After his keynote speech at Tropentag 2016, Dr. Poonpipope Kasemsap from Kasetsart University, Thailand had a short discussion with student reporters about his idea of food security and fair use of resources. Dr. Poonpipope Kasemsap stressed that food security will be one of the most urgent issues in the next few decades. Solving this issue requires the constant solidarity and sharing knowledge between the northern and southern globe, from the developed and developing countries. Since humans are the key actors in finding solutions for food security problems, he believes humans are one of the most limited resources that we need to “renew”.
The initiative from the Horticulture Innovation Lab where Dr. Poonpipope Kasemsap is the director is bringing experts and their knowledge to developing countries to improve the situations there. On the other hand, dealing with problems will also enable these experts to enrich the experience and knowledge.
Dr. Poonpipope Kasemsap is also the responsible person for developing the unique master’s degree program “Food Security and Climate Change”, with cooperation between a group of universities from Europe and Asia. The aim of this program is to build a highly qualified human resource to address the issue of food security and climate change in the future.
Tropentag is a research symposium, where the aspect of results' implementation into practice is a priority. During Monday's keynote speeches, the debate about the role of research in fostering solidarity was taken up. Michael Hauser believes research can do a lot to improve solidarity. And yet, according to him, there is a lack of attention on solidarity itself: „Solidarity as such must become a subject of research“, he stated. As an example of solidarity research, he suggested to investigate on how to develop an economy of solidarity.
Tropentag can contribute to promoting solidarity in a competing world. Dr. Hauser encouraged scientists: „We should carefully rethink our research strategies: maintain what has worked with regard to solidarity, but also reexamine those research questions and strategies that haven´t worked. We will have to ask a complete new set of research questions“!
Tuesday morning’s poster sessions included informative presentations on one of the world’s most important crops: rice! As a Canadian, I know very little about rice, so I was either the worst person for this reporting job, or the best (as I had a lot to learn!).
A few common presentation themes included nutrient management, tillage practices, and water conservation. Most of the research projects took place in African and Asian countries, but Colombia also made an appearance. It seemed it could be agreed upon that there is a need for innovative water management strategies, cover cropping systems, and an increase in knowledge of nutrient cycling.
Nitrogen topics were recurring throughout the session, including a particularly interesting presentation that informed the audience of the horizontal movement of nitrogen in valley growing regions. It was said that as the year’s first spring rains land on the soil, microorganisms are essentially “woken up”, and an unused surge in microbial activity and thus nutrient availability occurs. With no crop planted in the field during this time, many nutrients are lost in the spring rains and runoff. Cover crops could help to mitigate this effect.
Talking about the very interesting poster presentations, Tuesday's morning session started with a much striking symposium about the future of the organic market. The content of each presentation can be found online, that is why, here, I rather want to focus on the side questions and discussions that arose during the session.
The first critical point at issue coming up was about the length of a stay for conducting a scientific study and, especially, for developing statements. The chair of the session, Prof. Christian Vogl (BOKU University), recommended that sometimes it is better to formulate hypotheses or research questions instead of concrete statements and conclusions, especially when scientists are conducting a short-term project. In fact, within a few weeks, it does not seem very realistic to get an in-depth insight of any subject.
After the first two presentations, the topics shifted towards organic markets and cooperations. Pauline Deltour presented a study from Florianópolis, SC Brasil: “Short Supply Chains of Organic Food: Socioeconomic Emancipation of Family Farmers?”, showing that agricultural fairs (i.e. weekly farmer markets) present the most emancipatory (concerning high reciprocity and autonomy) potential to farmers, but, nevertheless, they are still too small. That is why the organic farmers in the region also need shops for selling their products in order to guarantee a permanency of income.
It is late on Monday, or let´s say it feels late at least. Rudolf Bühler, Chairman of the Swabian Farmer´s Association and Marketing Organisation (BESH) in southern Germany, presented a short film introducing their collaboration with spice farmers in Kerala and Zanzibar.
BESH is well known in southern Germany as a showcase of farmers organising themselves to marketing the multiple values of their produce. BESH farmers have revived a local Swabian pig breed (Schwäbisch Hällisches Landschwein) and are successfully generating fair prices for their members.
The film “Seeds of Hope” shows how the BESH is trying to establish close links between all elements of the value chain - now also by including the direct exchange with spice producers in Kerala and Zanzibar. Rudolf Bühler started this cooperation in Kerala, India, where smallholder farmers produce local varieties of pepper, cardamom or cloves in a traditional multi-layered mixed cropping system, because he recognized how this growing system was already organic before being certified as such.
The Josef G. Knoll European Science Award is given every two years to the authors of the best doctoral or post-doctoral theses. As a pioneer in agricultural research, it supports young researchers whose work focuses on improving the status of food and nutrition security in developing countries and makes a contribution to reducing hunger. The winners who have been awarded this year are three in total, and have very interesting profiles:
Dr. Sabine Liebenehm, from Leibniz University of Hannover, wrote a thesis on “New Insight from Behavioral Economics in Developing Countries”. “She produced an excellent work which is very important for small-scale farmers in developing country. It has direct implications regarding poverty and hunger,” announced the panel of judges.
Keynote Discussion Round
This is arguably the most important part of any public presentation – the opportunity for the audience to engage, comment, and challenge the speakers.
The comment that really stuck out to me from the audience was an attendee from Ghana, who countered the optimism of the presenters by asking “Why do the poor continue to stay poor?”. This is obviously a tough question to try and answer, as no single person or country is responsible for this continued global injustice.
Another comment from the crowd stated that “solidarity has come a little late…but is still welcome”. This is an important reminder that there may still be some resentment circulating between the North and South concerning any possible exploitation or injustice that citizens of developing countries may have experienced.
Prof. Folkard Asch shared with us his impression about how global problems increased the interest in development-oriented research and raised the number of young researchers in agricultural studies.
The chairman of ATSAF expects researchers to be engage in networking and showing their results during Tropentag 2016.