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Academic and strategic retreats : willful isolation for better knowledge sharing

This past summer, the YPARD community has been discussing the potential of information and communication technologies to promote the place of youth in agricultural research for development. Yet, one shouldn't underestimate the importance of face-to-face meetings that encourage an exchange of viewpoints. This type of exchange is all the more facilitated when an event has been set up specifically to promote the exchange of ideas between researchers and colleages: this is what academic and strategic retreats are for. The community retreats into an isolated place for a few days, all participants think, eat and drink together, communication tools with the outside world are limited: everything is thought out to promote a debate without any interference from daily chores and email. The French agricultural research community organised an academic retreat to reflect on “Agricultural and food systems in a globalised world” from 21 to 28 Septembre 2011 at the Cerisy-la-salle castle in Normandy. The objective of the retreat organised by CIRAD and INRA was to understand better the forces that are determining and moving the world’s food and agriculture, so as to determine possible development pathways of the different types of food and agricultural systems around the world. The location was particularly adapted to host a retreat:
  • The village of Cerisy-la-salle is only accessible by road; the nearest train station is 20 km away;
  • The Cerisy-la-salle castle dates from the Renaissance period and is a very inspiring place;
  • The dining room and plenary debate room in the library can host very large groups;
  • There is nothing much to do in the village except walking around fields;
  • Two mobile phone operators out of three did not cover the castle;
  • The wifi zone was restricted to a very small room in the old stables.
The biggest names of French agricultural research were there. Among them, there were also young researchers and PhD students. Two sessions were inserted into the programme to allow these young participants to present their research topics but also to debate with their more senior colleagues on their own youthful strategic foresight of the world’s agricultural and food systems. I was present at this meeting a bit by chance because I was a last-minute replacement for a colleague to present China’s agriculture and agricultural policies. As I had not been informed in advance of this event, I had to go back to town immediately after my presentation and I could not really benefit from the discussions and opportunities for exchange of views that this retreat must have generated. I could only be envious of the young researchers who were participating as they had the opportunity to interact and debate with the biggest names within French agricultural research during a whole week whereas I was only passing by. I am sure this interaction will have been beneficial in both directions; it should have allowed the young researchers better to comprehend the stakes involved in their future work at the service of agricultural research for development. I wonder: have they heard of YPARD?   Jo Cadilhon Agro-economist – Governance and marketing chains Centre for Studies and Strategic Foresight French Ministry in charge of agriculture http://agriculture.gouv.fr/centre-d-etudes-et-de-prospective  Email: jo.cadilhon@agriculture.gouv.fr   NB: this blog has been cleared for circulation, yet does not represent the views of the French Ministry in charge of agriculture   Castle Photo: Société Civile du château de Cerisy-la-Salle