GFAR blog

Swimming upstream

a-difc3adcil-arte-de-nadar-contra-a-marc3a9The stage was set for the 3rd Global Conference for Agricultural Research and Development (GCARD3). Delegates of reputable agricultural institutes from around the world found themselves surrounded by dignitary and peers alike.

All to serve one purpose (to see improvement in the agricultural sector), speakers of GCARD3 presented their experiences in the agricultural field, more particularly that in research and development. Of the speakers, one Ulf Magnusson of the Swedish University of Sweden presented under the topic “Agriculture for food security: Translating science into policy and development”.

Prior to his presentation I found myself in agreement with my own thoughts and any other delegate I came across in relation to the direction that research and innovations had to go. It has been a general feeling in the GCARD3 that agricultural research has to be more farmer-oriented. Involving the farmer in the initial stages of research is believed to be a remedy to the low adaptation of technologies. Moreover, researchers are now seeing the value of a bottom-up approach of doing research wherein the researcher finds out the problem of the farmer from the farmer before going to develop what he/she believes is best for the world. To my surprise, here came a man who believed so much in the value of science and innovation that he stuck to his top-down approach of science that was not demand-driven.

Magnusson shared his views on how innovation is supposed to be creative in such a way that it cannot be ignored. He went on to give an example of the smartphone revolution which created a demand on its own. “Perhaps he is on to something” I started to think to myself. Magnusson shared the three main factors that influence the agenda for agricultural development in low income countries, i.e. politics, ideologies and science.

With no surprise, the man who had clearly shown himself to believe in science stressed that science should be the only factor to influence policy. To his woes, this is not the case in the real world.

As we know, politics plays a major role in priority setting of policy makers. In African countries going through reconciliation, land reform is a big rally for votes. Politicians know the value of pleasing the voter, who also happens to be the farmer. This trait can also be found in Western civilization where a fair share of European voters are farmers. To call for a policy that is only driven by science is pretty far-fetched.

The farmer is a voter, and the farmer knows what he/she wants. It stands to reason that selection of a certain political party or candidate to office by the farmer is his/her own way of voicing their opinions in the agricultural sector. Although farmers may not have complete knowledge on the politician’s intentions in the agricultural sector, they have a general idea of what each party will bring to the table. After all, farmers are the ones who use the technologies introduced through research and policy.

Magnusson was to me an odd fellow; however, his arguments based on the logic of science alone would have been enough to convince a monk to drink wine! Of the speakers, Magnusson remained the only one who believed research and policy should mainly be science-based, with the hopes that the innovation is so great it will have to be adopted. This had me thinking how much of an ideologist amongst other scientists he was, to me he seemed like a fish swimming upstream.  Which in itself is pretty ironic for a man who denounced politics and ideologists in policy and decision making.


Blogpost by Zwiafhela Naledzani, #GCARD3 Social Reporter – NaledzaniZ(at)

This post is part of the live coverage during the #GCARD3 Global Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, 5-8 April 2016. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.


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