After a longer posting-pause in which I finalized my first research phase, identifying supporters of rural grassroots development initiatives in the Province of Soto, here a new update of my activities in Colombia:
Time is flying and I am finalizing my second research phase, asking grassroots development initiatives to evaluate the support they are receiving to build joint capacities. To be able to speak with rural development initiatives, I was invited to spend a week with a peasant family in the vereda St. Ana of Santa Cruz de la Colina.
During the last two weeks, I was in Bogotá to talk to experts from the IER at the Javeriana University as well as the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development to find out about public support for joint capacity building in rural Colombia. Now, I am back in the department of Santander to start my field work.
In order to be able to do an in-depth study of a) how support for joint capacity building in rural areas is organized and b) how this support is evaluated by its beneficiaries, I narrowed my case study area down to one municipality: Floridablanca.
Last Monday (21st of November), I participated in a field trip to Los Maklenkes nature reserve on top of the mountain La Judía in the municipality of Floridablanca, close to Bucaramanga. This nature reserve is managed by the peasants living around the reserve and, amongst others, sponsored by the Dutch state lottery. The field trip was part of the festival for urban-rural dialogue, in which I participated the previous weekend.
The day started with a gathering of all participants to make our way up the mountain to the nature reserve. It was an adventurous drive with 16 people in one Jeep, going up steeper and steeper mud-paths. I dared not to look to the right where the mountain was falling as steep to the ground as the road was crawling up.
Upon arrival at the entrance of the park, we were greeted by the local peasants and informed about the history of the nature reserve and its aim to protect biodiversity and water reservoirs. Following the introduction, we switched into our rubber boots and commenced with a three hour hiking tour through the reservoir.
Here, we saw the organic agro-forest farming activities which are being initiated under the facilitation of Fundaexpresión, a local NGO for promoting participatory research activities and education in peasant communities. I saw plantain and banana trees, coffee plants and avocado trees.
Following our hike, we settled in the communal house of the reserve to discuss nature protection activities in the high Andes and their impact on the livelihoods of peasants. At the end of the discussion, it was agreed that the provision of information and the creation of knowledge at local level was the most crucial point in enabling local peasants to deal with the resulting pressures on their livelihoods. The provision of information and the facilitation of capacity building were, however, regarded as poor. It was agreed that more attention must be given to the provision of information and the facilitation of capacity building at local level should peasants be enabled to deal with pressures on their livelihoods resulting from nature protection activities.
Last weekend (18-20 of November 2011), I was able to participate in the II Festival for urban-rural dialogue in the barrio La Joya in Bucaramanga, Colombia. The festival was visited by peasants (such as fishers, women groups, and farmers), indigenous groups as well as knowledge brokers from all over Colombia, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Cuba. In addition, urban citizens from Bucaramanga, and La Joya in particularly, participated in the event. This mix of participants created a valuable learning environment for everyone (including me), and resulted in new ideas and organisations amongst the participants. In a way, this festival reminded me of the rural cafés I visited in the Westerkwartier, the Netherlands.
The overall theme of the event was the environmental conflicts in rural Colombia resulting on the one hand from the numerous (and often multinational) economic exploitation activities (e.g. gold mining, hydroelectric power activities and monoculture) and on the other hand from conservation activities.
The Rural Sociology Group has been granted the coordination of a Marie Curie Initial Training Network entitled ‘Urban, peri-urban and regional food dynamics: toward an integrated and territorial approach to food (PUREFOOD)’ funded by the European Commission’s Seventh Framework PEOPLE program. The PUREFOOD research and training programme aims to reduce the enormous knowledge and skills deficit that is negatively affecting the capacity to design and deliver appropriate political and developmental solutions in the crucial supra-disciplinary fields of food security, public food procurement, public health and sustainable urban and regional development. Hence, the objective of PUREFOOD is to train a pool of 12 early-stage researchers (ESRs) in the socio-economic and socio-spatial dynamics of the (peri-)urban and regional foodscape. The research and training program will therefore provide knowledge and innovation for the Commission’s aim to deal with economic, social and environmental policies in “mutually reinforcing ways” which reflects the core of the Lisbon and Gothenburg agenda’s call for integrated solutions towards economic prosperity, social cohesion and environmental sustainability. The PUREFOOD network is centred around food as an integrated and territorial mode of governance and studies the emergence of the (peri-)urban foodscape as an alternative (as opposed to a globalised) geography of food, including the ways in which, and the extent to which, sustainability aspects generally considered to be intrinsic to the alternative food geography are incorporated by the more conventional food companies.
The PUREFOOD Initial Training Network consists of 7 university partners who will each host one or more ESRs:
- Wageningen University – Rural Sociology Group (The Netherlands)
- Cardiff University – School of City and Regional Planning (United Kingdom)
- Pisa University – Department of Agronomy and Agro-ecosystem Management (Italy)
- Latvia University – Faculty of Social Sciences (Latvia)
- City University London – Centre for Food Policy (United Kingdom)
- Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul – Postgraduate Program in Rural Development (Brazil)
- Makerere University School of Public Health – Department of Community Health and Behavioural Sciences (Uganda)
In addition to these universities as full consortium partners, the PUREFOOD network consists of 8 associated partners, a combination of private firms, public authorities and civil society organisations:
- Peri-Urban Regions Platform Europe (PURPLE)
- Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform
- Sodexo UK
- Slow Food Study Center
- Stroom Den Haag
- Sustain – the alliance for better food and farming
- Tukums municipality
The associated partners will contribute to the PUREFOOD training program by contributing to courses, participating in Communities of Practice and by hosting ESRs for a secondment. The active involvement of these associated partners is also of great importance for safeguarding the practical applicability of scientific research in the commercial, public as well as civic realm and for the dissemination of results.
The seven universities have opened (or soon will open) vacancies for 12 early-stage research positions. The launch of the vacancies has been announced on this weblog. As of now the PUREFOOD vacancy brochure with information about ESR projects, eligibility criteria, contact persons for additional information and addresses for submitting applications is available. For potential prospective ESRs an information pack has been compiled with information about the PUREFOOD research and training programme, the individual ESR projects, the timeline of the project and short descriptions of the full and associated consortium partners.
At best sceptical were most of the islanders of Mandø about the Any Questions? art project on their island. Not many were fond of modern art. Their highlight of the year is the Mandøfest which brings back many related to Mandø in july for a celebration of tradition and island culture in big family gatherings. The Vadehavsfestival is different and the ‘elite’ art is distant this culture. However, the aim of the festival was to instill inhabitants of the wadden region with new wonder about their own environment.
How to prevent that the project on Mandø would completely bypass the community because of separated mental worlds? Inspired by theories on action research – in particular appreciative inquiry – and on social interaction (see Collins 2004. still the best explanation) we formulated a social process to embed ourselves in the place. In three steps (oct/june/sept) we worked at building a positive chain of interaction with the islanders which accumulated – also to my surprise – in openness to and interaction with the artists and the art works.
The shopkeeper commented how moved she was by the threedimensional house drawing on top of the dune and that it was this moment rather than big audiences which was – maybe- important too. An unannounced barn concert attracted islanders who normally do not go anywhere we were told. People passed by our café with a bottle of wine or wiskey or came to have ‘tea and cookies’ in and near the house of Sarah and holding up her window. Our bonfire in the withdrawing sea at the landart site of Liesbeth attracted ‘a record of people’ according to the man who fanatically helped building it with lots of diesel (however many stayed at the dunes because the way through the grass was too dark unfortunately).
We became part of this community for a week, using the closed café, sleeping in people’s summerhouses, struggling with internet as they do, enjoying the wadden nature and the endless horizon. The embedding of the project and the dialogue in which it resulted inspired us too, as can be read on the waddenart weblog. Thanks, people of Mandø for opening up to us.
The sunny weather, a great mix of people, the lovely atmospheric cafe and the beautiful wadden nature have contributed to a kick start of the Any Questions art project on the Danish wadden island Mando. We officially started yesterday with a reception with the inhabitants and for the week to follow there will be daily performances, concerts and ongoing art works made by the individual artists as well as in collaboration with each other. Two writers will observe and reflect on how modern art is meeting people on this island, see previous blog.
You can follow us at www.waddenart.wordpress.com
The waddenart group blog will be daily updated by the organisers, the artists and the writers with stories and pictures about the art works, the island and the people.
The Wadden Sea coast of Denmark from Tønder to Blaavand is a beautiful natural and rural area with three wadden islands Romø, Mandø and Fanø. For the third time, the biannual Wadden Sea Festival from 4 to 12 september draws attention to this area with various forms of Contemporary Art at many different places. One of the art projects is organised by Foundation Waddenart on the island Mandø. This is a special island, very small and only accessible at low tide through a gravel road at the sea bottom.
The project Any Questions on Mandø is an interdisciplinary project, an experiment to integrate art and research in one project and at the same time embed the project in a local place. Foundation WaddenArt started in collaboration with SDU to explore the question of quality of life for the inhabitants at Mandø in October 2009. The findings fed into the Call for Artists to attract Contemporary Art in Installation art, Performance art and Landart. Five different artist(groups) have been selected to work daily to create works of art during the festival in september.
There is also space for three researchers to be involved in the project in september. We ask researchers to reflect from a research background in the social sciences or art & humanities to what they observe during the festival. We ask you to observe and write a short story based on personal experience and empirical observation which can be performed during the closing event on Mandø. Are you interested questions such as; How does contemporary art relate to the cultural and social life of the community on Mando? How do the people on Mando relate to a festival that is not theirs? How is Mando expressed? What symbols the links between past, present and future? What are defining factors in change and stability? Then please look at this link for the full Call text and the way to submit your interest to Foundation Waddenart.
This year’s European Rural Sociology meeting in Vaasa, Finland aired a remarkable optimism. With the crisis in the real world, the identity crisis of rural sociologists seems over. In times of crisis, there seems more space for social change.
One of the conference themes was “the rural bites back”. Well, “the rural never went away” Michael Bell said, “we only need to consider the political conditions of our work”. Time for the activist/scientist to stand up. This resonates very well with how I experienced the spirit of the local and sustainable food community in the US. No wonder, Michael Bell is based in Madison, Wisconsin.
In his opening keynote speech, Philip Lowe, from Newcastle University, UK, explained the history and differences between the American and European rural sociology societies. Despite the historically more distant and observant EU tradition, he too urged for us to engage and deal with the “mess” of reality. And in yet another plenary session, the comeback of action research was observed.
Although some of us never did anything different, there was a general vibe of action readiness for social change in the conference. Have the years of ‘Critique’ only passed? Certainly, new engagement and involvement urge us to take position and to be the “political scientists of the rural” as Michael Bell put it.