Reflections on 20 years of Wageningen beta-gamma research in Ecuador
Since arriving in Ecuador in 1998, colleagues and I at the International Potato Center, World Neighbors, EkoRural and partner agencies have hosted over 30 Wageningen beta-gamma internships and theses in Ecuador. During this talk, I will take a reflective look back at their contributions – not just to my personal development as an activist-academic, but also to policy and broader movements in agroecology and food sovereignty.
The initial work of students documented the unwanted economic, human health and environmental impacts of widescale dependence on highly toxic pesticides, which led to action-research on the strengths and limitations of discovery-based learning, ecological literacy, and farmer-led experimentation, in particular though Farmer Field Schools and similar approaches. Further research led to appreciation for the importance of household-level endogenous development and in particular phenomena of social heterogeneity. This body of work helped to reveal family-level practice as a source of existing, time-tested, high potential alternatives to some of our most pressing, intractable concerns, such as mass pesticide poisoning, the degradation of soils, hydric systems and landscapes, the erosion of agrobiodiversity, malnutrition and exclusionary markets as well as an inability to cope with weather variability tied to climate change. Most recently, the work of students has identified major opportunities to address rising rates of overweight/obesity and the proliferation of chronic, non-communicable disease, calling attention to ‘responsible consumption’ as an underutilized public good and common pool resource.
As a result of open-ended, action-oriented experimentation permitted by exploratory research, the MSc research, in particular, arguably has led to a number of major innovations in development practice (e.g., knowledge-based, people-centered development), legislation (including the elimination of highly toxics, product labeling, and promotion of agroecology and direct-purchasing markets) and the activity of agriculture and food movements (most notably, the influential QueRicoEs! campaign). After highlighting these contributions, I will end by summarizing our present-day research agenda, based on recent nutrition studies in 4,000 households (food surveys and anthropometric measurements). Beginning in June 2019, a new five-year project will expand this work into new geographies, as it further explores diabetes mellitus and hypertension and seeks to enable more effective, civil society-led responses to shape family level practice and public policy for healthier, more sustainable and social equitable food.