Friday, September 12, 2014

Promoting ecological agriculture

Promoting ecological agriculture

With CPAM creating strong awareness among farming communities, many of them not only pledged to reduce pesticide use, but also wanted to move towards farming without chemicals – that is, towards organic or ecologi-cal agriculture. After the CPAM process, PAN AP’s partner Vikalpani, the Sri Lankan Women’s Federation, was motivated to work with PAN AP to organize a series of training workshops on organic farming for its members, many of whom are now practising organic agriculture in their home gardens and in their rice fields.

PAN AP has been a strong advocate for small-farm BEA as a sustainable alternative to the toxic model of modern agriculture. BEA is also a fundamental component of food sovereignty. It provides sustainable livelihoods for small farming communities and strengthens community resilience in coping with climate change. It is one of the Five Pillars of Rice Wisdom that form the foundation of PAN AP’s Save Our Rice campaign, launched in 2003. With the global food, financial and climate crises which emerged in 2008, the importance of BEA in sustaining the food security and food sover-eignty of small, vulnerable rice communities all over Asia took on greater urgency. Thus, capacity-building has featured largely in our activities in recent years as a focus area that contributed significantly towards community resilience and sustainable development.

We identified the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) as an impor-tant BEA technology for sustainable livelihoods. This was because SRI had proven to reduce production costs while increasing yields and net incomes significantly in several Asian countries over the past three decades. Two regional workshops for network partners and farmers from eight Asian countries were organized in Cambodia and India, with partner organizations Centre d’Etude et de Développement Agricole Cambodgien (CEDAC) and Kudumbam respectively acting as trainers due to their expertise in SRI. Another regional training programme on farmer empowerment, seed breeding and climate change adaptation using diversified integrated farming systems was organized for partners and farmers from 11 countries to meet the need for rice communities to learn to organize themselves, save seeds and adapt to climate change. This training was conducted by MASIPAG, a farmer-scientist partnership for development in the Philippines, due to its expertise in the areas of focus. These were fundamental areas for the sustainable development of poor rural communities.

Indigenous women preparing a nursery bed as part of the BEA training in Sarawak.

Having close network partners with BEA expertise has been very significant and a major strength for our network. With these partners, we have managed more effectively to meet the needs of our other network partners and the sectors both we and they serve. Other than training, such partners have also helped us to develop important factsheets on BEA and farmer empowerment, which have been translated by network partners into local languages to strengthen their BEA sustainability initiatives.

We also responded to local needs for capacity-build-ing in BEA where local communities were found to be struggling with low yields and incomes. Local indigenous communities in East Malaysia and small rice farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand, India, received special hands-on training in BEA and SRI skills.

All the BEA projects were very much appreciated by the participants, who said they had gained a lot from the training and who continue to practise and benefit from their new skills. Trainees have reported gains such as minimizing pest attacks by using organic pesticides they have learned to make. They have also achieved improved yields, better incomes and a more diversified diet (for example from kitchen gardens), and have even increased their adaptive capacity to climate change. Seed breeding techniques learned from MASIPAG have been upscaled at the local level in several countries, including Indonesia, Nepal, Cambodia and India.

PAN AP works with marginalized groups to ensure food security and a healthy environment farmer said of the MASIPAG training: “It widened my vision and knowledge in terms of the role of local rice seeds for farmers.” Meanwhile, network partners have shared how these initiatives have helped them build capacity to upscale BEA initiatives at the local level and empowered local communities to do better.

The capacity-building activities have facilitated the upscaling of BEA practices; built BEA skills among farmers, non-governmental organi-zation (NGO) staff, agricultural extension workers and others; and supported local action and network building. Collectively, the activities have significantly contributed to the sustainable human development of small rice farming communities in various countries in Asia.

In 2009, the rice fields of Yunnan, China, were destroyed by the rice plant hopper and we collaborated with our network partner in Yunnan, the Pesticide Eco-Alternatives Center (PEAC), to address the situation. A short study was carried out, followed by a cross-country workshop on the results, involving NGOs, academics, scientists and policymakers from China, Vietnam, Laos and Burma. In addition, we produced factsheets on the rice plant hopper and Integrated Pest Management. All these efforts were timely responses by PAN AP and PEAC to the crisis, to convince agriculturalists and policymakers that the use of pesticides actually exacerbates rice plant hopper attacks and is unsustainable, whereas BEA methods are effective and sustainable in dealing with pests.