Exiting one of the sessions at the High Level Policy Dialogue, I saw a group of nine men and women clustered around two men off to the side. The group spoke with great animation, and I felt an excitement as soon as I stepped into the circle. What were they discussing? Could it be that the next agricultural revolution was stirring up?
As it turns out, the buzz was about seeds. Two representatives from AVRD – The World Vegetable Center were telling the nine farming representatives of the Asian Farmers’ Association about their public seed gene bank. The AFA representatives were excited to discuss the possibility of obtaining new seeds, and were questioning the AVRD experts on how to do so.
And soon the conversation shifted from seeds to the vegetables themselves. Which vegetable varieties should they select to grow? How can a farmer improve the nutrition in one’s region, while appealing to local tastes, and while taking into account how well the crops will grow in the local ecosystem? (Hint from AVRD: traditional vegetables are a great place to start, or rather re-visit.)
But back to the point: just like that, farmers and researchers were discussing not just seeds and nutrition, but also the risks farmers take in adopting new strategies, the social capital needed to organize community gardens, and the need for collective action in agriculture. Direct dialogue was happening between groups which don’t always get a lot of face-to-face time, and it was going in both directions.
I learned the farmer representatives at the Dialogue had also gained from being able to engage directly with other representatives of organizations with farmer-centric programs and initiatives, such as the Asian Development Bank and the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International.
The presentations and panel discussions throughout the meeting, on the often bigger-picture investments and innovations in agricultural research, gave a great and varied background of knowledge on these topics.
But where one can really see the sparks start to catch is in the informal spaces, between the groups that don’t typically mingle with each other over snacks. However, more of these conversations could have occurred with more equal representation of the different groups.
If I would offer recommendation to APAARI for hosting similar meetings in future, it would be that smallholder farmers, youth, and women, should be more than just topics in presentations. These groups require increased physical representation at GCARD3, and other forums, because in the end, nothing really happens when we make PowerPoint presentations. Where change starts to happen is where we make connections, where we form relationships, where we allow for spaces in which these groups can challenge and inform the dialogue.
And if we can take those spaces from the hallway to the session room (in smaller, more open and equitable discussion groups where small players can better approach large players), that would be even better.
Although, one does also feel a bit more revolutionary standing in the hallway, sipping tea and learning about seeds.
This post is part of the live coverage during the #GCARD3 Regional Consultation for Asia and Pacific region. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.