Concept Note

Facing the crisis and growing uncertainties, can science and societies reinvent agricultural and food systems to achieve sustainability?

The world is changing rapidly. At a time of increasing global threats including climate change, the scarcity or degradation of resources, and population growth, the current economic crisis has triggered unpredictable short-term consequences, such as the aggravation of poverty, the contracting of export markets, and the tightening of credit and development funds. However, in the long term, the crisis may offer new opportunities, such as reducing the use of fossil fuels, moving towards more climate friendly types of production, encouraging regional integration and cooperation between science and societies. In this global context, agriculture and the food sector face an uncertain future, especially in some regions of the globe, and technical and political choices could play a determining role in ensuring the welfare of rural populations and avoiding social exclusion and environmental degradation.
The crisis has led to a situation of rupture, questioning realities that were previously taken for granted. It has revealed the vulnerability of systems and the need for innovation. How can we anticipate better and develop our capacity for resilience? In uncertain times, when values and norms are changing, our societies need to be creative and to reinvent innovation systems with a view to the long term. Some agro-food systems have already demonstrated their ability to take sustainability into account: agro-ecology, organic farming, local food initiatives, indigenous or participatory plant breeding, agro-forestry, integrated resource management, green biotechnologies, or the use of renewable and biomass energy. While it is obviously important to capitalize on this experience, a new global paradigm is also required. Renewing systems does not only mean defining new solutions, but changing innovation processes and models by creating new bonds between research and society.
Following the 1993 international symposium organised by CIRAD, INRA and ORSTOM on “Innovation and Societies: What kinds of agriculture? What kinds of innovation?”, we would like to review changes in the way research contributes to innovation. Today, agriculture is not questioned for itself, but for its interactions with the environment and the society as a whole. Focus has moved from local situations to global challenges. And stakeholders are now widely accepted as an integral part of innovation processes. What these changes imply for research is a question that must be addressed collectively. This is why we invite researchers from all disciplines, as well as stakeholders and policy makers, from Northern and Southern countries, to seize this opportunity to reflect together on future choices, to make new concrete proposals for research agendas and for political action, and to discuss how innovations systems can better achieve sustainability.