Friday, 28 January 2011

A New Manifesto

It is forty years since the Sussex manifesto was published, having an effect on the thinking of the UN and other world organisations. It argued that investment in world development should utilise the insights of science and technology; that science and technologically driven innovations have major roles to play in solving some of the most intractible problems of disease and hunger.

The Social Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability Centre (STEPS) has now published a new manifesto
suggesting fresh ways to link investment, science, technology and sustainable development. Its contents are being acclaimed as a 'new politics.'  Annual spending on development research is now more than one trillion dollars. In this context, the manifesto sets out a three dimensional approach to innovation. Every area of development (health, education, agriculture, trade, energy, distribution, military and so on) presents infinite possibilities for innovation and often these can be suggested and led by local agents rather than imposed from outside. It is also the case that continent-spanning infrastructures employ strategies that need to be scrutinised for new directions and and that these are best identified and prioritised by approaches which include insights from science and technology, distribution and politics. Of every development possibilty, at every level, questions must be asked about what different strategies and innovations will mean for justice and equity. The manifesto calls for governments to create platforms for science and technology to work more directly for social justice, poverty alleviation and to lessen environmental destruction. It also looks for a world where  scientists work more freely and creatively with framers, users, customers and businesses to find innovative solutions to problems and to create new ways of working that are more in tune with local situations. If it hasn't been done before, it might be worth investigating!     

To take an example, in parts of Africa where global markets have pushed populations to concentrate on growing only one type of crop, increased agro-biodiversity with the growing of many crop types, chosen by local farmers, makes for a far better fit with local agricultural practices and social contexts. Plant varieties are selected and tested by farmers and local businesses are innovative in finding ways to opening for their produce in the markets, finding niches among the uncertainties of global markets and climatic changes. This is driven locally and, despite flying in the face of conventional market-driven wisdom, these ventures often work and are providing sustainable solutions to 
problems of local food supply, employment and trading.

All very complex indeed and hard to grasp, but the Manifesto is well worth a look.         

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