GFAR partner LI-BIRD demonstrates the force of collective action in enhancing the resilience of rural communities
Rampur, Dang, Nepal. A typical farming community in western Nepal, close to the fertile Terai plains. Yet like rural communities everywhere, the inhabitants of Rampur are facing challenges to their livelihood. Agriculture is largely subsistence-based and very volatile; alterations in the environment are likely to have a significant impact on food production. Moreover, as elsewhere in the region, the role of agriculture in economic development is diminishing. Aggravating factors include poor infrastructure that hampers the vivacity of local markets and limited opportunities for young people, leading them to abandon the countryside for the city. These factors threaten the very sustainability of agriculture.
A participatory approach at all levels
To put communities like Rampur in a better position to face the future, LI-BIRD, Partner in GFAR; is working with farmers to improve on-farm management of agricultural biodiversity. In cooperation with national and international partners1, LI-BIRD carried out the Community-based Biodiversity Management – South Asia (CBMSA) programme from 2008 to 2016.
The CBMSA was initiated following a regional planning workshop held in Nepal in 2008. One of the key objectives of this programme was to disseminate good practices of agricultural biodiversity management not only in Rampur, but in several locations across South Asia. Working with partners to have true impact is one of GFAR’s six workstreams, and fostering such partnerships is a key focus of the Forum. LI-BIRD’s project is an explicit example of the potential that lies in collective action and participatory approaches, both of which are at the core of GFAR’s approach. The CBMSA was organised as a regional cooperation, so while LI-BIRD coordinated regionally and locally in Nepal, different local partners coordinated their respective country programmes: UBINIG in Bangladesh, Anthra and GREEN Foundation in India and Green Movement in Sri Lanka.
Moreover, at community level, the programme was implemented with and through farmer’s organisations. Starting such organisations when they don’t exist and strengthening them when they do, has been a cornerstone of the CBMSA. In Rampur, for example, local farmer organisations are responsible for the managing community seed bank as well as for participatory crop improvement programmes.
Respecting the right of the farmer
This strategy is known as Community-based Biodiversity Management, or CBM. CBM includes a number of practices, including the establishment of community seed banks, organising diversity fairs and availing trust funds. Common to all, however, is the general idea of empowering communities by teaching them how to manage and maintain high agricultural biodiversity on the farms themselves. In doing so, CBM is a strategy that puts farmer’s right at the centre.
GFAR has a deep commitment to protecting, strengthening and increase awareness of farmer’s rights across the world. In 2015, GFAR together with the secretariat of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources (ITPGRFA), launched a joint capacity building programme on Farmers’ Rights. Since then, the issue has figured high on the agenda of GFAR and its Partners. The objectives of the programme are to increase the awareness on the rights of farmers over their seeds, including their rights to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed and propagating material; empower farmers’ communities; and promote and enhance measures implementing these rights, including the establishment of community seed banks. Community seed banks are used to conserve local crops, which in turn is key to enhance food security in rural areas.
GFAR is organising a webinar on Farmer’s Rights on 30 May. Please contact Ms. Juanita Chaves Posada for more information or write an email to GFAR-Secretariat@fao.org to register.
Overall, the CBMSA programme contributed to establishing and strengthening 31 community seed banks in South Asia. Nearly 2,000 local varieties of 62 crop species have thus been preserved and are accessible to more than 10,000 smallholder farmers. Farmers can choose crop varieties and livestock breeds as per their needs, thereby increasing their resilience to an increasingly erratic climate. Preservation of seeds also allows for research on crops in cooperation with national research institutions – with the view to develop more resilient crops. A particular success of the CBMSA in Rampur, has been the enhancement of a local rice variety, Tilki, which is now being registered at national level.
Sustainability – a key objective
One single project does not in itself represent a permanent solution to the quite serious challenges that people in Rampur and other places, face. Nevertheless, one single project can, if planned and executed with sustainability in mind, contribute to rural communities’ long-term resistance to changes in climate, to natural and man-made disasters or to the ups and downs of economic systems.
Key to the success of any such project is a participatory approach in all phases of the projects. That means an open attitude amongst implementing partners, but above all it means involving recipient communities from the onset. Partners in GFAR believe it is vital to encourage and enable communities themselves to take part in the shaping of their own future. Farmers know their surroundings and their crops better than anyone else, and that knowledge needs to be capitalised on if the project is to succeed.
The immediate successes of the CBMSA are tangible, we can count the number of community seed banks and their users, or the number of varieties that have been successfully developed. Yet the real success, will be seen by future generations, who hopefully will be able to live and farm in Rampur, in control over their future, flourishing alongside their rice crops.
1In particular the Development Fund of Norway and various farmers’ organizations, including ASOCUCH in Guatemala, FIPAH in Honduras. GEF-UNDP Small Grants Programme along with selected universities and NGOs also contributed.
Blogpost by Eva-Kristin Urestad Pedersen, GFAR Secretariat
Photo credits: 1-Lise Bjerke; 2-Pitambar Shrestha, LI-BIRD