Cultures of expertise: Academics in exile and their role in the future food security agenda for Syria (SyrianFoodFutures)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: The Roslin Institute


Aims: The SyrianFoodFutures project aims to establish a network of diverse expertise between Syrian, Turkish & UK researchers, practitioners & decision-makers so that local cultural & technical knowledge & experience can be incorporated into socio-economic development & reconstruction programmes to ensure a successful transition away from humanitarian provision of short-term food supplies & agriculture inputs towards long-term contingency planning for food security & adequate nutrition.

The Challenge: Sustainable Development Goal attainment is severely compromised not only in fragile & conflict-affected countries (FCAS, such as Syria) but also in LMIC countries which host their refugee populations (such as Turkey, Jordan & Lebanon). Under conditions of protracted conflict, food production, availability, distribution & consumption is compromised with attendant effects on food insecurity & malnutrition. There is also extensive loss of in-country human & intellectual capital as academics are displaced from high risk areas as a matter of safety & security. Local knowledge, connection & expertise offered by Syrian academics in exile in the Levant is a major part of Syria's intellectual & cultural capital that has so far, been largely ignored by the intelligence gathering & analysis activities informing humanitarian responses to the crisis. Furthermore, certain cultures of expertise (such as the arts & humanities) are often de-prioritised by decision-makers & funding bodies in favour of investments in projects which improve physical capital (infrastructure, technology & agricultural inputs) & natural resources to address immediate humanitarian food & health security needs. As a result, relevant, context-specific intelligence & expertise may be neglected or excluded from IGO, NGO- or government-led social & development programmes. The consequences are that some interventions may not be compatible with consumption habits, local practices, or growing conditions; agricultural inputs (such as new cultivars) may be supplied in advance of suitability testing & without knowledge of any long-term unintended consequences on local species.

Anticipated Outcomes: This project will strengthen partnerships between UK researchers at the Universities of Edinburgh, Kent & Aberdeen, & Syrian academics Council for At-Risk Academics (Syria Programme) who are living in Syria & in exile in Turkey, Jordan & Lebanon. It will facilitate opportunities to build trusted relationships between scientists, academics & decision-makers to promote integration of cultural & technical knowledge & expertise in international decision-making & strategy development efforts for long-term future of Syria. We will use foresighting approaches (e.g. scenario planning) to create a platform for dialogue between diverse groups of stakeholders, in which we will explore a diverse set of plausible long-term futures for agriculture & food production in Syria. This will allow us to co-construct sustainable, locally-informed strategies for research & education to meet future needs. This approach will be informed & grounded by foundation research led by Syrian academics (from the arts & humanities & agriculture & food security networks within the Cara Syria Programme) to explore the history & impact of cultural & religious practice on agriculture & food production, preparation & consumption through different disciplinary lenses - including Syrian folklore & music. This will be complemented by ethnographic research about the impact of the conflict on current food environments (in Syria, Turkey, Jordan & Lebanon). The Syrian Humming Project will seek to commemorate the accompanying emotional & psychological aspects of food (in)security through an interactive online soundscape developed from a collection of hums & related ethnographic narratives from displaced Syrian communities so that these collective memories, will not be forgotten in the future.

Planned Impact

The SyrianFoodFutures project aims to mitigate the attendant effects of the loss of intellectual capital from Syria & exclusion from decision-making processes, as a result of the internal & external displacement of Syrian academics. The impacts of this project will therefore be felt most by Syrian academics living in exile, primarily in Turkey, Jordan & Lebanon but also by those who remain in Syria.

Our project will foster & enable future opportunities for Syrian academics by facilitating professional connections, collaboration, continued academic development & contribution whilst in exile through: 1) documentation & curation of local knowledge about the practical, cultural & emotional impacts of the conflict on food access, production & preparation; 2) building of local interdisciplinary research capacity & expertise in foresighting & strategic planning techniques; 3) creation of sustainable networks of expertise between Syrian academics & practitioners with other UK researchers, practitioners & cross-boundary public-private organisations involved in food security & global health governance.

This project will explore the future of food security in Syria by integration of different disciplinary perspectives on the history of agriculture, food production, preparation & consumption, through the lens of Syrian folklore, religion & music. We will identify knowledge gaps about perceived emotional, cultural & historical importance of the role of agriculture in Syria's post-conflict development process; identify impacts on Syrian stakeholders & similarities & differences in their future vision for agriculture development; explore stakeholder attitudes & preferences about different types of education & training programmes for Syrian producers; & identify barriers to uptake for different types of interventions to improve agricultural & food security. In doing so, we will develop a scientifically robust and sustainable evidence-base which offers opportunities for this newly-established UK-Syria-Turkey research consortium to build sustainable long-term research projects (which are well-aligned with Syrian priorities) and horizon-scan for suitable future funding sources.

Project outputs will include:academic peer-reviewed publications in high impact interdisciplinary journals; reports for foundation research projects & the scenario planning workshop which will be targeted to different stakeholder audiences; a sound archive of music & hums of tunes related to food production & consumption & accompanying ethnomusicological narratives which can be explicated to explore different dimensions of the impact of the conflict on food security. We will also host an end-of-project symposium to showcase outcomes of the research, invite keynote contributions from other researchers & open the network to new members and funding opportunities.

The outputs of this food security research should be of interest to local & international NGOs/IGOs working in food & health security (e.g. Minbuza, SHAFAK, SECD, SADAD, FAO, DFID etc.). Our UK-Syria-Turkey research consortium includes the Cara Syria Programme & its network of more than 300 Syrian academics in the region & in Syria. Through Dr. Shaher Abdullateef (Cara Syria) we have links to a large network of Syrian expertise in livestock, crop & soil science as well as a wider community of arts & humanities disciplines (including history, law, literature & anthropology). Together, we will build local capacity in foresighting expertise (i.e. scenario-planning) which will be of long-term use to Syrian academics who are/will be working with local and international IGO/NGOs & other stakeholder & industry groups involved in contingency planning & long-term strategic planning. The scenario-planning process itself, offers unique opportunities for dialogue, mutual learning and knowledge sharing between diverse groups of stakeholders (who may or may not have equal agency).


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