Learning by doing

Food Security,Knowledge brokering28 Feb 2011Victor Langenberg

Bless the energy in the conference room. A wide variety of experts covering several disciplines joined in the NASAC-KNAW scientific conference on the impact and adaptation to climate change in relation to food security.

By bringing international and national expertise together on pressing food security issues, working and debating together, we acknowledge the large number of capable people from Africa who have committed themselves to finding new solutions to the changes and risks ahead.

Many of us were inspired to join in on a steep learning curve that was formed by the information and knowledge shared by the respective presenters from all over Africa and The Netherlands.

New scientific developments related to the field of food security were put forward. New knowledge showed a clear increase in the complexity of the interaction of biophysical and social systems that is crucially important to determine the future base for safeguarding the food security needed in a warming world.

More underlying causal linkages between pressures and impacts were established, although mostly rather confined in time and place. Nevertheless, several problems that are known to have existed in Africa for a long time now suddenly are seen as being mainly coupled to climate change, although solid scientific proof for that is lacking or circumstantial. This adds unwanted bias to the climate change discussion. Focus on key impacts and the construction of adaptations must be the leading issue here.

Moreover, talks often covered threats, new work drawing attention to seemingly new problems, while the reintroduction of a more dynamic environment certainly also creates new opportunities in new areas. This was for example shown by the reports of success from areas where communities showed commitment to only a slightly better use of available resources: water is often available and lasts far longer if used more efficiently and wisely. Thus for some communities the solutions are clearly within reach already.

The need to involve indigenous knowledge, and to close the ever-present gap between policymakers and environmental and social scientists again became very clear. Closing that gap through workable ways of communication or visualisation depends on a change of mind-set at both scientific level and at policymaking level. Both are needed.

Several disciplines and sectors reported on comparable climatic change mechanisms impacting different levels of the society. A need for working better together is obvious for tackling these changes ahead. However, in interdisciplinary or better intradisciplinary context, the best experts doing their utmost within their boundaries need to be bridged by a new group of experts that understand and talk the language of both sides. This is crucial to establish a lasting connection between experts that should continue with those subjects they are good at so that data can percolate up in society into information, into knowledge and into wisdom to adapt to the future scenarios.

Lastly, the overall issues are pressing and we cannot wait any longer and simply report on more unwanted change. We have to focus, set targets, be objective, and start with what we know (and that is quite a lot) and what we don’t know we learn by doing.