Thursday, 30 October 2014

STEPS América Latina at the Open and Collaborative Science in Development Network

Between 13 and 15 October the Open and Collaborative Science in Development Network held its first workshop in Nairobi. The objective of the workshop, organized and funded by the Canadian International Development Research Centre, and supported by the University of Toronto and Kenya iHUB, was to kick-start the construction of a research network to promote 'open science' for the Global South.

This initiative arises in a context where open science has become a buzzword for large foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and development institutions internationally. In the midst of so much interest, the inevitable question is whether open science can live up to its promises. In this spirit we went to Kenya to learn about and discuss the issue.

STEPS América Latina was privileged to be amongst 14 other institutions whose proposals had been pre-selected (from over 90 applications) by OCSDnet. Participants came from Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Canada, India, Kenya, South Africa, Lebanon, Kyrgyzstan and Thailand. Co-ordinated by Leslie Chan, from the University of Toronto the workshop also included a set of international advisors including Lidia Brito, Hebe Vessuri, Cameron Neylon, Apiwat Ratanawaraha, Matthew Todd and Kaitlin Thaney, representing the Science Lab of the Mozilla Foundation.

If, before the event, a number of elements – the meeting venue, the novelty of the subject, and the excellent background paper – suggested a rewarding and challenging encounter, it rapidly became clear that the event would exceed our expectations. In part this was because the workshop brought together a truly interdisciplinary group of anthropologists, chemists, biologists, lawyers, geographers, ecologists, engineers, experts in social development, forest conservation and sociologists who all shared an interest in the production of open and collaborative knowledge.

In most cases, the participants also had practical experience of the development and use of participatory tools for the collection, management and dissemination of scientific evidence in relation to social or environmental issues. As such, we discussed projects that sought to expand access to scientific databases on botany, foster public control over the emission of gaseous pollutants in urban areas, study the asymmetries of power in cases of indigenous intellectual property, and support the construction of laboratories of open hardware in order to study water contamination, amongst other examples.

Creating dialogue amongst such a heterogeneous set of disciplines, development issues and geographical situations sometimes proved challenging. Of course, there were several moments “lost in translation” (especially between scientists and the few sociologists who participated in the meeting). And yet, the workshop enabled us to explore a rich variety of definitions and interpretations of what it means to do open science (and open innovation).

We cannot summarize here the different points of view aired within the workshop, and interpretations of the event. But if it is interesting to note that it became clear, during the three days, that the notion of open science is intertwined with the collaborative and iconoclastic spirit of the communities of open software and open hardware (along with the hacker and maker movements), the history of grassroots innovation movements, the experiences of Science Shops in Europe and North America and, closer to Latin America, the tradition of participatory action research. All these movements not only share some history with open science, but they also help to form a central aspect of its definition: the search for the democratization of knowledge.

A second issue highlighted during the discussions in Nairobi is the importance of information technology tools for data collection, visualization and communication for the practice of open science. Incorporating these tools is a challenge and a necessity in order to establish ways to collaborate that are open and accessible to the largest number of participants possible.

In the context of increasing interest and discussion of the potential and uses of open science to address major development challenges – for example in research initiatives for orphan diseases – an analysis of the history, diversity and uses of open science practices is more than welcome. It’s also likely that reflection on the notion of open science and citizen participation in the production of knowledge allows us to shed some light on other current topics of innovation and development, as in the cases of research into innovation for social inclusion, and of the tensions between public research and policies for the private commercialization of knowledge.

Of course, there are still more questions than answers. For example: Is it possible to use methodologies of open science for research on issues that are neglected or rejected by dominant institutions of science and technology? In what ways can citizen participation contribute to the collection and validation of evidence on climate change and/or biodiversity loss? In what ways might mechanisms of participatory design and innovation accelerate the development of technologies for social inclusion?

It is difficult to know even if experimentation with forms of open science will be able to help address the growing problems of access and democratization of knowledge about the challenges of inclusive and sustainable development. The OCSDnet initiative certainly contributes to broaden the discussion, and connect the different visions, methods and tools in different regions of the global South. For now, it has given us an excellent reason to investigate the issue, and try to understand different experiences of open and collaborative knowledge production in Argentina and the region.

Find our more about STEPS America Latina Media coverage of the most recent seminar in the STEPS America Latina’s series: Los nuevos senderos que se abren, Pagina 12

By Mariano Fressoli, STEPS America Latina

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Call for abstracts: Critical Perspectives on the Financialisation of Nature

A Call for Abstracts has been issued for a workshop in March 2015 on the financialisation of nature.
Dollar Butterfly: icosahedral (Flickr)

The workshop, aimed at doctoral and early-career researchers, is entitled Critical Perspectives on the Financialisation of Nature – Theory, Politics and Practice. It will be hosted by the the Sussex-based Centre for Global Political Economy and the STEPS Centre.

It will be a 1.5 day intensive workshop bringing together doctoral and early career researchers to discuss, theorise and critically reflect on the practical and political implications of the commodification, marketisation and financialisation of nature.

The workshop will take place at Sussex University on 19th-20th March 2015, and the deadline for abstracts is 5 December 2014.

Full details

Carbon markets in China, fishery bycatch offsetting in Canada, catastrophe bonds in the US, weather derivatives in Ethiopia, betting on species extinction such as Norwegian sharks…

These are just a few examples of the commodification, marketisation and financialisation of nature. In what ways can we best make sense of these developments? What practical, political and theoretical innovations will allow us to better understand them, engage with them and contest them?

We invite participants from any discipline to a 1.5 day intensive workshop bringing together doctoral and early career researchers to discuss, theorise and critically reflect on the practical and political implications of the commodification, marketisation and financialisation of nature. Papers should focus on questions including (but not limited to):
  • What are the challenges, contradictions and limits that arise from the creation of these new forms of market-based environmental products and services?
  • What are the new materialities and commodities of nature that are created through these novel forms of governance?
  • How do these processes change the way we relate to nature, govern nature, live in nature and indeed are governed by nature?
  • How does the marketisation or financialisation of nature relate to other forms of accumulation and the wider political economy?
  • What kinds of (new) power relations are (re)produced through the making of environmental markets, and what social and environmental justice issues are brought to light or develop in response to these (neoliberal?) phenomena?


Participants will be required to submit full papers in advance of the workshop and are expected to read each other's work beforehand to enable in-depth engagement with one another's arguments. The sessions will be chaired by academics working in the field who will also provide feedback on papers. Moreover, the workshop will bring together activists and academics for a panel discussion, reflecting on the interlinkages between activism and research on the financialisation of nature.

Timeline and practical arrangements

Please send abstracts of up to 300 words to by December 5th, 2014. Successful applicants will be informed before December 31st. Full papers are expected by February 15th, 2015.

Registration is free and food will be provided. We have some funding for accommodation and travel for a limited number of doctoral researchers. Details about applying for this funding will be sent out once abstracts have been selected.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Business for peace?

It is difficult to avoid being swept up in the current tide of optimism about Africa and resource development. For once, Africa is not only portrayed by outsiders as a continent of poor people suffering and fighting over civil wars and dependent on good will and aid.
At the same time, the new, positive single story narrative (see, for instance, Robert Rotberg's recent book Africa Emerges) is based on a set of potential futures which read as if the international business community had discovered a new El Dorado of investment opportunities in Africa.

So let us focus on resource extraction. The storyline is that Africa is broadening the new frontiers of resource development, shifting the geo-strategic energy and mineral map of the world – from sizeable new finds of off-shore oil and gas in East and West Africa, to iron ore reserves in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo and Central Africa.

The story goes on to say that a significant proportion of these new resource developments are in contested areas, in regions with a history of conflict.

Optimism – but what has changed?

While not disputing these new developments, the problem with this new narrative is its lack of historical depth. What has really changed? Is it about intensity and volume of revenues? Are these new investments increasingly reaching into so-called fragile countries and in particular remote areas? And perhaps more importantly, are resource developments happening in response to increasing demand, or is this a resource boom and a situation of over-supply? One participant in a recent meeting I attended at Chatham House suggested that the reason why the Kenyan government is racing so urgently to develop the Turkana oil reserves is precisely because they fear the discovery of cheaper new oil reserves elsewhere.

The answers to this set of questions would enable us to properly understand the extent to which the situation has really changed.

This resource boom narrative is now often associated with an optimistic approach that attempts to criticize or transcend the 'resource curse' story. So how beneficial are natural resources for development and peacebuilding? The problem is that experts are struggling to find good examples. The Indonesia-Aceh peace process or the South Sudan 'well planned but badly implemented' process are often referred to as good examples, but with limited enthusiasm.

'Business for peace'

It is not surprising that the potential for business to play a role in peacebuilding, and the conditions under which this can happen, is becoming a key policy debate – given the so-called resource boom and its focus on 'fragile states'. The fact that resource extractive businesses are the first type of business to get involved in post-conflict (if not conflict) situations is also used as another justification to think about their potential role.

The slogan 'business for peace' raises a few eyebrows, questioning whether businesses could do anything more than corporate social responsibility. In fact, as another delegate at the Chatham House meeting mentioned, sticking to the 'do no harm' rule would already be a considerable advance.

The point here is not to be overly critical about business, but rather to question the expectations and responsibilities put upon 'business for peace' narratives.

Conflict sensitivity is not a realistic option for businesses as, very much like donors, they are political actors. Their business operation forces them to align with one or other of the parties in the conflict. Business cannot truly be perceived, or act as, an honest independent broker. Although one should encourage any moves towards peacebuilding, the narrative 'business for peace' may be harmful in hiding the responsibilities of governments (and potentially donors) to work for redistribution and social cohesion.

Jeremy Allouche is a Research Fellow at IDS and has recently begun working on a new project, Large development investments and local peacebuilding in Africa: Building and sustaining peace at the margins.

Photo: Sudanese Oil Workers by ENOUGH Project on Flickr (by-nc-nd)


And the winners are… The Phiri Award Innovators of 2014

Last week, the first ever five winners of the Phiri Award were announced. All five illustrate the persistence and determination so typical of innovators. As Phiri Award Trustee, John Wilson, explains:

"The Phiri Award Trust believes that it's crucial that we learn from farmer innovators and other innovators in the food chain as we strive to find sustainable and healthy ways of producing and processing food. During this first year's process to find and select innovative farmers there was some muddle between who is a good farmer and who is an innovative farmer. An innovative farmer is someone who has tried out and developed new ways of doing things. (S)he has not simply adopted practices from others".

All those nominated this year are men who came from only three of the country's provinces. The Trust is committed to changing this next year. Nominations from around the country, and particularly of women and younger farmers or those involved in the food chain are welcomed. Get in touch by email:

Anyway, I thought Zimbabweland readers would like to hear about the winners. The short profiles below have been provided by John Wilson, based on research by Mutizwa Mukute.

Faiseni Pedzi:

61 year Faiseni Pedzi has been a smallholder farmer most of his life. For a brief period in his 20s he worked at a sugar estate in the Lowveld. This stint gave him ideas, which he has used to develop a sophisticated water-harvesting set-up on his 3-hectare farm.

VaPedzi farms in Chivi district in natural region 5. Water is obviously critical in such a dry part of Zimbabwe. Early in his farming years he dug four one-metre deep contours on his gently sloping land as the basis of his water-harvesting system. These turned out to be not enough to catch all the water and so he has added trenches at either end of the contour ditches.

Over the years VaPedzi has developed an intricate system to use and spread water through his farm. There are also times he has to release excess water into the nearby river. He needs this versatile system because of the variability in rainy seasons. His system is based on 'valves' that he has especially designed to manage his water, depending on whether they are tight, loose or removed.

VaPedzi intercrops his annual rainy season crops and is able to supplement them with water during dry spells in the rainy season, which are common in region 5. He then under sows his summer crops with winter crops that also benefit from the harvested water. He grows reeds and Vetiver grass on the banks of the ditches and other fodder grasses for fattening cattle for sale. Fishponds are an important part of the system, originally introduced because 'my wife loves eating fish'. His farm is a fine example of agricultural biodiversity and integrated farming based on a sophisticated water harvesting system.

Paguel Takura

Paguel Takura is a farmer who likes to experiment and try things out. He lives in Chikukwa on the border with Mozambique, a higher rainfall part of Zimbabwe. He started his small farm of less than a hectare in 2008 and had a disastrous first year because moles ate the bulk of his sweet potatoes and banana suckers.

Undaunted and using his traditional knowledge for trapping field mice, he began the process of designing an effective mole trap. He tried different containers in which to trap the moles – first bark, then bamboo, then 750ml cooking oil bottles – before hitting on a 250ml Vaseline bottle which doesn't allow the mole to turn around. He has also tried various baits and now favours an indigenous plant that he had observed moles liking. He puts the bottle and bait into a mole tunnel with a sprung stick and in 2011 alone he captured 39 moles.

He now works with others in his community to share and spread his mole trap and has plans to sell the traps.

Wilson Sithole

In 1977 Wilson Sithole's father gave him 2 hectares of land. At that stage he was working in town. During this time he built a house and experimented with water-harvesting ditches, having noticed lots of run-off from his land in the high rainfall area of Rusitu in eastern Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, most of his 2 hectares was unfarmable because it was covered with rocks. This, however, didn't daunt VaSithole.

He knew that with heat and water you can crack and break rocks up. He brought in 7 truckloads of firewood from a nearby timber estate and gradually broke up all the rocks on his farm and turned them into contour bunds, combined with ditches. After 20 years he had 20 bunds and ditches. In between the bunds he has planted bananas, pineapples and citrus trees. For bananas, his harvest averages out at 480kg per month.

Now he is working with other farmers in his area as part of the TSIME programme to find innovative ways to improve farming.

William Gezana

In 2000 Cyclone Eline wreaked havoc on William Gezana's 3-hectare farm in Bumba, Chimanimani. Five of his neighbours died and the cyclone swept away vegetation, houses and animal kraals. The cyclone also caused serious erosion, which undermined the recharging of the stream that William and his neighbors had used for irrigation.

VaGezana, as seems to be the case with many innovator farmers, did not let the enormity of what he had to do to rehabilitate his land dispirit him. Above all, Cyclone Eline taught him the critical importance of water harvesting and so he began laying small rock ridges across his land to catch run off water. He also noticed that during Cyclone Eline, it was the bare areas that suffered most. This led him to plant a range of different species in order to ensure ground cover. The Mukute (Waterberry) has played a significant part in his plans, as has the use of compost.

In a decade VaGezana turned his devastated watershed farm into a productive haven with a diversity of crops. In the process he has recharged the water table and the stream runs again. He taps water from the stream via individually designed and dug irrigation canals. Over 40 farmers have learnt from the integrated farming creativity of William Gezana, using his approach to watershed management in particular.

Bouwas Mawara

Apart from working in town from 1970 to 76, 68-year old Bouwas Mawara has been a small-scale farmer all his life. However, it was only in 1980 that he began innovating, inspired by the liberation struggle, which had given people the 'courage to try things out and confront and challenge the way things are done'.

Living in Mazvihwa, a very dry part of Zimbabwe in Zvishavane District, he knew the importance of water. His first challenge to the normal way of doing things was to dig dead-level contours 1 to 3 metres deep and 2 metres wide; as opposed to the 1 in 200 diversion drains that are normally called contour ditches. These deep ditches have enabled him to harvest huge amounts of water. Furthermore, within the contours he has made small dams in which he farms fish. Occasionally in Mazvihwa there is excess water and he has designed a complex interconnected system using clay pipes that allows him to remove excess water into pits.

As a result of all this water harvesting, VaMawara is able to grow winter crops every dry season, despite living in such a dry part of the country. He even had excess water in the droughts of 1992 and 2008.

On his own initiative, Bouwas Mawara set up Hupenyu Ivhu (Soil is Life) Farmer Innovators' group in 1989. Through this group he has shared his innovative water-harvesting system and farming practices with many farmers in Mazvihwa.

For more information on farmer innovation from around the world, check out the Prolinnova site at Beyond these five, lots more inspiration there! While formal science and technology is undoubtedly essential for successful agriculture, local innovation from the grassroots is vital too, and is especially powerful when combined with more conventional approaches (as is the case in all domains – see I hope that the Phiri Award will encourage scientists in government, the universities and the CGIAR to go and visit the winners, and discover new innovations. If you look, they are everywhere: innovation is what farming is about.

The post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland



Friday, 24 October 2014

Training health workers in management skills bears fruit

The Challenge
Every day, health service leaders face challenges like working with limited resources while delivering results, managing change, and keeping staff motivated. Decentralisation adds to these challenges, as many health workers have both clinical and managerial responsibilities.

However, little attention is paid to leadership and management skills during their health training.
Communities, donors, local politicians and opinion leaders are demanding accountability and results, which is achievable with simple leadership and management skills.

Our Intervention
In partnership with the districts, who select the candidates, the Makerere University School of Public Health is training health workers in three areas: planning and management of health services, improving management of logistics and improving management of labor and newborn care.

A six-month distance health services management certificate course, targeting district and health facility managers, caters for the first two thematic areas, the focus for this article. In the first phase, 30 health service delivery personnel were drawn from the three study districts (10 from each), and another 30 are attending the second phase of training. The results have been tremendous, with beneficiaries already registering significant improvements back at their work places.

Initial Success
Stephen Otukor, a clinical officer in Pallisa district, said that the financial management skills he acquired during the training are invaluable.

Before the training, spending and finances were not streamlined. Now all his staff know how his clinic's financial resources are used.
"The other good thing is that when we collect the data nowadays, we analyse it, and we utilize it," adds Stephen. "This has helped us in decision making. For instance, if we plot a graph and find problems, we trace the root causes of why. We then find solutions to the challenges."
For Edith Bogere, a senior nursing officer with Kamuli district, turning support supervision into a blame game and police-like interrogation had failed to solve a long-standing problem. But, while still on the course, Edith decided to employ her new skills by suggesting the involvement of the in-charge of the health centre and the staff to find solutions.
"The in-charge gave us her views, and one of them was to change a midwife that was there to another health facility and get her another one or two. And the district health management team respected her opinion. We have since seen deliveries increasing in this facility, even the OPD attendance is improving. When you compare the HMIS report 105 of Bupadhengo now and those before, you see a marked improvement. This is simply because we were able to change our approach to supervision and problem solving."
And in the case of Anek Santurinah, a midwife in Pallisa, time management was a problem. "Things like phone calls and visitors who came unnecessarily would take my time. I would sometimes attend to these visitors and ignore clients. But this changed after the training."

By the end of the study, each of the three districts will have had 30 key personnel trained in health services management.

By Kakaire Ayub Kirunda, FHS Uganda Policy Influence and Research Uptake Officer
[Editor's note: This article is the first in a series of updates from the FHS Uganda team that were also compiled in their recent Showcase.]