It is difficult being a small holding farmer in the world today, where everything is pitted against them. Perhaps in the world’s biggest agrarian economy for small holders = India is this so starkly real. Every year one hears of small and marginal farmers committing suicide due to unmanageable debt, crop failure, some even dying due to shock. The government does what it can in terms of covering losses and reducing social pain to small farmers, but its reach seem limited. The problem does not seem to lie where most are looking, in conventional economics and agronomics, subsidized fertilizers and pesticides and global trade efficiency.
In October 2013 aproject funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB)to promote PGS was launched. Under the Core Agricultural Support Program Phase 2, countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion(GMS), ADB envisages the GMS to be recognized as the leading producer of safe food, using climate-friendly agricultural practices and integrated into global markets through regional economic corridors. This attempt to introduce PGS at a regional level in the framework of this project is quite noteworthy. As Chris May, who is the main implementer of the project, says, who would have thought in 2004, sitting in Torres/Brazil at the first international workshop on alternative certification that PGS would slowly evolve and develop into such a buzzword. Now ADB is supporting it and finances pilot projects in 6 countries in the region.
I was invited to come to Hanoi/Vietnam to be part of the regional workshop on 5th and 6th of March and the Vietnam national workshop on 7 March. Participants represented the government as well as the civil society. For me, the response was a pleasant surprise – even though many of thecountries in the regionhave taken only small steps at exploring organic agriculture, many of the participants knew that here was something about organic and PGS that they could take back home and show that it could work. A presentation by Ms. Sununtar Setboonsarng, Southeast Asia Department/ADB set the background for the regional workshop. It was followed by a presentation by Chris May who gave a brief overview on PGS and then it was an opportunity for me to share how the process has moved in India; how IFOAM has recognized PGSat a global level and how the Indian civil society and governments have moved simultaneously on building the PGS platform.Presentations from all the other countries – Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and China (2 provinces) gave a glimpse of efforts being made in their countries.
The different experiences provided the participants with an opportunity to understand various approaches taken in different contexts. The presentation by Karen Mapusa on the efforts of POETCom (Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community) was excellent. Vitoon Panyakul’s attempt in Thailand is noteworthy – he was there in Brazil in 2004 but had sort of withdrawn after that. This revival bodes well for the region.
There was a field visit on the 2nd day and it was encouraging to see the confidence with which the Vietnamese farmers spoke about PGS. Many of the women farmers were there for the national workshop. I hope that the enthusiasm remains with the participants as they head back to their countries and organizations.
The next project-activities planned are the national workshops in Laos and Thailand in May.
Every year, Biofach India comes around and though some of the PGS Council members are there, visiting or holding fort at the IFOAM booth, this year was special as the PGS Organic Council got an opportunity to participate in the Biofach itself.
Getting everybody organized to come to the fair required a fair bit of logistical coordination as each one of the organizations and their products being displayed were varied. The organizations who put up their products were Umang, Timbaktu Collective, Deccan Development Society, Institute for Integrated Rural Development and Last Forest Enterprises. Green Foundation, one of the other members was holding fort at its own booth.
The response to the booth space was phenomenal – people streamed in all the time and there was an estimated average of 300-400 people, everyday who stopped and enquired – there was interest from 3rd party certifiers and consumers wondering how this peer review system by farmers themselves, made sense. As part of the package, we had taken along the new issue of the newsletter – in its 5th year, a new brochure and huge standees which attracted attention with their equal attention to farmers, markets and consumers. These standees were put up in a public area with the newsletter and brochure being available to all.
Even more interesting at the Biofach India was a whole session that was dedicated to alternative certification mechanisms – this session was chaired by Dr. AK Yadav, former Director of National Center for Organic Farming, India and presentations by Ashish Gupta from PGSOC/OFAI, Jennifer Chang on the Hansalim Coop in Korea and Dr. Zhou Zejiang on the efforts in China.
Organic food became the catch phrase at the panel discussion on Food Secure India organized by the Department of Food Chemistry and Food Processing of the Loyola College. While most of the panelists highlighted the need for production of organic food, the audience took the topic forward with a slew of questions on the costs, economic sustainability and the methods though which the organic food production could be taken forward. [Continue Reading Full Story]
Published in Economic Times