Is ‘leaving no one behind’ a truly inclusive statement? If so, what about people living with impairments or disabilities?
The overarching theme of the Third Global Conference for Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD 3) was ‘No one left behind: Agri–food Innovation and Research for a Sustainable World‘. During the conference there was increased recognition of the need to include farmers as equal partners in the research process. In his opening statement, Dr Mark Holderness, Executive Secretary of GFAR, called for breaking down the barriers and putting farmers at the center as partners. It was encouraging to hear the call for a collective voice and action at all levels. But how inclusive is this collective voice? Are people living with disabilities also getting their share?
Sadly, in my experience, they are not. Many research and development programs specially focus on youth and women. Yet very little, or no attention at all, is given to people living with disabilities. The dominant perception is that they are DISABLED – full stop. In many rural areas, they are seen mostly as a curse. Personally, I grew up with the misconception that they belong behind closed doors. But this perception changed completely when I began to work at a special school for learners with multiple impairments 15 years ago. This challenged me to turn over a new leaf and I began to understand and appreciate them better. Seeing the disabled as people first helped me to see their disability in a new light. Disability is a barrier, yes, but it is a barrier that can be managed. I began to see them not as disabled people, but rather as people living with disabilities. When given the necessary support and devices, their ability is unleashed in an amazing way.
So how can people with disabilities be included in agricultural research and development?
Agriculture is a key driver for poverty alleviation and food security across in the developing world. However, it is one of the sectors where people living with disabilities face prejudice and exclusion. Collective voice and action in agricultural research and development must include them. Further, adopting the ‘No one left behind’ theme, the needs of people living with disabilities need to be explicitly prioritized.
In my experience of working in a special school, I have discovered that learners are not homogenous, but have different levels of disability. For some, only very low-level support is required to foster their talents. With the skills-oriented curriculum we employ, we can provide gardening and agri-food processing activities. Though currently only small scale, these have great potential to be expanded.
The role of social media
During GCARD3, I attended a social media training boot camp. This was an eye opener for me. The social media revolution is both challenging and exciting. The most important realization was how these tools could be beneficial for people living with disabilities, even in the agricultural research and development context. Social media can give them an opportunity to market their products. People with speech, eyesight, hearing and mobility impairments can also use different tools of social media creatively to express themselves and communicate with others. They can access information and connect with the world so they no longer feel alienated.
If leaving no one behind is to be realized fully, it requires a radical shift in attitude and perception of all stakeholders at all levels. This means applying the principle of seeing the ‘person first’ and not the disability.
Blogpost and photo by Nkhensani Khosa, #GCARD3 Social Reporters- nkhens.kk(at)gmail.com
This post is part of the live coverage during the #GCARD3 Global Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, 5-8 April 2016. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.