From texts to enacting practices: defining fair and equitable research principles for plant genetic resources in West Africa

Frédérique Jankowski, Selim Louafi, N. A. Kane, M. Diol, A. Diao Camara, Jean-Louis Pham, Cécile Berthouly‑Salazar & Adeline Barnaud (2020)

Agriculture and Human Values, 37, pp. 1083-1094.

Abstract. Collaborative research practices in the field of plant genetic resources must follow the principles of fairness and equity as defined in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). In this context the concepts of fairness and equity generally refer to the substantive and procedural dimensions associated with sharing the benefits of this research. But neither term is clearly defined by these international treaties, and the meanings attributed to the concepts vary among different societies. This paper looks at the question of how to account for the diversity among value systems when conducting research that implicates diverse stakeholders and respects the requirements of fairness and equity. We incorporated an auto-ethnography method developed as part of a multi-stakeholder network involved in research projects on plant genetic resources in West Africa. A theatrical device was used as a framework for testing the principles of fairness and equity, helping us to collectively identify feelings of injustice, and explore the conditions for making collaborative research practices more ethical in ways that respect the perspectives of different stakeholders. In an environment of extensive political and socio-cognitive inequality, this approach makes it possible to explain the criteria relating to interactional justice and expectations in terms of socio-political and socio-emotional benefits. It also invites us to consider the principles of fairness and equity in a framework of ethical competence that goes beyond international directives.

Extract: “The forum puts the audience members in a reflective posture, where they are called upon to judge the different characters of the play. Members of the audience are asked to justify their conclusion and clarify the criteria used to evaluate the character’s behavior. In this context, the spect-actors submit their qualifications and interpretations in terms of the elements of tension dramatized in the play. The audience is therefore obligated to participate in the explanation of the justification criteria. Thus, the forum theater offers a methodological framework that responds to the theoretical postulates of the French pragmatic sociology (Bréviglieri and Stavo-Debauge 1999; Barthe et al. 2013). A key notion of this sociology is that of test (Latour 1988; Thévenot 2001; Boltanski and Chiapello 2007; Hennion 2017). A test is any situation in which actors experience the vulnerability of the social order, because they have doubts about what reality is. The test constitutes a moment that engenders an activity of judgement and a dynamic of reaffirmation or readjustment, of institutions and initial conceptions. The pragmatic sociology favors the analysis of situated action where uncertainty and the forms of adjustment of actors among themselves can be observed. It is more particularly concerned with the justification practices of social actors to denounce an offence or injustice (Boltanski and Thévenot 2006). It underlines the way in which operations of justification mobilize a plurality of principles of justice according to the situation. By offering participants the opportunity to express themselves from concrete interactional situations and to engage in the exploration for overcoming feelings of injustice, forum theater provides spaces for testing participants’ representations. It allows to understand the notions of justice as an ongoing practical process in which individuals participate through their justified actions rather than as an ideology or a shared belief. […]
The reference to tradition when judging the farmers’ actions is consistent with the notion of a justification of the domestic order as defined by Boltanski and Thévenot (2006). According to the authors, the reference to the domestic world appears “each time that research on fairness emphasizes personal relations between people…human beings are immediately qualified by the relationship that they maintain with their own kind” (Boltanski and Thévenot 2006, p. 206). The criteria mobilized to judge the correctness of the farmer’s behavior are primarily based on his respect for the norms and values defined by his community.” (p. 1086/1087-1088)

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