MTCP2 Southeast Asia Sub-Regional Steering Committee meeting held in Cambodia. Image: MTCP2
Our introduction to the farmer leaders from Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos and Indonesia at the meeting of the Medium Term Cooperation Programme with Farmers’ Organisations in Asia and the Pacific Region Phase II (MTCP2) launch event in Cambodia, started with a ‘hot potato’ game designed to re-energise the participants after a morning field visit and a sumptuous Cambodian meal by making everyone launch, cry and walk like ducks. It could not have been a better opening to build bonds! And that is what we were there to do. Grow Asia’s core aim is to help smallholder farmers produce more food at better quality and to increase their incomes while contributing to food security and rural economic development. Yet we don’t often have the opportunity to meet with leaders of farmer associations and hear about their experiences and get their advice on how to engage farmers directly. Of course, all projects in the Grow Asia Country Partnerships work directly with farmers reaching more than 100,000 farmers across 28 projects in four countries. However, often the farmer perspective is represented by other stakeholders including NGOs, governments, and even companies. And so we were delighted to be invited by the Asian Farmers Association to join this meeting to have a dialogue on how to engage farmer associations in Grow Asia.
We were there to invite the leaders to establish a Farmer Advisory Council for Grow Asia to match the Business Council and Civil Society Council we have in place – as we are keen to ensure that farmer advice is available to inform strategic decisions for Grow Asia, to engage in projects on the ground, to support innovation, and to measure impact. We recognise that we need to work with farmer organizations to have impact at scale through expansion and replication of pilot projects.
We were impressed by the thoughtfulness and deliberation that they brought to the discussion and their openness to engage. We also realised that this will be a process requiring trust building and dialogue between all the Grow Asia partners. While the farmer leaders recognized the opportunity to shape the projects within Grow Asia and work directly with companies, governments and other stakeholders, they did have concerns about the power balance between stakeholders, the motives driving company investments, the benefit that farmers would derive. Will independent farmer organizations be recognized and engaged (and not just government supported ones)? Will farmers be able to choose the technology they want to use? Will the advice given be impartial and in the best interest of farmers? We agreed that the most fruitful engagement will need to be at a country level and Grow Asia could facilitate that engagement and also provide a trust guarantee. And that this will be a slow process.
Similar questions and concerns need to be answered in developing innovative mobile based solutions. Who is providing the advice? Who gains? Who pays? How is the service tailored to local language, local need and also local mobile presence and use patterns?
As the farmer leaders consider our offer to partner, we have work to do as well. We need to listen better, to respond better, to empower more. All partnerships are built on trust and trust is built slowly one step at a time. This is our first step.
Kavita Prakash-Mani Executive Director, Country Partnerships