007 – IDEMS’ views on agriculture

The IDEMS Podcast
The IDEMS Podcast
007 – IDEMS' views on agriculture
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Dr Lucie Hazelgrove Planel interviews David Stern, co-founder of IDEMS, on IDEMS’ views on agriculture. They delve into why IDEMS supports a diverse range of projects related to agriculture based on innovations that lead to sustainable development, and what this development might look like: is the future urban or rural?

[00:00:00] Lucie: Hi, and welcome to the IDEMS podcast. My name’s Lucie Hazelgrove Planel. I’m a social impact scientist and an anthropologist, and I’m here with David Stern, a founding director of IDEMS. Thanks for joining me, David.

[00:00:20] David: Hi, Lucie. Nice to be here. What are we discussing today?

[00:00:24] Lucie: The topic for today is IDEMS’ views on agriculture. So IDEMS and agriculture.

[00:00:29] David: I think we don’t have views on agriculture, but anyway, yes.

[00:00:34] Lucie: Well, yes, perhaps, what we’ll end up discussing is why IDEMS doesn’t have views but works in agriculture or on agriculture.

[00:00:44] David: No, we do. We, we care deeply about it but we work with experts rather than being experts.

[00:00:51] Lucie: Yes.

[00:00:51] David: I think it’s really one of the key things that we’re supporters of people who work in agriculture much more than we are specialists ourselves.

[00:01:00] Lucie: Okay, great. So agriculture fits into the development side that IDEMS is interested in?

[00:01:06] David: Absolutely.

[00:01:07] Lucie: And especially in the, in the innovations for development?

[00:01:11] David: Yes, absolutely. I mean, at the heart of, a vision for what a future could look like, what does development look like in the future? Not just for low resource countries, but also, I love in the Sustainable Development Goals, the SDGs, I love the fact that this requires all societies to change.

And if you look at one of the ways in which so called developed societies need to change, it includes the idea of sustainable agricultural systems and food systems.

[00:01:43] Lucie: Well, exactly. So we’re recording this as there’s the COP28 at the moment, and…

[00:01:49] David: Yes.

[00:01:49] Lucie: I was just looking up in the UK apparently, in the last 30 years or something the agriculture sector has fairly consistently been the fourth largest emitter of CO2.

[00:02:01] David: Yes.

[00:02:01] Lucie: So there’s, even there, there’s a huge challenge.

[00:02:04] David: My wife is from a small village in northern Italy, and she talks about how decimated their agricultural system has been because of the loss of hedgerows, the loss of biodiversity which has come, you know, from different land uses and so on.

And the fact that actually now, whereas before these were farming communities, now the farming is basically not profitable. They have highly mechanized farming, which isn’t profitable.

[00:02:30] Lucie: Yeah.

[00:02:30] David: And it’s something where the livelihoods of farmers has gone through… This is in high resource environments, and this is a wealthy part of Italy, and it is a part where there is profitable agriculture because it makes prosecco around there. And so there is some agriculture there which is highly profitable. But even that, even the prosecco industry is plagued by problems in different ways. And it’s just the nature of our food systems do mean that it’s all very complex. And of course…

[00:02:57] Lucie: There’s… what you’re saying also reminds me of a film a French film, I think it’s from 2015, called Au nom de la terre, In the Name of the Land, and in that film, it showed, it highlighted basically all of the problems that normal agriculture or normal farmers face, because the whole system is all messed up people get into debt. And then apparently, back in 2015, approximately one farmer committed suicide every day because of those problems. And again, that’s in Europe.

[00:03:27] David: And this is in Europe. And a lot of our work is in really low resource environments, where these problems are exasperated in other ways. And so our reason for caring deeply and trying to support people who know about agriculture… I have some expertise, but I really am not very good at agriculture, I, you know, I don’t know, green fingers, green thumbs, whatever it is, you know, I’m not very good at this.

[00:03:52] Lucie: But you have a really interesting history and connection to agricultural research, would you like to say a bit about that?

[00:03:58] David: I mean… it’s over 10 years ago when I started going and sitting in a room and saying, I know nothing about agriculture, I’m a mathematician. But with 10 years of doing that, I know a little bit about agriculture now, I sort of gradually picked up quite a lot along the way, and I have so much respect for all the different people I’ve worked with, and I’ve had the fortune to be working with world experts in their fields, working in all sorts of different environments. And the main thing that I’ve taken away from my experiences is, man, it’s hard. It’s a really, really complex problem. Oh, I love complexity.

[00:04:37] Lucie: I think that’s been coming out a lot, yep.

[00:04:38] David: So this is the point, that in some sense, as problems go agriculture in general is, is one of the toughest topics I’ve ever had the privilege of engaging with. And there’s no, I would argue, there’s no easy solutions that I’ve ever seen. Anyone who’s come forward with a silver bullet solution, as soon as somebody in the know talks to me about it, they say, well, okay, but in this context or in that context, that’s not going to work because, and it’s not great because, and so on.

This complexity, it isn’t to say that there aren’t good things out there, it’s just, this is a really… I mean, it’s the essence of pretty much all human life.

[00:05:21] Lucie: Well, so exactly, just to say that, a lot of our work is with smallholder farmers, people who well, it’s not with those farmers, but it’s people who do research about supporting those farmers, and these are subsistence farmers then, who they may sell a bit, but a lot of it is actually for their own sustenance.

[00:05:38] David: And that’s where, in that context, the power of the agroecological movement and agroecological ideas for smallholder farmers and farming communities, which is what I think is really important, it’s not just individual smallholder farmers, it’s when they’re together in communities and how those communities operate, who they grow for, what they grow and so on, and how they become… sustainable is not the right word because there’s all sorts of things about sustainable agriculture and so on which don’t align necessarily with this.

But this idea that in, if you want, vibrant rural communities, agroecology is obviously a key part, of that, not in competition with anything else, but just because it looks at the whole system. It looks at the environment, it looks at the community, it looks at the society and it looks at the agriculture itself and how it is productive in that context.

[00:06:39] Lucie: And this is one of the problems with agriculture in the past, and monoculture, I think, isn’t it? That it doesn’t look at that whole system, and that’s what makes it interesting. Well, that’s what makes it interesting for us to work on. Because it is systematic.

[00:06:53] David: Absolutely, it’s bringing in that complexity. But, you know, there are other people who are doing other really interesting works which I have a lot of admiration for as well. And this isn’t in competition necessarily with the agriculture, agroecology side of the smallholder agricultures. But there’s other people I have a lot of respect for who say, well, the future of agriculture isn’t smallholders because of urbanisation. If we have urban populations, if you’ve just got smallholders doing subsistence agriculture, who’s feeding the cities?

And that’s a really important point. And this is also a vision of the future. Where are people going to live in the future? Are we looking at urban futures, or are we looking at rural futures, or are we looking at a mixture of both? You know, a lot of the agroecology ideas can be applied to these bigger systems, which include cities.

But actually, a lot of the communities pushing that movement are thinking about rural communities. And so this idea about what vision do you have of the future, and for people who have an urban vision of the future, well that leads to very different priorities. I actually don’t know whether it leads to very different solutions, I’ve just not engaged with those questions enough to really understand what that vision of an urban based agricultural system…

[00:08:17] Lucie: Oh, there’s, there’s some really interesting, aqua, is it called aquaponics? You know, when people sort of grow plants out of water or something.

[00:08:24] David: Yeah, exactly. This is one of the cases where, when I started talking to this with some real experts, they said, yeah, I can understand in small urban environments, or in cases where you don’t have good soil, how that is a really interesting thing. But the whole point of soil is, do you really want to cover over your good soil and just ignore it? Soil is amazing! Soil is what makes agriculture fantastic. Now that’s not to say that you can’t grow without it and there aren’t contexts where you shouldn’t. You know, going to Mars, I have a feeling that aquaponics could be extremely valuable in that context where your soils might not be adapted in that context, but that’s a whole different context. If you stay on Earth, I can really see how there are real value to these ideas. I love these sorts of closed systems where you’ve got things growing over fish, and you’ve got the whole globe. They’re fantastic technologies emerging now.

[00:09:15] Lucie: I think they’re very expensive too at the moment.

[00:09:18] David: Well, yes and no. It depends what crop you’re putting them with. If you’re going to grow strawberries like that, strawberries is a pretty high value crop. If you wanted to grow maize like that, maybe it’s not such a good idea. But this is why it’s so complex. This is why it’s such an interesting subject area. And I don’t have any of the answers. I’m not an expert. I have built up quite a lot of experience just talking to experts. And I really value that. And what I am doing…

[00:09:47] Lucie: What do you mean talk to experts, though? I mean, these are researchers in agriculture who we mostly work with?

[00:09:52] David: Well, those are some of the experts, but the biggest experts I’ve ever met are farmers themselves!

[00:09:58] Lucie: Right.

[00:09:58] David: Oh, it’s been amazing going in and talking to… My favourite example was this, and I was with some of these international researchers who I consider real experts and I had the privilege of going and driving with them into a really rural part of Niger in the middle of nowhere.

[00:10:16] Lucie: Okay.

[00:10:16] David: And one of them was actually a minor celebrity because her varieties of millet had helped all the farmers and so everybody knew her name because they all valued the varieties the participants had grown and she’d be working and so she was a minor celebrity in this village in the middle of nowhere and we drove through the village and as we were driving through there was this funny weed growing everywhere that I didn’t recognize so I said what’s that and the researchers said oh that’s just a weed. And I said look, it’s everywhere!

[00:10:42] Lucie: This is in a country where, in a part of the country where not much else grows, I think.

[00:10:45] David: Niger is, you know, I’m privileged to have grown up in Niger. I love it. It’s a fantastic place. But, they’ve grown millet one metre, the plants, one metre apart because basically it’s like growing on the best ever beach you could ever imagine.

[00:11:02] Lucie: Exactly, right.

[00:11:03] David: It is the desert, you know. For all intents and purposes, it’s the desert with crops growing in it. But in really tough environments. And so here they have this green weed growing everywhere in the village. And we just drove through and the researchers are saying, no, no, that’s not, it’s just a weed.

Wait a second. You know, these guys, if it was a weed, they wouldn’t let it grow like this. And so we said, well, we’ll ask a farmer. And so when we went and we met the farmers, they helped me ask them. And basically, my understanding is limited, so I apologize for the paraphrasing. But they basically said, if we transform it like this, like that, and the other, with about three or four steps, then we can feed it to our animals. So this, this weed that was growing everywhere was actually fodder for the animals after they transformed it three or four times. They had to take three or four steps to get it so that the animals could consume it.

But it grew where nothing else grew in that context, in that environment, and it became valuable. And that’s why I was seeing it everywhere. It wasn’t by chance. They are… It’s part of the world where… You don’t get this everywhere and I’ve lived a long time in Kenya and I’ve worked quite a lot with Kenyan farmers and, basically in Kenya, all other things being equal, you throw something in the ground and it will grow.

[00:12:24] Lucie: Yeah, well in, in Western, is that in the West of the country?

[00:12:26] David: Not everywhere in Kenya, but there are parts of Kenya where, you know, it used to be a tropical rainforest, it’s some of the best environment in the world for growing stuff, whatever stuff may be, and so you actually talk to the farmers there, and some of them are surprisingly not knowledgeable, because you don’t need to be knowledgeable to do good farming.

[00:12:49] Lucie: Ah, in Kenya this…

[00:12:49] David: In Kenya. Whereas in Niger, in rural Niger, you don’t survive. You literally cannot survive unless you’re an expert farmer by any measure. So it’s really interesting how actually these difficult environments, the farmers in them are, some of them are just incredible.

[00:13:08] Lucie: I think what you’re saying though also highlights an important point in terms of our work for research methods support.

[00:13:13] David: Absolutely.

[00:13:14] Lucie: Which is, so sometimes we get given data by researchers. Sometimes there’s a lot of questions, the data raises a lot of questions, let’s say. And so we always have to go back to the people who did the research, or the people who grew the crops, i. e. the farmers, to actually understand what happened there.

[00:13:31] David: Yes.

[00:13:32] Lucie: So I think that’s an interesting point.

[00:13:35] David: Well, and this is where, you know, bringing more anthropological skills into our team for this work was not by chance. Actually most of the researchers in, in West Africa, they weren’t coming from a sort of anthropology background. That’s not their background. They’re more agricultural scientists.

[00:13:56] Lucie: They were less interested in the people and more interested in the numbers or something.

[00:13:59] David: Well, not the numbers, but whatever their speciality was with respect to the crop they were looking at. But what I found consistently was that the researchers, they knew their stuff, but their research methods was very traditional, and so I had examples where they would do relatively traditional trials where they would, on station, put lots and lots of fertilizers so they could compare the treatments well, which is good scientific practice, but then you’d talk to them about the fact that actually that particular crop, farmers only used it when the soil was so poor that they couldn’t grow the crop they wanted to grow. And they of course didn’t fertilize it. And so now on the station all their results were not relevant to the farmers they were serving.

Because the farmers didn’t use the crop with fertiliser, they’d never dream of using that crop fertilised. Because their aim of using that crop wasn’t to maximise yield. It was to get some yield, while having an improved fallow, where they could actually improve the quality of the soil without using fertiliser because they couldn’t afford the fertiliser.

[00:15:06] Lucie: And that’s very important in terms of why we work in agriculture also, why we support researchers in agriculture, it’s because we want to have impact. We want to support people to do research about agriculture to actually help the farmers.

[00:15:21] David: Exactly.

[00:15:22] Lucie: To help the farmers.

[00:15:23] David: But this is the thing, traditional research methods, you can do that research and you can get a good research paper and get good results. And that’s one of the indicators of good research. Can you publish it? Do you get publishable results? But in this sort of context, what we are, we’re actually contracted by the McKnight Foundation, we’re very grateful for that contract, it’s a fantastic piece of work, which we really enjoy.

[00:15:49] Lucie: And this is how we got involved in the agroecology.

[00:15:52] David: And what I loved about them as an approach is they didn’t start in agroecology. They started with smallholder agriculture. So that was their focus, and basically it took a number of years at a leadership team level to discuss, well, what are we doing? What do we care about? We care about helping the farmers. And going through those cycles, agroecology came up time and time again, not as the answer, but as a set of principles which actually help to have this more holistic view of the agriculture. It’s not like organic farming where you sort of tick off the tick list, how do you follow the tick list, and therefore you are stamped and accredited as organic.

Agroecology isn’t like that. But agroecology is about balancing out efficiencies within the system.

[00:16:43] Lucie: Yeah.

[00:16:43] David: It’s about balancing out the sort of community aspect, the cultural aspects, the social aspects.

[00:16:48] Lucie: Exactly, that’s what I find interesting, that it really brings out that sort of… considering the people within the whole system.

[00:16:55] David: Exactly, absolutely. It considers the environment and sort of what’s happening within the environment, how the agriculture interacts with the environment more generally, and of course, more than anything else, agroecology is about having productive agriculture, which can feed people! The agriculture producing products for human consumption is central to it. It is a framework of principles. We like, I like principles, and I hope others are starting to like principles as well. I really like principles, and so it has these…

[00:17:30] Lucie: You can’t discuss IDEMS without talking about principles. You can’t enter IDEMS without becoming aware of principles!

[00:17:35] David: A principled approach is, yeah, it’s something which has been so powerful for me in so many ways, and agroecology I think does do that in a way which serves smallholder agricultural communities exceedingly well.

And I learned that when I didn’t know much about agriculture, I had no preconceptions one way or another. I still don’t know, and I still haven’t entered the discussions enough to understand how well these principles align with an urban vision for the future, which some people have.

And it’s certainly a tendency in many African countries. It’s not a tendency that I’m necessarily particularly in support of or like myself. I personally would love to see rural communities flourishing. And that’s one of the reasons that I really, want to support agroecology, because I think it’s part of what could do that. But you’d also have to have jobs there.

[00:18:34] Lucie: Yeah.

[00:18:34] David: I lived in Western Kenya, for six years and there were no jobs.

[00:18:39] Lucie: Well exactly, and I think, in the countries that we work in, which is Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali and Kenya,

[00:18:46] David: and Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda as well. We don’t do as much in those, but within CRFS and the McKnight, which is the Global Collaboration for Resilient Food Systems. Those are the African countries, and we do contribute in all of them.

[00:19:00] Lucie: But those countries, people in those countries are still facing these sort of… people are moving from the rural areas to urban areas in order to find work.

[00:19:06] David: Urbanization is huge in all of these contexts. Not necessarily at any given point in time, but if taken over time, it is the continued trend. There is the emptying of rural communities in different ways, the ageing of rural communities. So this idea of what a sustainable rural community would look like, that’s something I’m really interested in, and I, I have ideas about this, which have come through this long engagement.

It’s something which, if we are looking for a future with vibrant rural communities, then that’s something which needs to be thought through. Now, it might be that we look at a different sort of long term community, where actually really we’re looking at a very urban community, we’re looking at much larger proportion of the population living in urban areas, the rural areas being on average much larger farm sizes, rather than small holder agriculture. That’s happened in a number of countries, and it’s happened successfully.

[00:20:06] Lucie: Well, even during the pandemic in Europe, we saw lots of people growing tomatoes and things in their houses. Partly it’s something to do. But also, I mean, it showed the possibilities of having more agriculture in cities.

[00:20:20] David: But I think also in the pandemic you saw lots of people moving back to rural environments, leaving the cities, going back to rural environments, so you did see the potential that even in urban countries, urbanized countries, there could be a tendency to go back.

[00:20:34] Lucie: And that’s partly also, as you’re saying, because of the possibilities of the jobs, which is…

[00:20:38] David: The jobs, which you can do remotely. Once you can remote work, well, actually it’s quite nice to live in a rural community, to have your food grow just next to you, to have really fresh ingredients and so on. There’s a lot of really nice things that come from living in rural communities. I should say, and I think… I’m not really an advocate one way or another, I would have been an advocate totally for vibrant rural communities and not an urbanized future if I hadn’t visited my sister in South Korea… and I was gobsmacked. I mean, I’d been to South Korea once before, and so it wasn’t my first trip there. But, when I visited her, and she, she’d been living there for a number of years, and so she actually understood quite a lot of the culture, and she’d just been blown away by it. And there were a number of things that she explained to me, which I, I just loved.

One of them was, for example, they had this amazing penthouse suite, sorry, this penthouse apartment, it was sort of…

[00:21:40] Lucie: we’re all imagining a huge penthouse suite now.

[00:21:42] David: No, I’m afraid it was just, it was a regular apartment, they were all the same basically, but they got the top right hand corner or something. And they thought this was fantastic, it had the best views, they didn’t have neighbours to their right, they didn’t have neighbours on top of them, they were really on top of the world. And they got this cheap. Because nobody else wanted it. People wanted to be surrounded by people.

[00:22:05] Lucie: Yeah, yeah.

[00:22:05] David: You didn’t want the outside apartment. That’s an apartment where you’re isolated on one side. You’re missing a neighbour.

[00:22:12] Lucie: That’s a nice way of putting it, you’re missing a neighbour.

[00:22:16] David: It’s a really nice way of thinking of it and putting it. You’ve lost a neighbour because you’re on the outside of the building. But it was more than this. Fruit in the supermarkets was amazing. Instead of taking a bottle of wine when you went to visit someone, you’d take an amazing melon.

[00:22:33] Lucie: Well, to be honest, I’ve done that. People look at me really weirdly when I bring like a pineapple to a party.

[00:22:38] David: It’s amazing though. It’s beautiful. It’s, it’s again, it’s, it’s, and it’s the value they place on a beautiful piece of fruit. And the ingredients they use in different ways. And the rural environments there are incredible. They are empty, not completely empty of course, but, the part that she was in, was very urbanized. And the rural communities were relatively empty compared to the population. But they were really valued, but the idea of actually sort of going out and going back to a rural community if you could work remotely, nobody would have wanted to do that. They liked living in the city. That was their life and they liked visiting and they loved it and they, they really worshipped the rural environment, but to visit.

[00:23:24] Lucie: It’s a really interesting view… I mean, it’s different to my perspective, definitely, of what it’s like to live in urban or rural areas.

[00:23:33] David: Yes.

[00:23:34] Lucie: And it suggests an interesting potential future, I guess.

[00:23:38] David: Absolutely. Well, this is the thing. This gave me a vision of an urban future which I could admire, which I could really like. I mean, most people in the UK, the urban future that people want, they really want to garden. It’s the same in the US. You want to get out of the suburbs so you can have your own little piece of land.

[00:23:56] Lucie: Exactly, exactly. You want to have a house with a small bit of land. Small, manageable.

[00:24:01] David: Manageable, exactly. Very small, very manageable. And you want to have a little bit of land because you want to be in an urban environment, but pretend you’re in a rural environment in some sense. And so a very urban sort of sprawl, which takes over rural land and turns it into… This is something which I’d grown up with, or grown up with an awareness of. If you want a rural environment, why not go and live in a village? If you can remote work, why not take it just a step further? And okay, you might have a slightly longer commute, but if you don’t need to commute that often, that sounds much more attractive than peri urban.

So actually taking the full step of going rural, the peri urban sprawl to me is what I always had as a vision of what urbanization looked like. But that’s not how it looked when I visited my sister who was in Korea, and they embraced real urbanization, the value in the urban context and wanting to keep as much rural context as rural as possible. And that’s amazing.

[00:24:59] Lucie: What I’ve seen though in, in what I’ve seen in Niamey, in Niger…

[00:25:03] David: Yeah.

[00:25:04] Lucie: Is that people have compounds and then they have some, they have some animals within those compounds. Like this is in, in the capital.

[00:25:10] David: Yeah.

[00:25:10] Lucie: So it’s very urbanized, but they still have some animals. And there is an area, what I saw along the river there is a sort of gardening area, let’s call it, where people have their own gardening plots. A bit like allotments in UK, I guess.

[00:25:24] David: Yes, and you know I have no problem with this idea of urban agriculture. In all sorts of different ways its really exciting and very interesting as part of the future. I guess the key thing that, the reason for that digression, this admiration for what I observed, visiting a country which is very urbanized, but which had real emphasis on value for that pristine rural environment in certain ways as a rural environment, not as some way you could expand into a semi peri urban environment.

That to me means that I do have respect for a vision of an urban future. There are positive, I think, options of urbanization. This happened relatively quickly in South Korea as I understand it. This was basically one or two generations that went…

[00:26:17] Lucie: yeah

[00:26:17] David: from a really rural community to a highly urbanized community. And they’ve done it in a way which seems very sustainable, you know, from the outside, very ignorant looking in. But, but, you know, it was just impressive. It was eye opening to me that such a future of that dimension of an urbanized culture with real value placed on the rural was possible. And, and I guess what I come back to and the reason I think that’s important is when you think of in the African context, they’re still in that process where at the moment they haven’t lost their rural communities.

In many other parts of the world, you’re essentially having to rebuild them if they want. In Italy, you’ve lost a lot of your rural communities, there are dead, deserted villages, where you’d have to start again from scratch. Whereas in most African contexts it hasn’t got there.

[00:27:15] Lucie: Yeah.

[00:27:16] David: The rural communities are still there, but they’re ageing because the younger generation has left.

[00:27:21] Lucie: Exactly. So my colleagues talk about going back home and seeing people, seeing their family. But they themselves live in the capitals.

[00:27:29] David: Exactly, and well it’s either they live in the capitals or they live in a local regional capital or whatever it is. They live in an urban environment, that would tend to be the trend. And so there is still a possibility, and I know a number of colleagues who, given a choice, would actually go back and give back to their rural communities and create them and build them.

But they can’t work remotely from there, they’re needed in the urban environments. If they could remote work, if that was possible, that might lead to a different possible future. And these are the sort of things where… I… I have no business trying to say what is the right or the wrong choice in any given context.

But what we can do as an organization and with our skill set is to try and provide the tools to enable people to find out what could work in their contexts and support the research, support that investigation of finding the systems that work.

[00:28:26] Lucie: Exactly. And so I hope that we can really explore all of those ideas because there’s so many opportunities.

[00:28:32] David: Yes.

[00:28:32] Lucie: In agriculture and in the future of agriculture and in how we all live together.

[00:28:37] David: Absolutely. And I have to recognize our bias. Because our bias is going to be to this smallholder vision of rural communities, because that’s where we’re working. And there’s so many exciting things happening there. And it’s not that I’m not interested in this urbanised future as well, it’s just that we haven’t had the privilege at this point to really think hard about it. So I don’t have as much to say.

[00:29:00] Lucie: And none of the researchers we partner with are really engaged in that yet.

[00:29:04] David: Ooh, I have a few people who you’re not working with yet, but hopefully we’re going to get some more work in that direction and we will do a bit more in that in that direction where…

[00:29:14] Lucie: Well, I look forward to it

[00:29:15] David: we do investigate that and we start getting engaged in that as well. But to me, the key is, and I come back to the fact that when you’re in that small holder, vibrant rural community context, agroecology as a set of principles is fantastic. With that vision of the future, I love it. And that’s what a lot of our current work is really focused around.

And it’s something where it’s not just about our agroecology work, in our education work, what about actually getting training into rural environments? And also in our development work, what about getting digital jobs into rural environments? You know, this all fits in, not just to agroecological principles, but to this idea of actually saying, what could a vibrant rural community of the future look like in these low resource, particularly African, environments, which I have some experience observing and interacting with and have the privilege to work with exceptional people who are in or working in those contexts. And that’s something which we will be discussing quite a lot.

[00:30:21] Lucie: Yeah, exactly. There’s a lot of exciting things going on and a lot of exciting potential futures.

[00:30:26] David: Absolutely. And our role in this and our views on this are very simple. Our role is to help the evidence come to the fore, to help people get evidence, to help them to share that evidence, to help to learn, to use data well, to use technology to use data well, because that’s something else that often is the enabling factor.

And the other thing which I’m sure will come up quite a lot in our discussions, is just… Often our role is to listen and to just hear and to recognize that context matters so much. And this is your anthropological side, you know, which is so important in this, context matters so much that quite often you can know the theory as well as you like, but whether it applies or not depends so much on exactly what the local situation is.

[00:31:26] Lucie: Just like you were saying with that fertilizer example and the crop which is grown specifically so that they don’t need to use fertilizer.

[00:31:34] David: Yes, exactly, exactly. This is exactly… It is used in the context where they don’t have the money to fertilize the crop they want to grow, and so they’re wanting to get more fertile soil by doing an improved fallow with this other crop. And so it’s very good farming, this has been traditional farming methods in a lot of different ways, they’re in often a context where… You know, and this is the simple thing, it’s the societal aspect.

In many parts of the world, in Western Kenya, the plot sizes have become so small, so when you have your smallholder agriculture, they don’t have enough land. You go to West Africa, there are communities in Mali where there are more than enough land. If they wanted to use more land, they could just go to the village chief and ask them. Because there’s land which is not being cultivated, which sort of is communal village land, but nobody has the manpower to be able to actually produce on it, because it’s not very fertile land. You can’t just throw something in the ground and it will grow, no, you’ve got to work it, and it’s really hard work, and if you don’t have the manpower, the manpower could be your limiting component.

This is one of the reasons that that’s still the highest population growth part of the world, pretty much. And it comes back to the fact that the land isn’t the limiting factor, the manpower is… in some of these communities.

Now of course, you could look to mechanization. But if you’re not getting very much money back from what you grow, because you’re not getting very high value crops, what you’re getting is you’re feeding mouths. Well then, having the manpower, it sort of kind of balances out, whereas mechanising it might not, because there might not be the market routes to get the money to pay for.

[00:33:20] Lucie: We should go into this in another session.

[00:33:22] David: Absolutely. There’s so much to go into, it’s going to be fun. I look forward to the continuation of these discussions.

[00:33:29] Lucie: Exactly, same. Thank you very much for your time, David.

[00:33:32] David: No, thank you. This has been a fun discussion.