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Agriculture biologique en Martinique

Martine François
Roland Moreau
Bertil Sylvander

Part One. Synopsis and recommendations. English Version

Objectives and methods of IRQ expert group reviews in general, and the execution of the organic farming in Martinique review in particular

Marianne Berthod-Wurmser

Texte intégral

1Organic farming in Martinique is the fifth publication in the IRD's Expert Group Reviews series. Other reviews in the series are under preparation and will be published shortly. All are produced to achieve the same general objectives and are conducted by the same method. Below we sum up the broad lines of this method.

2The IRD (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement) conducts expert group reviews on commission, to shed light on issues facing society for the purposes of policy making and public debate. Making research results and researchers' knowledge available to the community at large is one of the missions of a public research body.

3However, it is not the function of a scientific establishment to propose projects for action to the pubic authorities: the choice of action is a political choice, involving consideration of other, non-scientific data. The IRD's purpose in designing the expert group review method is a more modest one: to put together the knowledge available on a given subject in the specialist literature, spell out its significance in a specific case, draw definite conclusions on which the scientists agree, identify points that are still controversial, and spell out those areas in which available findings are not sufficient to draw any practical conclusion.

4The following facts must be taken into account for conducting a useful and reliable expert review:

  • The time allowed for decision making is often much shorter than the time it takes to conduct research. Citizens require measures to be taken quickly, sometimes as a matter of urgency. The expert group review is organised to review existing knowledge in the international literature, and does not include data gathering or new, complex exploitation of data.
  • The questions asked rarely concern only one discipline: all facets of the problem must be clarified, examining the most recent literature. The IRD therefore brings together a panel of experts from a variety of disciplines. The overall conclusions are debated and agreed collectively, members taking full responsibility for them. The IRD then has the report read by outside personalities to ensure that it is complete, clearly expressed and in accordance with the international literature. The panel of experts remain masters of their conclusions.
  • Decision makers and citizens rarely understand the often hermetic language of the various scientific disciplines involved. Yet for public debate, they must have direct access to the experts' reasoning and conclusions. The experts must therefore perform two tasks: present their analyses in their usual scientific language to ensure that their arguments are "traceable", and provide a simple and fairly concise synopsis that is accessible to non-specialists.

5The schedule for the expert reviews and the form of the publications have been decided in response to these realities. As a result, the first and last stages of the review take an unusual form:

  • Even before the panel of experts is formed, the questions to be asked are drawn up by common accord between scientists and the commissioning institutions (who usually wish to involve stakeholder partners with a direct interest in the issue) at an "initial workshop". They need to agree precisely on the expectations of each party. On the one hand some questions crucial for decision making are outside the scope of a scientific review and must be excluded. On the other hand, to focus their conclusions, the scientists must be guided by a sound knowledge of the context in which the decisions will be taken. If necessary, they may want to familiarise themselves with the background facts.
  • After putting together the data and analyses provided by each expert in their own field of competence, the panel collates the knowledge and opinions of a dozen or more experts. The result must be organised in the form of a readable published synopsis. Researchers working in the solitude of their laboratories are rarely familiar with this type of task and they have little time to accomplish it. The synopses, which represent a great deal of work put together in an unusual form, often have a scientific and practical scope that reaches far beyond the region or country concerned. The synopses are therefore routinely published bilingually, in French and in English.

6The same approach has been taken for the Organic farming in Martinique review.

7The review was commissioned by the Department authority (Conseil General) of Martinique. Before deciding whether to encourage or facilitate the development of organic farming as a possible alternative to current unfavourable trends in Martinique's farm sector, the Conseil General wanted clarification on the exact nature of organic farming. It wanted to know the currently known technical and financial data on organic farming and the potential for its development, with its foreseeable advantages and disadvantages, in Martinique.

8The specifications drawn up at the initial workshop consisted of six questions (see Annex 1). A panel of seventeen scientists was formed, chaired by Bertil Sylvander (see panel members' list in Annex 2). The experts spent a few days in Martinique, where they had some forty meetings with stakeholders. Ten other specialists were also asked for opinions or contributions. All in all, some 700 bibliographical references were consulted. At the initiative of the Conseil General, a presentation of the main conclusions of the review was organised at Fort de France, at which the experts took note of additional questions and comments which they have endeavoured to take into full account. The report was then submitted for peer review to four external reviewers whose observations also led to improvements in the presentation of the report.

9In accordance with the format chosen for this series, the reader will find the synopsis and the panel's conclusions in the book itself, in French and English. The eight analytical chapters on which the synopsis is based will be found on the CD in the book's cover.

10Our sincere thanks go to all who kindly contributed to this publication. The experts themselves and their chairman Bertil Sylvander are to be thanked for all the work they put into the review. Thanks also to the personalities who made expert contributions or discussed their experience in Martinique with panel members, and the scientists from various research institutes in the Caribbean who shared their knowledge, data and opinions on the early versions of the report. Many thanks also to Urs Niggli (FIBL), Lukas Kilcher (FIBL) and Isabelle Savini (INRA) for their thorough and competent reading of the review.

© IRD Éditions, 2005

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