Community-Driven Science Paves the Way for Sustainable Development

A study that was recently published in Frontiers in Ecology is encouraging researchers to create research in conjunction with communities within the local area. The authors conclude that this strategy will meet the needs of local communities as well as aiding in the advancement of forward goals of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“In a rapidly changing world, new ways to do ecological research are urgently needed that support local agencies and generate ecological management practices to specific conditions,” Sieglinde Snapp, who is a co-author on the study, told Food Tank. Snapp is director of Sustainable Agrifood Systems Program Director at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

Participatory Action Research (PAR) can be described as a model that connects communities most affected by research and involves participants in creating knowledge. The method, as according to the authors, “enhances a holistic understanding to derive systems solutions.”

In the course of their research, the researchers looked at the past two decades of PAR focussed on rural farming communities in central and northern Malawi. In total, the study involved hundreds of farmer networks and communities.

Participatory research was conducted by communities in Malawi looked at the lack of biodiversity in farms, which led to low soil quality, dependence on fertilizers, as well as “insufficient dietary diversity.”

In the beginning researchers assisted farmers to diversify their crops as well as introduce trees to increase soil fertility as well as provide wood for burning. Every year researchers and farmers examined the results on their farms.

Through trial and trial and error Through trial and error, farmers were able discover new varieties of crops that could improve soil health, but are not often employed in sustainable agricultural development. “The new options sparked innovations in management practice so as to enhance perennial features of these crops while maintaining food production,” the authors write.

Through receiving feedback in real-time Researchers were also capable of adjusting their strategies to ensure that farming techniques work for local farmers. Farmers have stated that some practices agroforestry require too much work, which led to shortages in food for farmers and did not produce sufficient revenue for farmers. Based on this feedback, the projects stopped using agriculture systems that were which were a mix of tree crops five years after.

Experimenting with new crop varieties and methods of farming also resulted in a large number of goods that can be easily stored and then sold. The results, as according to the authors are encouraging for local food security and nutrition as well as the livelihood of farmers.

“Ecologists working in conjunction alongside social researchers, are seeking for ecologically sound and ecologically sustainable solutions for sustainable farming systems. This is crucial to meet the SDGs,” the authors state. By using PAR, the authors assert they can meet the needs of people and the entire planet.

“When farmers and researchers co-learn, they can optimize multipurpose nutritional enriched options, enhance climate resilience, and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions,” Snapp informs Food Tank.

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