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


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.

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  1. 1.

    In other words, extrinsic to the subject who only needs to use predefined rules and apply them to the situation through a deductive and decontextualized process of analysis.

  2. 2.

    For a description of the advantages and limitations of using applied theatre, according to participation levels in the theatrical approach and duration of the process, see Heras and Tabara (2014).

  3. 3.

    Dewey proposes a model of five stages: (i) awareness of the problem, (ii) understanding its construction, (iii) suggestions for possible solutions, (iv) examination of the suggestions and their consequences, (v) testing the hypotheses.

  4. 4.

    Test is the English translation of épreuve. In the Francophone world, indeed, the term épreuve has a more complex meaning, referring also to “trial”, “ordeal”, and “proof”.

  5. 5.

    Fair in the sense here of being "right", morally and ethically correct in the situation and in the response to the situation.

  6. 6.

    Defining the script opened the discussion to subjects that are rarely, if ever, broached in the framework of international research partnerships. International exchanges and the reception of researchers are governed by conventions at the scale of the research institutes, that never take into account the divergence in mandated authority that exists among the different institutes.

  7. 7.

    When only a small group defines the initial script, it is important to evaluate the effect of the framing of the play on the debates. The appropriateness of the situations is crucial. In our case, this was possible because of the long-standing collaboration between the different stakeholders. Moreover, during the forums, the spectators have had the possibility to modify the script of the play by adding scenes or characters that they feel are missing from the situations represented.

  8. 8.

    CBD, Mo’otz Kutal Voluntary Guidelines for the Developments of Mechanisms, Legislation or Other Appropriate Initiatives to Ensure the ‘Prior and Informed Consent’, ‘Free, Prior and Informed Consent’ or ‘Approval and Involvement’, Depending on National Circumstances, of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities for Accessing their Knowledge, Innovations and Practices Relevant for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biological Diversity, and for Reporting and Preventing Unlawful Appropriation of Traditional Knowledge, CBD decision XIII/18 (2016),

  9. 9.

    Research project of the Agropolis Foundation “Adaptive Governance for Coexistence of Crop Diversity Management Strategies” (CoEx) (ANR-10-LABX-001–01).



International treaty on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture


Nagoya protocol


Convention on biological diversity


Prior informed consent


Access and benefit sharing


Forum theater


Association Sénégalaise de Producteurs de Semences Paysannes (Senegalese association of peasant seed producers


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The authors gratefully acknowledge Claire Billot and Diegane Diouf for their contributions to the construction of the play. The involvement of all the actors of the Kaddu Yaraax theater company contributed to the quality of the collective debates. We also thank the organizers of farmers' seed fairs, such as the ASPSP (Association Sénégalaise de Semences Paysannes), who have made it possible to involve a wide variety of stakeholders in the forums. We would like to thank all the participants in the various forum theater performances, that made it possible to carry out a collective analysis on collaborative research practices in the field of plant genetic resources. This work has benefited from the support of the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Program (WAAPP/PPAAO 2A) through the Fonio project (CERA58ID06 SE), the CERAO projects (ANR-13-AGRO-0002), and the CoEx project that was publicly funded through ANR (the French National Research Agency) under the “Investissements d’avenir” programme with the reference ANR-10-LABX-001–01 Labex Agro and coordinated by Agropolis Foundation.

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Jankowski, F., Louafi, S., Kane, N.A. et al. From texts to enacting practices: defining fair and equitable research principles for plant genetic resources in West Africa. Agric Hum Values 37, 1083–1094 (2020).

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  • Access and benefit sharing (ABS)
  • Ethics
  • Interactional justice
  • Transdisciplinary research
  • Plant genetic resources
  • Forum theater