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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.

Farmer Exchanges

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:

  • A workshop on Sustainable Livelihoods and Food Security in Bangladesh in 1998
  • Two regional Biodiversity festivals, one in Deccan in India during January 1999 and another at Bangladesh in March 1999
  • A workshop on Hill Agriculture at Nepal in August 1999.

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

The participants in the present caravan are:

  • The Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and The SAAG (Sustainable Agriculture Action Group) from Pakistan
  • The USC - Canada, Nepal network from Nepal
  • UBINIG and Naya Krishi Andolan from Bangladesh
  • The Deccan Development Society and AP Coalition in Defence of Diversity, Hyderabad, Development Research and Service Institute, Calcutta, Orissa Coalition of Voluntary Agencies, Visakha Paryavarana Samithi, Nellore District Federation of Voluntary Agencies and the Women's Collective from India.
  • The Green Movement from Sri Lanka

The Route

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.

  • They entered India through Calcutta in West Bengal on February 18th. In Calcutta they were hosted by the Development Research and Service Centre at Calcutta, West Bengal. They held a public meeting and a press meet and then proceeded to Orissa on February 19th.
  • The group was hosted by partners of ActionAid, India and held a rally, a press conference and public meeting in Orissa on 20th February. From Bhubaneswar the caravan proceeded to Visakhapatnam.
  • At Visakhapatnam they were hosted by Visakha Paryavarina Parirakshana Samiti along with the AP Coalition in Defence of Diversity. They had a public meeting, a meeting with the farmers and development activists in the District as well as a press meet.
  • From Visakhapatnam the group reached Nellore on the morning of 22nd . At Nellore they held a public meeting.
  • On 23rd morning, the caravan reached Chennai where the Women's Collective is hosting the Caravan. At Chennai they had a public meeting hosted by Women's Collective members .
  • On 24th the group left for Colombo where they were hosted for a week by the Green Movement. In Sri Lanka the Green Movement organised a series of exhibitions on Ecological Farming, public receptions and workshops for the group. They took place in cities like :

    Tholangamuwa, Kegalle, Badulla etc. These events were used to spread the message of ecological agriculture and farmers rights in Sri Lanka in support of the enormous work being one by the Green Movement.

    At Tholangamuwa the headquarters of the Centre for Human Development, the farmers came together to harvest the paddy fields of farmers which hosted a large genetic diversity. This harvest called the MILLENIUM HARVEST was the high point of the caravan to prove the commitment of South Asian farmers to biological diversity and genetic conservation in situ.

    The DDS farmers held a series of exhibitions called Diversity in the Deccan. They also visited a number of ecological farms and groups to learn and exchange experiences.