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Bill Bellotti - An undisciplined approach to research for rural development
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Bill Bellotti - An undisciplined approach to research for rural development


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  • 1. An undisciplined approach to research for development: Reflections from an agricultural research for development project on the East India Plateau Bill Bellotti Vincent Fairfax Chair in Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development University of Western Sydney
  • 2. Project Synopsis • Rice based subsistence farming systems • Endemic poverty, nutrition insecurity • ‘Tribal’ communities in ‘less favourable’ uplands • 1200 mm annual rainfall (monsoon) • Vegetable cash crops highly profitable • Local talent for innovation and entrepreneurship largely unrecognised
  • 3. Project Impacts • • • • • • • • Crop diversity and intensity increased Household income increased Food & nutrition insecurity reduced Forced migration reduced Changed perceptions of land, water, self Esteem (self and by others) improved Independent capacity for innovation improved Benefits ongoing See Ashok Kumar’s presentation tomorrow at 1
  • 4. Process of Engagement • PRADAN focus on development – Agriculture OK if attractive • Women Self Help Groups (SHG) – Literacy, numeracy, financial, agriculture… • Action Learning Cycle – Plan – Do – Observe – Reflect • On-Farm Research – Farmer/community managed, farmer data collection, interpretation…
  • 5. Are scientists part of the problem? • Discipline based, not reflecting ‘lived reality’ – Reductionist interventions – Preconceived theories and idealised outcomes • Research for Development, theory & practice – Systemic, epistemic, integrative – Evidence based, publication in peer-review journals – Research impacts beyond science – change behaviour, well-being, etc.
  • 6. Transdisciplinarity 101 • Not the same as multi- or inter-disciplinary • Transdisciplinary 1. Deliberate plan to transcend discipline boundaries from outset of research. 2. Active participation of non-scientists in the research process. 3. Respect for different knowledge systems and world views. 4. More effective research impact; particularly for behavioural change.
  • 7. Thomas Jahn (2012) Transdisciplinarity in the Practice of Research, Interdisciplines … transdisciplinarity as a form of research practice that "has freed itself from disciplinary boundaries, defining and solving its problems independently of any discipline”. (Mittelstraß, 1998, quoted by Jahn, 2012)
  • 8. Transdisciplinarity in Practice on the EIP • Multiple stakeholders: – Universities, development practitioners, research organisations (not all), smallholder farmers • • • • • Focus on livelihoods and agency Research in farmer context Research as learning opportunity for all Integrative Capacity for villagers to take action
  • 9. Integrative research topics • Changing perceptions of land, water, and self through on-farm agricultural research • Link between crop diversity and diet diversity, possible nutrition and health outcomes • Interactions between household economy (incl. family farm) and wider economy on development outcomes
  • 10. Direct Seeded Rice • Traditional practice is transplant (RISKY) • DSR is a game changer: – Climate resilient agriculture – Gender friendly – Nutritionally sensitive • System change – requires farmer innovation
  • 11. Barriers to Implementation • Discipline mentality still dominant • Institutional inertia • Metrics for “Research Excellence” • Transaction costs • Outcomes less predictable
  • 12. Does A4NH need a stronger theoretical base? • Current priority for R&D funding • Investors need evidence of impact • Could Transdisciplinarity provide a robust theory leading to more effective interventions • YES, but not a recipe, more a set of principles
  • 13. Last word “We (researchers/development officers) need to learn to step back, to create space for innovation by farmers/landholders”. (Dinabandhu, PRADAN, 2010)
  • 14. Labourers to Farmers to Researchers & Teachers