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Agrarian policies must be formulated and implemented with genuine participation, says Saronjini Rengam of the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty.
Saronjini V. Rengam is responsible for the overall programme planning, development and implementation of Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP). She is also in charge of building and strengthening the network in the Asia-Pacific region. And, as if this doesn’t keep her busy enough, Mrs. Rengam is also the former chair of PAN International, a global network working to eradicate pesticide problems, and promoting food sovereignty and ecological agriculture. She is currently co-chairing the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty, a global network of grassroots groups working towards food sovereignty.
No, agricultural issues were not very high on the agenda in Accra. This said, however, Round Table 8 did clearly highlight the need for a renewed focus on rural development in order to alleviate poverty in developing countries, since the majority of the world’s poor (up to 75 percent) live in rural areas. And many of the interventions considered and the posters displayed in Accra clearly highlighted the work in rural areas.
There was space for intervention during the roundtables. However, since so many countries and groups wanted to intervene, somehow the voices of the small farmers and rural women were not heard. In addition, not many representatives from rural areas were able to participate at all, for several reasons.
First, there is a lack of awareness of the processes and the issues that were discussed in Accra among small farmers and rural women. In addition, it is not clear for them how these processes and issues may have an impact on their daily lives.
Second, small farmers and rural women are seldom involved in their country’s development processes. This means it is hard for them to gain ownership of development. They are excluded.
Third, there were concerns that agricultural policies and development agendas are driven by donors. And lastly, the processes for accreditation to forums such as the HLF in Accra are cumbersome.
First of all, it is important for rural civil society organisations (CSOs) and people’s movements to be included. The donor agencies should institutionalise mechanisms to genuinely consult rural CSOs and people’s movements and allow them to participate.
In addition, it is also important to build capacity and awareness of the issues in a systematic way, so that rural stakeholders can become organised and able to respond to the issues and assert their right to participate.
We must also ensure that the full range of people’s organisations — small rural producers, rural women and marginalised groups — are involved in the development of policy and the implementation of plans at both national and local levels. There must be clear processes for consultation with the diverse groups that represent different constituencies.
We also need to develop mechanisms and institutionalise the participation of rural CSOs and people’s movements at national and international levels. For example they should participate in national economic strategy planning units or in international bodies. It is also important to ensure that their suggestions and recommendations are taken seriously, and are included in development agendas and policies, since these will have a direct impact on their lives and livelihoods.
Peasants, fishermen, rural women and indigenous people have all been demanding genuine agrarian and fisheries reforms for decades — reforms that will give them access to land, seas, marine resources and seeds. They also need appropriate technologies — those that are based on their own agro-ecosystems and culture, and that are healthy and environmentally sustainable opposed to expensive, unhealthy and unproven technologies from elsewhere that encourage dependency.
Achieving this means supporting local research, development and marketing. Thus, at national levels, policies should be implemented that support genuine agrarian reform, not just access to land. And these policies must be implemented with the participation of poor rural communities. Studies show that the lives of the rural poor have improved in countries, where such measures have been taken.
Unfortunately, the recent increases in food prices have spearheaded a worsening situation for the rural poor. However, the price rises have also caused global concern and that has brought the rural development agenda to the forefront. But global institutions mainly recommend increasing agricultural productivity, using more technology and accelerating the conclusion of the Doha negotiations of the WTO, without addressing the root causes of the crisis and of hunger in general. These are inherent structural causes that include how we distribute land and other natural resources and how food is produced and distributed, as well as the policies imposed on developing countries such as Structural Adjustment Programmes and WTO agreements that have led to systemic imbalances in agricultural production and trade in the last few decades. The increase in food prices has also not translated into higher farm gate prices for agricultural products. So the small producers of food are left even more impoverished. Thus, increasing productivity in agriculture does not automatically translate into improved lives for the rural poor.
Yes we do, but in addition, the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action should be implemented in the agricultural sector. Ownership of development, alignment of efforts and mutual accountability, as well as participation of CSOs and people’s movements, must be basic principles in agricultural development, just as in any other sector.
For more information and relevant documents, visit our page:
Agriculture and the Accra HLF 3
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