South-South Cooperation Forum centers on sustainable agriculture, SDGs, women, & youth

South-South Cooperation Forum centers on sustainable agriculture, SDGs, women, & youth

Around 70 farmer leaders, farmer organization representatives, government representatives, and scholars from South Asian countries as well as international development partners participated in the “South-South Cooperation Forum: Promoting Sustainable Family Farming Agriculture to Achieve SDG 1 & 2” held at Park Village Hotel, Kathmandu, Nepal on 14-16 December 2017.

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Secretary General Amjad Hussain B. Sial graced the event and officially opened the forum by leading the panash, a ceremonial lighting of a traditional Nepali lamp. In his speech, SecGen Sial thanked the organizers for bringing in representatives from government, non-government entities and international organizations for such an important forum. He stressed that the presence of all the participants is a testimony to their commitment to promote sustainable agriculture. He noted that the forum is significant for SAARC because sustainable farming is among its priorities.

“I am confident that this forum will provide a welcome opportunity to the participants to share the best practices and experiences and make recommendations for the promotion of sustainable agriculture, with the emphasis on involvement of women and youth, for achieving SDG 1 and 2”, he said.

South Asia and the SDGs

Additionally, SecGen Sial said that SAARC has initiated an inter-governmental process to contextualize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the regional level. The member states of SAARC are also already integrating and aligning SDGs into their national plans for implementation. “Since SDG 1 and SDG 2 are directly related to ending poverty and hunger, SAARC attaches high priority to these goals. I must emphasize that ensuring food and nutrition security is impossible without advancement of sustainable agriculture,” he added.

Dr. Suroj Pokharel of the Ministry of Agriculture of Nepal also joined the opening of the forum and welcomed everyone to Kathmandu. He said that despite the remarkable achievement of the millennium development goals (MDG), millions of people all over the world remain in poverty. He also stressed that it is important to work on SDGs 1 and 2 which lead to zero hunger, SDGs 8 and 13 for climate action, and SDG 17 for partnership.

In her welcome remarks, Kaori Abe, Program Officer for Partnerships and Resource Mobilization of FAO, also called the attention of the participants to the SDG, particularly 1, 2 and 17. According to her, the SSC Forum is the first time for FAO to meet SAARC member countries for a guided discussion and to share experiences in the context of achieving SDG goals. Additionally, Abe explained that food and agriculture are central to the SDG goals and smallholder farmers have critical roles in ending hunger and achieving food security. “Small farmers are strategic partners and not mere beneficiaries to achieve the 2030 agenda. They need better access to more profitable markets if they are to escape poverty and food insecurity”, she suggested.

Dr. Pradyumna Raj Pandey, Senior Program Specialist SAARC Agricultural Center, said that all the 17 SDGs are directly and indirectly related to agriculture. Thus, it is not possible to reach SDG goals without sustainable agriculture.

South Asia is the oldest home to agriculture, according to Dr. Keshab Khadka of ANPFa. The region comprises of 4.77 M square kilometers of land—about 55% of which is arable or agricultural land. However, the agricultural trans-national corporations dominate the food industry in the region. Around 60% of South Asians are poor and 400M people are undernourished. To address these issues, Dr. Khadka proposes that the region move towards food sovereignty based on agro-ecology: seed water and farm sovereignty, agrarian revolution worldwide and cooperation between government and farm organizations.

Women farmers in South Asia

The situation of women farmers in South Asia was also discussed during the forum. Clara Mi Young Park, Gender Rural and Social Development Officer of FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, explained that women in South Asia have limited opportunities to access or own land and other productive resource in their own name.

“Opportunities for women to fully benefit from and contribute to the region’s economic dynamism are stunted by discriminatory social institutions hampering women’s rights to inherit, own, and/or control land and assets, including their own income,” she said.

According to Park’s presentation, almost 70% of employed women in South Asia work in agriculture. However, women have small share of wage employment in agriculture and over representation in unpaid work. There is also a higher prevalence of part-time, seasonal, and low-wage work for rural women than for men. Gender differences in education are also widespread. Moreover, Park explains that in rural areas, women tend to have less education than their male counterparts. She also expounded that agriculture is feminized in Bangladesh and Nepal, and is feminizing in Bhutan, Pakistan and other SA countries. Feminization of agriculture, as she explained, is a response to key global drivers including migration, the growth of commercial farming, and climate change.

The situation of women in agriculture in Bhutan, India and Nepal were also presented. According to Kuenga Namgay of Ministry of Agriculture and Forests of Bhutan, there are more women than men in the agriculture sector in Bhutan. The work that women do are mostly in production and marketing of vegetable, fruit and livestock products. The country follows a matrilineal land inheritance thus 60% of rural women in the country have land ownership.

Meanwhile in India, Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) has been extending help to women in agriculture and rural areas by building their capacities to be self-reliant and find full employment. According to Alpa Dave, SEWA’s interventions are done through an integrated approach—organising, provision of technical trainings, inputs, and tools and equipment, as well as finance and credit and market support. Bharati Pathak, Secretary General of Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN) related how she and other women farmer leaders from Nepal had an opportunity to visit SEWA in Gujarat where they gained many experiences. She said that their organization would want to learn from their experience and adopt this in Nepal as well. Many other participants of the forum commended SEWA for their initiatives.

Youth in Agriculture in South Asia

According to Dr. N. S. Rathore, Deputy Director General of ICAR Headquarters in India, South Asia can be considered as young because it has an increasing percentage of young people. Around 75% of the region’s population is below 35 years. Majority of this population are poor people living in rural areas who mostly rely on agriculture for livelihood. Dr. Rathore pointed out that the youth face a lot of challenges thus, he suggested that there should be an improved inclusion of youth in education and greater participation of youth in decision making for development and livelihood generation.

To address the issue of declining population of youth going into agriculture, the government of Sri Lanka has been implementing programs to attract the youth into agriculture including Young Farmers Club which aims to improve the knowledge and income of the youth and for them to provide agricultural development for their country. Through this program, activities for the youth have been conducted including field visits, camps, exhibitions among others and small level projects have been implemented as well. S. Amal Arunapriya, Director-Extension & Training Department of Agriculture of Sri-Lanka, shared about the Sri Lankan government’s experiences in implementing this program and the other initiatives they have undertaken including introducing novel technologies/farm machinery to the youth, and promotion of entrepreneurship in agri-business.

Youth representatives Kinley Tshomo of Haa Valley Cooperative (Bhutan) and Pramesh Pokharel of Youth Peasant Federation and Youth ICC (Nepal) also shared about their experiences as young people involved in agriculture and their initiatives in their respective communities/organizations.

Promoting sustainable agriculture, forestry, and fisheries and seed sovereignty

Forestry and agro-forestry is also a key topic during the South-South Cooperation Forum. Dr. Kabir Uddin Ahmed of the Ministry of Agriculture of Bangladesh shared about the traditional agro-forestry system of Bangladesh as well as the constraints they face and the government programs for sustainable agro-forestry.

Racchya Shah, facilitator of the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF) Program in Nepal, introduced the program, its objectives, its accomplishments so far, lessons learned, and what the program wants to leave behind and take forward. FFF is implemented in alliance with farmers’ organizations. In Asia, AFA is a regional alliance of FFF. FFF is a program being realized by farm and forest producers.

The state of family forestry in Nepal was discussed by Jograj Giri of the Association of Family Forest Owners of Nepal (AFFON). According to him, AFFON, since its inception has been lobbying to ensure family forest friendly policies are established. The organization also intends to focus that the rights of FF owners are established at local levels.

Indika Somasiri of Sri Lanka, shared about the agri-forest gardens of women farmers in her country. Kandyan Home Gardens is where women farmers in Indika’s community practice eco-farming and plant various crops. Through the collective efforts of farmers, FO activities and entrepreneurs from farmer families, the community produces quality crops from these gardens. But they don’t just stop at production, they also add value to their crops. Among Indika’s recommendations include adoption of pro-smallholder farmer policies, provision of training and capacity-building, providing initial capital with low interest and providing sales facilities in government structures.

CSOs from South Asia also shared about their experiences in promoting sustainable agriculture. Helal Uddin of ActionAid (AA) Bangladesh shared AA’s experience on agroecology in South Asia. AA operates in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan—areas that experience extreme climate situations such as flood and drought. AA promotes resilient agriculture to help the farmers. Bikash Paudel of Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD) also shared their good practices such as participatory crop improvement, developing and mainstreaming home gardens, utilization and promotion of local crops through breeding and seed production, multi-cropping, and community seed banks. Kanchan Lama discussed about the GAFSP project in Nepal which is being implemented by in 19 districts since 2013. The project aims to enhance food and nutrition security of targeted communities in selected locations of Nepal.

On sustainable fisheries, H.M.K.J.B. Gunarathna of the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development or Sri Lanka shared good practices by the Sri Lankan government which have been implementing programs to address food security and nutrition for up-country state workers in the country. The key issues they aim to address are depleting fishery resources, increasing price of marine and processed fish, and insufficient fish production to cater the minimum demand. To resolve these issues, the government raised awareness among the people and also provided infrastructures such as tanks or reservoirs, and ponds to the people. Additionally, Gunarathna said that the fisheries sector in Sri Lanka drafted a national policy based on SDGs 1, 2, 5, and 14 and also considering 7, 12, and 13. In order to achieve the SDGs, he recommended that development should be done in an entire community, not just in one area or sector, and collaboration is needed particularly for groups with the same objectives.

Herman Kumara of the World Forum of Fishers Peoples (WFFP) also shared about the good practices from their experience in implementing Kattu Del Fishery (KDF), a traditional fishing practice in Negombo Lagoon in Sri Lanka. KDF aims to share limited seafood catch equitably among Catholic fisher communities operating in the lagoon. Among the lessons learned from this project are the importance and effectiveness of community engagement on management of resources, equitable sharing of resources, food and income security and control of competition.

The seed situation in South Asia was also tackled during the three-day forum. Dr. Tayan Gurung, Senior Program Specialist of SAARC Agricultural Center discussed about the SAARC seed situation, SAARC seed bank board, and SAARC seed forum. Meanwhile, Dr. Hari Bahadur K.C. of the Ministry of Agricultural Development of Nepal shared about how the government of Nepal is responding to the issue of farmers on seeds by discussing the government’s policies and programs on seed sector development and seed sovereignty. The initiatives of Bangladesh FOs on seeds was shared by Mujibul Munir of COAST Trust Bangladesh, while Shazada Begum, Vice-Chairman of AFA and President of Kendrio Krishok Moitree (KKM) shared about FO initiatives on seed enterprise.

The participants were also asked to discuss and share about the good practices of young farmers, women farmers, government, and FOs that they appreciate, and their recommendations to further improve or replicate these practices. Many of the participants voiced their appreciation for SEWA’s initiatives because of its holistic approach in empowering women in the entire agriculture value chain. The delegates also noted the increased participation of women in food production, the enhanced decision-making power and leadership of women, as well as understanding, recognizing, and strengthening women’s role in value chain is important. The participants also expressed appreciation on good practices and initiatives by CSOs and the government including training and capacity-building, youth programs, community seed banks, federation of farmers groups and cooperatives, among others.

Prevalent recommendations from the participants include: conducting more of thematic sharing of good experiences to further learn from the experiences in other countries, maximizing the use of social media in agriculture, re-imaging agriculture to attract the youth, sharing of workload between men and women and land ownership/inheritance/entitlement to women and girls. It was also reiterated that partnership and collaboration is important particularly for groups that share the same objectives.

The South-South Cooperation Forum in South Asia is organized by FAO, AFA and MTCP2 and with additional support from FFF, World Rural Forum and GAFSP.

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