After three days of hard work in a remote ashram in Thailand they feel “warmed up as a community to address issues in agricultural biodiversity”. M.P. Vasimalai from India, Prosper Matondi from Zimbabwe, and Maryleen Micheni from Kenya will return to their home countries, packed with plans. Tired but inspired, these three participants of the Agricultural Biodiversity Knowledge Programme offer their thoughts on what is in stock, once they resume their daily work.
Maryleen Micheni from PELUM Kenya, a regional network on ecological land use and agriculture: “This meeting was a kind of think-tank. Practitioners in biodiversity mapped out ideas for the future and a strategic direction. It is a short-term direction, mainly designed by people from civil society organizations. So, now we will have to test our plans with research institutes, governments and the private sector. We have formulated five strategic directions: on policy and government, market and trade, developing resilient communities, information and networking, and seed and technology. We will market our strategy to other sectors.”
M.P. Vasimalai of DHAN Foundation, an NGO that brings innovations in development to root out poverty in India, intends to start ‘anchoring work’: “In South India we will go for an agrobiodiversity network on seeds, and set up action programs. It doesn’t need a lot of money to do that. And I intend to target the universities we work with. I will go back to them, and tell them that they should bring agricultural biodiversity into a poverty perspective.”
Prosper Matondi, working for Ruzivo Trust, an NGO for knowledge and best practices on land, agriculture and livelihoods in Zimbabwe: “An important message I take home is to understand the interaction between land and resources (water, fish, seed) and legislation of the market forces.”
It is not a fixed group, the participants in the Agricultural Biodiversity Knowledge Programme. At the first meeting in 2011 in Thika, Kenya, a small group from different countries attended. This second meeting, in July 2012 in Thailand, had some forty participants from five continents, mostly from civil society organizations. The third meeting, somewhere next year, envisions including other relevant stakeholders, such as researchers, policy makers and companies.
M.P. Vasimalai: “Thika was like the germination of a seed. The present meeting brought a kind of binding that will be strengthened in the future. Having many nationalities together is important. You can try to help each other. The realities of agricultural biodiversity differ per ecosystem and have a different rhythm.”
Prosper Matondi: “We had an interesting mix of participants. Some organizations came with farmers, some work at the rural level, others at the national or regional level. We could connect local issues with larger issues.”
Maryleen Micheni also appreciated the exchange between countries, but stresses that exchange between people from the same ecological zone is essential: “It is useful to map out types of seeds and share information among ourselves. On the other hand, it is good to meet people from countries that are for instance more advanced in packaging or handling.”
The set-up of the meeting in Thailand was remarkable: the green, airy grounds of a Buddhist ashram, surrounded by water and only accessible by a rope raft. The conditions were basic: no private bedrooms and bathrooms, no alcohol, no distractions but for the occasional karaoke-music from a nearby joint. The facilitator consequently coaxed participants for ideas and initiatives, and stressed their own responsibility for the success of the meeting. When touching upon these logistics, the three participants are full of praise.
M.P. Vasimalai: “The approach was quite original. The pre-planning group and the facilitator saw to it that the content came from the community and that the ownership is with the community. It was the best process for this output.” His comments meet approval of Prosper Matondi: “I like the feeling that it is our business.”
“But,” says M.P. Vasimalai, “now we have to get rooted as a community. I think this network should have a parallel system with other sectors. We talked about a community resilience fund. We can get started. We have to do something in the field now.”
Maryleen Micheni is optimistic about the future: “There is a lot of publicity going on about climate change. That is promising, because awareness is rising. It gives legitimacy to the topic of agricultural biodiversity. We have a positive approach: if you handle it well, you can make every aspect of biodiversity a part of your life.”