Project B05, Science Futures

Project Summary

Science Futures: Between “intensification” and “conservation” discourses on African rural development

The project “Science Futures” proposes to study the role of science in the design of and decisions about the futures of rural Africa, using the examples of development corridors in general and agricultural production technology therein. It recognizes that scientific and non-scientific modes of knowledge creation, transfer and use play a crucial role in imagining particular futures and in taking active steps towards their realization. Within the studied, largely remote rural spaces which the corridors link to broader national developments in the fields of agriculture, energy or tourism, science-enabled discourses of economic “intensification” through high-level use of resources such as land, water, external inputs and capital assets versus “conservation” and more ecological sustainability-oriented management practices shape societal negotiation processes aiming at diverse “rural futures”. Intensification and conservation discourses may both use scientific and non-scientific knowledge, so both kinds are taken into account while focusing on science. The empirical focus lies on territorially defined models of development (i.e. corridors) and the role of (a) spatial-planning-related knowledge systems in the genesis and current position of the corridor approach in Sub- Saharan Africa, as well as (b) agricultural scientific knowledge systems that shape the internal development dynamics and future-oriented contestation processes. Conceptually the project is inspired by Science and Technology Studies and Innovation System research, as well as discussions in the Sociology of Knowledge linked with Political Economy approaches. The three focus regions in Kenya, Tanzania and Namibia bear very different constellations of intensification versus conservation, strength of national science systems, role of agriculture versus other sectors, and involvement of private sector and external/international experts. In perspective, the assessment of the knowledge systems which determine how the pursued development models unfold lays the foundation for a knowledge communication, transfer, and diffusion strategy to be developed as part of the CRC’s third phase.

Research Areas: Tanzania, Kenya, Namibia

Keywords: Ecological Land-Use, Intensification, Conservation, Agricultural Economics, Corridor / Spatial Development, Sociology of Knowledge, Innovation Systems, Political Economya

Key Questions

How are scientifically informed discourses, science-to-policy interfaces, and scientific/non-scientific knowledge systems contributing to future-making in rural Sub-Saharan Africa?

1. Which science discourses contribute(d) to the genesis, definition, and current positions of the corridors under investigation? What role do concepts of “intensification” versus “conservation” play in these discourses?

2. What institutional procedures have been in place to determine the incorporation of specific knowledge into the territorial programming, and which may shape the development of specific “futures?” Are they formally structured, e.g. with private-sector participation in financing and governance of universities or scientists invited to policy advisory bodies?

3. How are research and scientific outcomes generated and used in the debates around the corridor development (by what processes, such as commissioned studies, publications, by governments, via other stakeholders such as private business and non-governmental organizations, personal standing of local and external scientists and experts, etc.)?

4. Are there indications that concepts, ideas, solutions “travel”, and is it clear how this happens (origins inside and outside Africa, with enterprises, organizations, students, researchers)? Who are the agents and key carriers of knowledge (i.e. CGIAR-system experts, Chinese entrepreneurs, European donor-system representatives)?

5. Are there factors which influence the power of science in the debates, such as timing of outcomes and publications, framing of research, research alliances, political economy/power, veto-players in other segments of science, private sector or policy, etc.?

6. How are questions around the key resource of all corridor development plans, land (rights, use, planning, dispossession, compensation and reallocation), dealt with? What type of agricultural knowledge systems (local, scientific etc.) play a role in shaping agricultural visions and life in the corridors? In what relations do they stand in regard to each other?

7. How and by whom are research agendas defined? To what extent does expertise and knowledge provided by national and international institutions match the knowledge demand of different stakeholder groups in practice? What needs to be revisited in the learning curricula, R&D structures, and functionalities to address the supply–demand mismatch?

8. How is the research funded, with particular attention to international sources of funding (i.e. the CGIAR system, international development cooperation (including foreign NGOs) and research partners)? How are performance and incentive mechanisms defined in the respective NIS and LIPS, and what additional (political, social etc.) aims are being pursued?

9. What role does expertise from educated graduates (both in-country and abroad) play in the landscape of knowledge systems within the corridors? What factors influence local uptake and further diffusion?

10. What other forms of knowledge beyond science are explicitly and implicitly used in local contestation processes over agricultural futures, via public discourses and in policy arenas?


Methodologies include qualitative, ethnographic research and systematic quantitative (scientometric) analysis of scientific knowledge produced in the two topical areas, as well as a discourse and network analysis on genesis and actual shaping of the corridors through local policy-making. The project will conduct comparative research in and on all three CRC focus regions in Kenya, Tanzania, and Namibia in order to detect generalizable patterns of the role of science for spatial planning and agriculture in these different corridor/regional development concepts


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