Conclusion of The Agri/Cultures Project

03.09.2019

After 5 years, The Agri/Cultures Project has now come to a close, although the work of the project will live on!

The Agri/Cultures Project was a 5-year research project funded by the Norwegian Research Council’s FRIPRO Young Research Talents program. The research team was lead by Dr. Fern Wickson and included Dr. Amaranta Herrero, Dr. Rosa Binimelis, and PhD student Maya Marshak (in collaboration with the University of Cape Town and Prof. Rachel Wynberg). The project focused on generating knowledge on different cultures of agriculture and communicating this knowledge in ways that were accessible, engaging, and useful for academics, publics and policy-makers.

The project specifically aimed to deliver knowledge relevant to assessing the sustainability, societal utility and ethical justifiability of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), as required by the Norwegian Gene Technology Act. Through the research, it developed the idea of GMOs as networks of socio-economic and ecological relations in conceptual, methodological and empirical terms.

The major R&D outcomes included:

  • A method for multi-sited ethnographic mapping of agri-food systems
  • Socio-technical maps of four different maize agri-food systems in Spain (agro-ecological, certified organic, chemically intensive, genetically modified)
  • Research documenting socio-economic impacts on non-GM farmers from GMO cultivation
  • Research documenting socio-economic impacts on beekeepers from GMO systems
  • A novel framework of Care Ethics & Politics for assessing sustainability, socio-economic impacts and ethical questions regarding GMOs
  • An analysis of new genome editing techniques and their regulation with recommendations for the organic agriculture sector

These outcomes were developed and communicated through: 10 academic publications, over 30 oral lectures and presentations at various events, several multi-stakeholder dialogue meetings, a collection of short films, two international art exhibitions, and an interactive website. More information regarding several of these outcomes can be found via the links below.

 

Interactive Website

To collate all of the project’s findings and disseminate them to the general public the project developed an interactive website – Seed-Links (www.seedlinks.com). Developed as a pedagogical tool, this website allows visitors to follow the journey of a maize seed through different agricultural systems and learn about the range of places, processes and people involved. While tracing the journey, visitors can compare agro-ecological, certified organic, chemically intensive and genetically modified systems and better understand the impact of their own food choices. The website includes a quiz and questions that can be used for reflection, discussion and essay assignments by teachers.

Short Films

All the short films created through the project can be found on The Agri/Cultures Project YouTube channel. This includes a film introducing the project; another on the process, costs and implications of GMO detection; and a third on the everyday practices of resistance performed by non-GM farmers in Spain. All of these are available in both English and Spanish. There are also a number of short films on the channel featuring interviews with artists whose works were selected for the Agri/Cultures.Seed-Links exhibition.

Art Exhibition

As a culmination event, the project curated the internationalAgri/Cultures.Seed-Links art exhibition. Following an open global call for visual artworks on cultural connections with agricultural seeds that lead to almost 100 proposals from 26 countries, 9 works that particularly resonated with the project were selected. In connection with a deposit of seeds at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the artworks were exhibited for one night only in Longyearbyen (together with talks from the artists, the project manager Fern Wickson & Global Seed Vault manager Åsmund Asdal), before they are interred forever in the original site of the Vault in Store Norske Mine #3. Through this exhibition, the project also established the Seed Cultures Initiative (www.seedcultures.com) to continue encouraging discussions about the cultural dimensions of agriculture well beyond the project’s end.

Academic Publications

The Agri/Cultures Project stands as an exemplary example for how to advance transdisciplinary research, spanning various multiple social science and humanities disciplines (sociology, anthropology, philosophy, STS), working with a range of stakeholders (farmers, policy makers, NGOs) and communicating through a combination of science and art.

The empirical research of the projecthas usefully documented socio-economic impacts on both non-GM farmers and beekeepers from GMO cultivation. This represents an important resource for regulatory authorities because although several countries currently allow socio-economic considerations to be taken into account during the regulatory assessment of GMOs, there has historically been very little empirical research to inform this. The conceptual frameworkof care ethics and politics developed through the project can be of future benefit to those working in research, regulation and policy as an aid to better understanding the biotechnology controversy and a new way to approach assessment. Interest in this framework and the project’s research results has been expressed by regulatory authorities in France and Australia, as well as the European Green Party.

The researchers extend their thanks to the Research Council of Norway for their generous funding of the project and to GenØk for hosting the work. They also encourage everyone to explore the project outcomes and results through www.seed-links.comas well as www.seedcultures.comand all the links provided above.