinthine prose. And yet some farmers practice science. They develop experimental and observational techniques.
So said Louise Fortmann – a rural sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley – at the GCARD session ‘Open science’, which sought to showcase how agricultural and wider science can impact development.
“[Farmers] learn about soils by working with the same soils year after year,” said Fortmann. “They are civil scientists.”
Whether or not you agree with her, it was one of the few times – from my perspective at least – a speaker had sincerely placed farmers on an equal footing with researchers. Shame then, that the hall was so empty – this was what “experts” and participants alike needed to hear instead of rhetorical posturing.
“We need to get out of the lab, off the research station and into the field, and start talking to farmers in their own language,” Fortmann said. “I hope we can dispense with the silly and dangerous dichotomy between science and development.”
She made a plea to researchers. “[You] need to be humble and collaborate with local experts, treating them not as data sources but as colleagues with whom new research and knowledge will be created.”
Fortmann told the charming story of Mama Esther Mudoma, an African farmer who worked with CIAT scientist Robin Buruchara to develop a variety of bean resistant to root rot. Mudoma bought a bull with the money she made from selling the beans to neighbouring villages, and named him Research. “Why Research?” Buruchara asked.
“You came here, we did research together.”