Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A new community of practice launched on urban agriculture and water management

Yesterday, my father's research team envolved in Dakar, Senegal met for an internal colloquium on urban agriculture and water management to look back on 10 years of research. The idea was to identify the lessons learnt and how to continue after my father's retirement. 
The colloquium brought together researchers both from Switzerland and Senegal, former and current phd and master students, as well has NGOs representatives, donors as well as a real estate developer.
Cyril Royez, Urbamonde, Prof. Hans-Rudolf Pfeifer, University of Lausanne, Sedou Niang, Universty of Dakar, Francois Sugnaux, real estate developer.

Very different topics were adressed, from threats and benefits of re-use of urban waste water, to participatory processes, sense and non-sense of World Bank investment, the unexpected feed back of making drinking water accessible in urban area, impact from mercury from mining or food security. You can find all the presentations of this meeting on the conference page.

I moderated the closing discussions, aiming at understanding why the topic is relvant, at identifying the major challenges in urban agriculture and water management in Dakar, and how to continue the work, even if one of the main actor of the team, the professor is retiring.

Why is the topic of urban agriculture and water management in Senegal still relevant? 
In Dakar, two development plan co-exist, in one the area that is currently used for urban agriculture will be urbanised, in the other one it is kept. In both cases there are still many important research to do relatively to water and the issue of food security is not yet adressed. If the urban agriculture area is kept, then food is still produced locally and reuse of waste water can be an important topic as industrialisation is increasingly polluting the water. If the urban agriculture disapears, then food has to be produced outside the town and need to be brought in. One presentation has shown that  rural areas next to mining fields are full of mercury and food safety is compromissed. So it is very unclear if food brought to the town is safer than the food grown in town. So there are many challenges to yet be adressed in the field of urban agriculture and water management.

What are the major challenges ? 
In Senegal many World Bank report mentionned that if more save water is tapped and brought to town, more water will be around Dakar, and ground water levels will increase leading to 900'000 of flooded people without accounting for climate change. As tapped water increased floodings increased. Everyone knows the scientific results, but they are never put together nor communicated in a simple say to policy makers.
It seems that there is enough scientific knowledge around, the issue is how to put it in relation and get heart, i.e. communication to non-scientific public.

What can we do? 
There are many small proposal that have emerged, starting with making one depository that would include all the work that the people in the room as well as all other reserachers, students and phds that have worked on the project together.
Also, a long discussion focused on the necessity to do research that is relevant to the local people. The difference between communicating scientific result and action research has been wiledly discussed. It resulted in an agreement that introducing communities at early research stage and other participatory approaches are crucial for sucessful projects.
Also the value of working with non-scientific partners such as NGOs, like Urbamonde and ingenieur du monde, as well as economic partners such as real estate developer is enriching and these collaboration should be persuded.
Finally, all participants agreed that they want to continue interacting with each other and continue on the current collaborations by organizing meeting and working on new project.

Emilie presenting her work

It was intersting to see this diverse group forming a community of practice without knowing it. Hopefully, I managed to set up  my father's new blog, just before the meeting. It is ready now to become the initial plateform to support this community and give them a space in which they can interact and share their knowledge with non-scientists. So check it out, and don't forget to turn back.

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