Community-based participatory action research (or CBPAR) has an important role in grounding global advocacy and collaboration on environmental justice and is one way to collaborate with higher education institutions that focus research on social and environmental concerns of partner communities.
Dr Christopher Bacon, associate professor at the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences of Santa Clara University (SCU) and co-founder of SCU’s Environmental Justice and Common Good Initiative, presented Community-based research on food and water justice: Methods and process of accompaniment during the Ecojesuit Meeting 2023 where he shared insights gained from long-term community-based participatory action research partnerships and how agroecology serves as a framework for food systems change and advancing food and climate justice.
The need to strengthen collaboration between Jesuit universities on food and water justice for effective collaboration and advocacy was emphasized by Father Michael Garanzini SJ, President of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU), during the SCU Climate and Environmental Justice Conference in April.
Dr Bacon discussed approaches to CBPAR and shared learnings from his team’s research in Central America entitled Learning resilience: Household and institutional responses to multiple livelihood threats in the context of Hurricanes Iota and Eta in northern Nicaragua. The CBPAR process starts with partnerships and forming long-term relationships with communities in advancing interdisciplinary research while building trust throughout the process.
Dr. Bacon and his research team partnered with farmer cooperatives of smallholder coffee producers in the Segovias region of Nicaragua and undertook mixed-methods: water insecurity measures, a socioeconomic survey that tackles food security and diversity, and interviews with farmers on livelihood, market, and context. A crucial part of the process is to share and discuss results with community partners.
Dr. Bacon also provided information that are helpful in advancing the advocacy to promote agroecology, especially as 78% of studies found evidence of the positive contributions of agroecology to food, nutrition, and water security. He mentioned the following:
- Agroecology is a participatory and action-oriented science that redesigns food systems with the goal of achieving ecological, economic, and social sustainability.
- Agroecology is a social movement and process that fosters farmer-to-farmer and consumer-producer exchanges intended for the continuous co-creation of agricultural knowledge.
- Agroecology is a key discussion point in local and global food and climate policies. The Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism (CSIPM) operates within the UN Committee on World Food Security, and is the largest international space for civil society organizations (CSOs) working to eradicate food security and malnutrition.
- Agroecology contributes to climate resilience and food sovereignty through diversification and co-creation of knowledge.
The 2023 edition of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reveals that between 691 and 783 million people faced hunger in 2022, with a mid-range of 735 million, around 9.2% of the global population compared with 7.9% in 2019. This represents an increase of 122 million people compared to 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report also has grim findings for the food security and nutrition situation in 2022 with approximately 29.6% of the global population, equivalent to 2.4 billion people, with no constant access to food, as measured by the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity. Among them, around 900 million individuals faced severe food insecurity.
At the frontlines are smallholder farmers sustaining the landscape and producing one-third of the food that people eat. The impacts of a changing climate, violence, inflation, political unrest, and injustices exacerbate existing vulnerabilities. Amid these realities, diversification is emerging as a key strategy in food and water security, affirming the need for a food systems transformation through agroecology.
FAO defines agroecology as “a holistic and integrated approach that simultaneously applies ecological and social concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable agriculture and food systems.”
In response to Dr Bacon’s presentation, the Ecojesuit Meeting 2023 participants appreciated the inputs and shared the following:
- Agroecology is also a political and justice issue. In 2020-2021, farmers in Punjab, India held protests that led to the revocation of agricultural policies that are perceived as anti-farmer. Policy-level interventions are critical to uphold traditional knowledge of farmers and safeguard their rights.
- CBPAR is a process of accompaniment in which researchers build relationships with communities through shared goals, active involvement of people from community in undertaking the research, and helping the community understand the results. Researchers need to ensure that community knowledge is not being mined.
- Working with universities helps the social apostolate reach local farmers in securing food and water sovereignty. This joint venture also grounds an evidence-based advocacy leading to a socio-political lobby.
The need to transition to agroecology through a faith-based response gained greater recognition among the participants and posits a genuine challenge for the Ecojesuit network and its partners in helping advance food, nutrition, and water security within and beyond institutions and communities.