By Esther Penunia
AFA Secretary General
6 October 2010
Good afternoon to all of you. Am happy to be with you, to share our thoughts for the proposed next phase of the Farmers Fighting Poverty or FFP.
The Asian Farmers Association or AFA is a regional alliance formed in 2002. Currently, we have ten national FOs in eight countries in Asia, representing 10 million small scale women and men farmers, fishers and indigenous peoples. AgriCord, through Agriterra, is a consistent significant partner in our growth and development and in our fight against poverty.
Why are many of us still poor? First, many of us do not own the small lands we till. Thus we cannot decide on what, how, where to market our produce. We cannot plan long term investments on land. Second: we lack access to credit, technology, extension, roads, infrastructure, pre and post harvest facilities. Third, we lack access and control of our markets. It is the buyer who decides on the prices of our produce, we don’t have good roads, we don’t know who gives the higher price, and we don’t know how to add value to our products. Fourth, we are not the decision-makers, we are weak in terms of influencing our government’s policies and programs because we lack the numbers, the confidence to speak, the sharpness of our arguments.
How then do we fight poverty? We fight poverty by taking steps and efforts to empower ourselves – politically, socially, economically – so that we can claim our rights as citizens of our countries, of our region, of our world; so that we can decide and do by ourselves what we think we should act or do to improve our conditions, and being able to get the necessary support from others. Politically, we increase the awareness of our members about our situation and our rights. We develop our capabilities to analyze these situations, to present confidently our policy and program proposals to our governments. We organize ourselves to put pressure to our governments to listen, dialogue with us, and make laws and policies that will benefit us. Economically, we exchange experience and expertise on various sustainable agriculture technologies. We form commodity clusters, production and marketing cooperatives. We develop our capacities in making market researches, business plans, and feasibility studies. We facilitate links to markets, add value to our products, and develop direct farmer-consumer relationships.
The support of Agricord, through Agriterra, since 2003, has greatly helped us in our work for empowerment, especially since as much as 80% of our grants were from Agriterra. Now, we are an autonomous organization from our then parent NGO, AsiaDHRRA. We are recognized as a key stakeholder by intergovernmental organizations such as ASEAN, FAO, IFAD, and WTO. At the national level, Agriterra has helped the members in their work on advocacy, organizational management and enterprise development.
We are happy to know that the second phase of FFP is being pursued. We are very happy to know that the program support will be provided membership based farmers’ organizations or FOs only. Most development aid go direct to governments, then to NGOs and last to FOs. We are often considered “beneficiaries” by NGO/Government services rather than active and primary players in providing services to our members. In the Philippines, after pouring billions in NGOs and assisting them to assist FOS, most of these FOs remain weak, resource poor and cannot even hire their own core secretariat staff.
A shift of development finance going directly to FOs may change the course of the story. We believe that FOs are key pillars of social change and national development. If empowered and consolidated enough in terms of magnitude and competence, we have the potential to effect serious and substantive economic, political, and cultural changes in society. With resources to hire the services of NGO experts and service providers, we will then be taking the leadership role in development, while the former will become more directly accountable to us, their “beneficiaries”. We agree with the assertion of David Korten in Getting to the 21st Century that first party organizations, such people’s movements will be playing a major role in the global society and are key institutions that should be preferred in terms of capacity building, so we are able to acquire more economic, political, and cultural powers.
We assume here that FOs include fishers’ organizations. The small/marginal fishers consist a big chunk of the rural poor especially in archipelagic developing countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia.
We also assume here that support will be provided with priority focus to organizations of small-scale women and farmers and fishers. Big and medium-scale farmers already have the capacity to take care of themselves. Given limited resources, it would be best to channel support more if not exclusively to the empowerment of FOs.
We agree with the idea that the FFP should give support to projects of the FOs themselves. It is very important that support be responsive to our real needs, accompanying us at our respective developmental level consistent with sound best practices, that considers the importance of resource ownership/control, sustainable agriculture, producer-consumer link, effective representation in government bodies, organizations development and capacity building.
But we believe the best investment of any partner would be in the area of Organizational and Human Resource Development. We must be able to acquire effective and efficient claim-making powers so that government will take care and protect us and its resources be allocated more to us.
It is also important to provide a more long-term view of project cycles. FAO global case studies on institutional development would show that at least 10 years would be needed for a best practice or a success story to emerge.
We cannot say what exactly would be the best mix between services and advisory, but we believe more resources should go direct, to ensuring that FOs are able to employ our own staff and are able to get competent consultancy services preferably locally. We also fully agree with farmer-to-farmer approach. More resources will have to be channelled in ensuring the more advanced and competent FOs are able to assist their fellows. In AFA for example, we have farmers from “better” countries such as Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Our Thai member has learned so much from their European FO partners in terms of organizational management, policy making and cooperative management. We can inspire each other through the stories we hear and the things we see.
We also fully agree with being flexible – that timing, procedures, budgeting and reporting can be adjusted and take into account crises and changing circumstances. The log frame used as project design may have its strengths but also its limitations. Outcome mapping as a tool to measure behaviour change and to consider unintended outcomes including crises and changing circumstances may be better explored.
We also agree that FFP addresses specific deliverables, from internal organizational capacity to economic operations. We would like to add, that being comprehensive will also need to address different levels: from local to national, to regional to international, from economic to social, and to political.
There is a saying that the dream of one person will quickly die, but the dream of many persons will someday come true. It is our dream in AFA to make farmers’ groups in Asia cooperate tightly together, help each other, make our collective voices stronger. We will be implementing our second strategy plan in 2011-2015. In this plan, we hope to intensify our advocacy and claim-making efforts at national, regional and international levels in a more coordinated, synergistic manner. And we hope to be more sustainable by promoting climate resilient, integrated, diversified agriculture practices. Last but not the least, we hope to facilitate the formation of cooperatives along geographic and commodity lines, and respond to their needs to capture and add value to on-farm, post harvest and off-farm enterprises. We hope the FFP can share in these dreams as well.
Thank you for your attention.