|South Asian Farmers Caravan - a background|
|P V Satheesh, Country Animator - India, SANFEC|
SANFEC is very active in parallel to South Asian Regional Co-operation (SAARC). In such activities the network works closely with other networks such as Resistance Network, the most active network of South Asia against trafficking of women and children. The two networks organized in 1998 the SAARC People's Forum in Sri Lanka, parallel to the 10th SAARC summit held in Colombo. SANFEC members brought out a statement on the situation of food security in different countries of South Asia and formulated recommendations to governments regarding what they can do to address this problem (SAARC People's Forum, 1998). Lack of food security in rural areas of South Asia causing the migration and trafficking of people, particularly women and children, were highlighted.
Bridging the gap between formal and informal knowledge systems through interrelated and reciprocal relations is a serious challenge and must involve farmers in ways that can show the hidden strength of local and indigenous knowledge and its specific functional character and mode of operation. The experience of the members of SANFEC networks have clearly shown that farmers exchanges have triggered new and comparative knowledge as well as accelerated the discussion on and spread of ecological agriculture in the region. It is clear to the SANFEC that this could not have happened without the leadership of farmers, and particularly the women farmers.
Farmer Exchanges are an excellent educational tool and definitive mode of knowledge dissemination as the knowledge gained through the exchange is put immediately into practice.
The SANFEC therefore organises visits by farmers to other farming communities to share their own knowledge and pick up new experiences. Such visits, as the experience of SANFEC shows, not only accelerate the practice of ecological agriculture and reinforce the value of biodiversity-based production
systems, but also greatly enhance the understanding of different cultures and the diversity of the region. Having been exposed to diverse agricultural practices and culture, they will be better informed and experienced to distinguish issues that are more general to the farmers of the region as well as specific to an agro-ecological zone.
During the last two years, SANFEC has facilitated the participation of farmers in a series of activities:
These and other events undertaken by the networks have provided opportunities for involving farmers in exchanges. In addition to the experience they gained in the farming practices of that community, the interaction created cultural and social understanding. The Farmer Exchanges are being done between communities where at least one network organisation is available to follow up on the exchange. This is necessary to translate the exchange visit into practical benefits to the communities from where the farmers were selected. It is as a part of these activities that the present caravan is being held.
The participants in the present caravan are:
The caravan started from Pakistan and passed through Nepal. The Pakistani farmers were joined by Nepali farmers and travelled to Bangladesh to participate in a Biodiversity Festival held in Bhadrakali in Bangladesh.