SPEAKER: In this concluding discussion of the conference, Lessons from Vicos, Professor Norman Uphoff, Director of the Sustainable Rice Systems Program of CIIFAD, who has 30 years' experience in international development, made the following remarks.
NORMAN: The only thing we learn from the past is that we don't learn from the past. Very cynical, except that I think the Vicos experience actually suggests that's not necessarily true. I was pleased by Enrique's talk yesterday but appalled to hear what he said about the approach of going into Vicos so heroically, so long ago, to bring about cultural change, to work in such a top-down manner.
Now, the fact was, in those days, that was state of the art. [CHUCKLES] So the first thing I said is a problem-- why was it so-- that's what we knew then. I think that the persons who did it were doing the best they knew how, the best others knew how. And in many ways, this was ahead of the curve.
But now we look back at it in retrospect and say, gee, I'm so glad to hear what Jorge was recounting, and [? Beatriz ?] [? was away. ?] We're now approaching those questions, 10 and 20 and 30 years later, 50 in total-- now they started earlier than just today, though-- but to work in a more collaborative mode, respecting the knowledge and experience that's already there and trying to work out some kind of partnership. In fact, Jorge used the word "friendship," one of my favorite words in development work, to work on a basis as friends, as partners and collaborators.
And I think one of the ways of summarizing this is-- I contrast my approach to development with one of my colleagues, who will remain nameless, here in my own department, one I'd sort of felt, well, why did he and I work differently? So he starts with the literature and goes to the real world and studies it very carefully, then comes back to the literature.
But it's my preference I'm in the real world, and go in literature and back to the real world. Now, the cycle is the same. But where do you start? What is your starting point? What's your alpha, what's your omega, to use the religious metaphor?
And to me, the real world is and should be the alpha and the omega. It doesn't mean that literature's not important. It doesn't mean literature can't be very helpful or that it shouldn't be, but in that kind of a cycle, rather than being the alpha and omega itself.
And it seems to me, one of the great contributions of the Vicos project was, here's a case where the real world started as an alpha and, happily, it, ultimately, was the omega. We've come back to it, and we continue learning with it.
SPEAKER: What should Cornell University do today? The university was founded with a land grant mission to reach out into the world to solve vexing problems. We certainly have a wealth of expertise to offer. What are our best strategies? Can the Cornell-Peru Project teach us anything?
An academic institution like Cornell is not an NGO, a state or international agency that has the experience and skills to work with local populations for long-term results, nor can we maintain the presence in the field for continuity and sustainability. However, we have the capacities to act as mediators between these institutions, local populations, and the university.
We can also provide basic research, historical and comparative perspectives that local institutions and populations may not have access to. The Cornell-Peru Project teaches us that what may look like success in the short-term-- say, 10 years-- may not be sustainable in the long run.
Sound record-keeping is essential to establish an historical basis for continual evaluation. Universities should share their records with local populations. The Cornell-Peru project did not adequately return the vast knowledge or the essential records generated by the project. We are attempting to share those records and findings now.
University faculty and graduate students often have difficulty working within an open learning paradigm. Within the academic environment, it is a question of ownership of research, theses, and innovations. In Vicos and many other parts of the world, that kind of individual ownership is not recognized. Knowledge is collectively owned and shared.
This, perhaps, is one of the largest obstacles to collaborative research and application. Moreover, academics may find it hard to step outside of their disciplinary training and learn, quote, "from the natives." Time and again, we have learned that the natives have a lot to teach us. The best innovations come from collaboration between users and sources of research.
Through the use of free email, approximately 300,000 of the world's poorest farmers in 35 countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America are often doubling their incomes and productivity. This low-tech system is heralded as a means to reduce world hunger and poverty.
Working with collaborators in Madagascar, CIIFAD recognized the valuable contribution of local knowledge and experimentation. This new paradigm calls for endogenous development and university collaboration.
Universities are partners with local communities, but knowledge and technology no longer flows from the top down, as it did in the Cornell-Peru Project. The cultural belief at the time, which continues in some corners of academia today, was that knowledge generated in great centers of learning was superior to local knowledge.
Modern agriculture provided technologies, such as genetic manipulation of plants, chemical fertilizers, and insecticides, that were believed to be the answer to world hunger and assure progress. Today, modern agriculture is in crisis, and perhaps the natives have solutions to offer.
Norman Uphoff declared the following as one of his principles of development during the Vicos conference. And I quote him, "Start in the real world, move to the literature, and then, go back to the real world," unquote.
I would like to add that we should further develop our powerful tools of electronic technology to connect the real world with academia. I propose the development of a digital electronic portal at Cornell to connect diverse learning communities.
I'm going to close with one anecdotal story from the Vicos conference to illustrate a couple of points. We took our visitors from Vicos on a tour of our beautiful surroundings, which included an invitation for a private visit to Lamoreaux Winery.
During the visit, Manuel Meza walked out into the unplowed field and picked a plant that he showed his colleagues, identifying it as a medicinal plant used in Vicos. For the rest of us, it was just a weed. My point is that, for too long, we in academia have denigrated the natives' powers of observation and experimentation.
While Manuel was at Cornell, his wife, Antolina, was preparing to accompany Urpichallay Director Beatriz Rojas to Turin, Italy to participate in the slow food movement conference in 2006. This event brought together 1,000 chefs and 5,000 small farmers and food producers from 150 countries to mobilize the deindustrialization of agriculture.
The slow food movement is an international movement with 80,000 members in 50 countries. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the founder of Chez Panisse, Alice Waters, mingled with farmers from around the world. One of those farmers was Vicosina Antolina Sánchez. Though from a tiny village high in the Andes, Antolina is now an international actor in a powerful global counter-cultural movement.
I hope to see her and Alice Waters at the next slow food conference in San Francisco in September of 2008. Thank you for joining me on CyberTower. And I invite you to submit your comments to the discussion board.
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What are the successes and failures of Cornell's development efforts in the Andean community of Vicos 50 years ago? How are the people of Vicos faring today, and can history teach us anything?
This video 1 of 7 in the From Serfs to Political Actors series.