How can the impact of climate change on arid lands and on the poor people living in such areas be minimized and their sustainable livelihoods protected?
This was the subject of a UNFCCC COP15 side event organized by IFAD on 11 December, within the framework of the IIED Development and Climate Days.
The Dr Byen University setting, only two metro stops from the Bella centre where the Copenhagen Climate Change negotiations were taking place, provided a perfect setting for bringing together a large number of participants, observers from the negotiations and academicians from the University, and foster a constructive discussion on the implications of climate change in arid lands.
The panel consisted of members from International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Global Mechanism (GM). The session was chaired by Rodney Cooke, Director of IFAD's Technical Advisory Division.
The event provided a unique opportunity to share IFAD’s own experience in integrating climate change issues in project portfolio through Country Strategic Opportunities Papers (COSOPs) such as that in Viet Nam and Chad as well as environmental screening of IFAD projects and the development of IFAD’s corporate strategy towards the mainstreaming of the climate change dimension in its project activities. The event also highlighted the relevance of drylands ecosystems with regards to rural development, and addressed the specific impact of climate change on these particularly fragile environments. Panelists discussed how climate change resilience can be promoted in arid lands ecosystems, through investments or otherwise.
Atiqur Rahman, Policy Coordinator, opened the session by providing a detailed overview of the magnitude of the problem, and addressed the adverse impact of climate change on the more than one billion people whose livelihoods largely or totally depend on arid lands ecosystems. He outlined four sets of issues which were then discussed in details by the other four panelists.
Peter Holmgren, Director, Environment Climate Change and Bioenergy Division , FAO, discussed the potential for mitigation in arid areas, notably through sustainable land management, afforestation, and agroforestry.
Ced Hesse, Principal Researcher, Climate Change, IIED, gave a vivid account of the crucial social and economic role played by pastoralists in Africa’s drylands. He emphasized their importance in ensuring economic development, sustainable land management and peace in a changing, increasingly unstable and variable environment.
Nadim Khouri, Director of IFAD’s Near East and North Africa Division, emphasized the need to build on vulnerable people’s own livelihoods strategies to devise efficient investments under harsh climatic conditions. He stressed the urgent need for better models to be developed in order to be able to predict the impact of climate change, specifically for arid areas, and for countries and rural communities to internalize such models in their development strategies.
In the concluding intervention, Alejandro Kilpatrick, GM’s Programme Coordinator for Latin America and for the Climate Change Programme, highlighted the value of drylands, to be seen in its economic, social , and financial dimensions. He gave a detailed overview of the current and anticipated sources of funding available to arid land ecosystems, and their relevance in addressing the adverse impact of climate change in these areas.
The presentations were followed by an interesting discussion with members of the audience. Issues were raised on the possibility of using local and indigenous knowledge and whether large scale investments could crowd out local initiatives which provided the backbone of autonomous adaptation for centuries, the need to adjust to increasing variability of climate both in terms of institutional development as well as using flexible project designs, the use of land rights and access to resources in innovative ways to overcome the ‘tragedy of the commons’, the developing early warning systems, and the reuse of wastes through anaerobic systems.
Most of the populations living in drylands are, in fact, amongst the poorest of the poor: investing in drylands is therefore crucial, and so is the recognition of the value of drylands ecosystems and traditional activities such as pastoralism.
The chairman concluded the session pointing out towards the opportunities to harness financing for climate change in support to drylands, both from the carbon market and from the funding for adaptation to climate change, but there is a need to better position the issues at stake into the development agendas of donors and governments. The UNFCCC COP might identify more opportunities that are emerging, such as REDD, REDD+ and adaptation funding.
It’s not often that I get a chance to sit in a theatre with an audience while they’re watching one of the documentaries I produce at IFAD. On Friday 12 December, during COP15 in Copenhagen, I had that chance.
“The President’s Dilemma” – a television documentary we originally created for BBC World News in September – was screened at a film festival organized by International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) as part of it’s “Development and Climate Days” side event.
The President’s Dilemma tells the story of Anote Tong, the President of Kiribati – a nation made up of 33 low-lying atoll islands in the middle of the Pacific Oceans. Climate scientists predict that much of Kiribati could be under water in as little as 30 years due to rising sea levels caused by climate change. Tong’s “dilemma” is to decide what to do with the country’s 108,000 residents and how quickly to act. He resists the idea of mass migration which he says would turn his people into “climate change refugees” but, at the same time, he realizes time is not on his side and that he needs to address immediate problems, like growing poverty and shrinking food supplies, as evironmental conditions worsen.
Programmed during a session that featured five films exploring the impact of rising sea levels on island states, my role was to introduce the film and then answer questions from the audience. The film was the last one in the session, following stories from Samoa and Tuvalu. The reaction was extremely positive and gratifying with more requests for DVD copies of the longer version of the film (the screening was of a shorten 10 minute version) than I had anticipated. The audience was made up of development practitioners, NGO and UN staff so the questions and discussion that followed was well informed and largely focused on issues around adaptation. In the case of Kiribati, that means introducing crops that can tolerate temperature increases and salt water intrusion, which is part of the work of an IFAD-supported agricultural research centre on the island Tarawa mentioned in the film.
The film festival runs over four days and provides delegates and media with respite from the chaos and crowds at the Bella Centre, the main COP15 venue a short metro ride away. For me personally, it was a great opportunity to get some feedback on IFAD films as well as to see first hand how powerful they can be in sharing experiences from remote regions, shaping ideas and provoking good discussion.
Crop cultivation and animal husbandry account for 60 per cent of rural incomes in Eritrea. Recent models and estimates show that the effects of climate change will have an adverse impact on the country’s agriculture and livestock sector. Decreases in rainfall and a rise in temperature has resulted in increased dry spells and decreased soil moisture.
Water scarcity is one of the many challenges that farmers and pastoralist s face in Eritrea. The country has two perennial river systems, the Setit River, which forms the country’s border with Ethiopia and drains into the Nile basin, and the Gash Barka system, which collects the run-off water from the highlands. All other rivers in the country are seasonal and carry water only after rainfall, which means that they are dry most of the year. The country has limited sources of fresh surface water, and although groundwater can be tapped, quantity and quality may be poor.
Official estimates show average annual rainfall at 400-500mm. However, for the last two years, rainfall has been erratic and less than above average.
Investing in blue gold improves livelihoods of smallholder farmers
To counter the devastating impact of climate change and to ensure food security for its people, the government of Eritrea is investing in the agriculture sector by:
- creating small-scale irrigation schemes
- building ponds, reservoirs and dams
- installing solar panels for water pumps
- installing drip, pump and sprinkler irrigation systems
For example in Zoba Debub the livelihoods of 82% of the 750,000 people living in this zoba depend on agriculture and related activities. Farmers in Debub and in Ma’ekel and other areas of Eritrea plant cereals such as wheat, barley, sorghum, taf, millet, maize and also vegetables – tomato, onion, carrot, potato, cabbage, lettuce and pepper.
In drought-prone Eritrea, livestock are a farmer’s most valuable asset. Animal husbandry is not only one of the main sources of livelihood for farmers, but it is also a form of insurance that enables poor rural people to cope with drought and other disasters.
One of the many challenges facing Eritrean farmers and pastoralists is to find grazing land and water for their livestock. The reservoirs and the surroundings provide an invaluable source of water and grazing land for livestock.
If you’ve ever visited Eritrea, you will be familiar with its arid landscape. You can imagine my surprise when driving through Zoba Ma’ekel and - Zoba Debub, against an arid and dry landscape, literally out of the blue I saw a beautiful body of water surrounded by hectares of emerald green and lush vegetation. These mini-oas e s which are the result of Eritrean government’s investment in agriculture are THE source of livelihoods and food security for poor rural Eritreans.
The reservoirs can hold anywhere between 50,000 to 350,000 m3 of water and serve 200 to 350 poor rural households who are now able to irrigate a total of 35 hectares of agricultural land. Furthermore, the reservoirs and dams provide a secure source of grazing and water for livestock and also source of water for domestic/washing purposes.
These secure source of blue gold allow farmers to complement their rain-fed crops - cereals, sorghum and barely - with vegetables such as tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, onions and pepper.
Eritrean farmers use a variety of irrigation methods ranging from drip to pipe and sprinkler and religiously adhere to the agreed irrigation schedule. Thanks to a favourable government policy, they have the luxury of not paying for water for the time being. However, they pay an average of 10,000-15,000 nakfa for a pump and those who have a fuel-run pump benefit from subsidized fuel.
The farmers are cognizant that their livelihoods depends not only on water, high yielding seeds and high-value crops but also on making sure that their pumps are well maintained. To this end they’ve established a revolving fund which is used exclusively for this purpose.
“Thanks to the reservoir now I have a secure source of water and can irrigate my 0.25 hectare”, says Woldo a farmer living in the Shmangus-laalay village. “Now I have three crops instead of one.” Woldo uses a combination of sprinkler and water pump. “When my crop was germinating, I used water pump, because sprinklers can damage the crop”, says Woldo. Woldo’s water pump is run by electricity for which he pays 24 nakfa per hour.
The 350 households living in the vicinity of this reservoir use this body of water not only to irrigate their plots, but also for their livestock and for domestic purposes such as for washing.
Before the reservoir was built, Elsa a mother of three, used to wake up at crack of dawn to go fetch water for washing purposes. Today, in tow with her donkey and her youngest son, she goes to the lake to collect water. While the water collecting technique may be rudimentary, it has saved Elsa hours of walking, allowing her to spend more time at home and to get involved in agricultural activities.
In the nearby village of Tesazege village, Athaneta and her brother are cultivating 0.5 hectare of land using the nearby reservoir. “I practice crop rotation and for this crop cycle I’ve replaced barley with tomatoes, because I have a secure source of water”, says Athaneta with a smile. “I’ve already harvested 100kg and expect to harvest another 200kg which I sell for 2 nakfa per kilo”.
“Thanks to this secure source of water, my brother and I can be sure to have one cereal crop and two vegetable crops”, says Athaneta.
Habtemariam is a model farmer who has fully taken advantage of the nearby reservoir and exploited the potential of his 0.75 hectare land, managing to secure himself and his family a total 5,000 nakfa by planting cabbage, lettuce and carrot.
Eritrea has the potential of having many more lush, green-emerald mini-oasis allowing more farmers to systematically cultivate agricultural land, ensure their food security and earn a secure income.
The government of Eritrea and IFAD are currently designing a national agricultural water management framework to allow for sustainable and reliable accesss to water especially in times of drought which unfortunately due to climate change will be affecting the country more frequently in the future. This framework will ensure that many Eritrean farmers will have a better crop to harvest,thus ensuring their food security.
Hopefully the world leaders gathered in Copenhagen will seal the climate change deal, so that Eritrean women, children, men, farmers and pastoralists can have a bright future and never again suffer from famine.
On his first visit to Tokyo since taking office, the President met key policy-makers at Foreign Affairs, Finance and Agriculture within the new administration, as well as a high profile politician and senior officials from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Nwanze is not an unknown figure in Japan, having visited and negotiated at high levels in his previous capacities. NERICA is still widely discussed in the development circles in Tokyo.
The President’s visit to the capital falls between the recent World Summit on Food Security in Rome and the upcoming Copenhagen COP 15 meeting. The delegation comprised Munehiko Joya and ourselves.
On his first day, IFAD President held a high-level meeting at JICA, with the Vice President, Ambassador Kenzo Oshima in a new building, hosting the new JICA that merged with JBIC. In the discussions, Ambassador Oshima commented on the CARD (Coalition for African Rice Development) exercise being on track and now the need for a major push for early results. IFAD's active involvement has been much appreciated in JICA.
CARD is a comprehensive initiative to support the efforts of African countries to double African rice production within ten years. It also forms a consultative group of donors, research institutions and other relevant organizations to work with rice producing African countries.
The President emphasized the relevance of the initiative, stating that the JICA approach fits very well with that of IFAD, aiming to increase food production for local consumption, access to markets, increased capacity, empowerment of women as fundamental elements for successful long-term rural and agricultural development.
The CARD initiative is the first step toward a broader partnership The President and Oshima agreed that the two task teams will work over the next months to identify 3 to 5 projects or programmes for collaboration including co-financing. On assessment of the outcomes, the two institutions will decide on the collaboration framework. He added that we don’t want partnership just for the sake of it but to bring real added value to the poor people we serve. South–South cooperation and JICA's experience with Brazil and Mozambique also featured in the discussions.
An extraordinary meeting took place between former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and IFAD President at the Diet (parliament) building. Fukuda oversaw the Hokkaido G8 Summit and hosted TICAD IV (Tokyo International Conference on African Development) during his time as Prime Minister. He remains an active voice in parliament and an influential member of the Liberal Democratic Party that held power for five decades. The President and Fukuda discussed aid trends, including the urgency of greater attention to climate issues that particularly affect smallholder farmers. He commended the President for taking up leadership of IFAD and highlighted the need to increase the fund's profile in Japan.
Fukuda chairs an advocacy group of parliamentarians with a strong commitment to development issues. He invited the President to the 2010 meeting of the Inter Action Council, which brings together a group of former heads of state or government from various parts of the world. Members include, among others, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Jean Chrétien.
Journalists from leading Japanese media - including, among others, Nikkei, Asahi Shimbun, Mainichi newspapers, Japan Times, Agricultural Development News and Jiji news agency - met with the President for a briefing. Most of them raised issues around the upcoming Climate Change conference in Copenhagen, the implications for agricultural development and how the smallholders would adapt. Questions revolved around land issues, food security and IFAD’s work. NHK Television conducted an exclusive interview with the President.
The Director General, International Cooperation Bureau in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Masato Kitera welcomed the President and assured him of the Ministry’s confidence in IFAD’s work. Despite the fiscal problems faced by the country, they would like to continue their support.
For the first time in several decades the country has faced a major political shift. Politicians are currently assessing and reviewing public expenditure including ODA. Kitera said he was confident that Japan would continue to play a major role in the international arena.
During the meeting, President thanked the Government of Japan for its leadership, citing the TICAD process as a fine example of the country's engagement in Africa's development. He gave an overview of his discussions with Ambassador Oshima and expressed optimism about showing concrete results through collaboration with JICA under CARD. The President shared his perspectives on food security and land issues.
In closing, Kitera pointed out that in the current financial situation yen loans would remain one of the major aid instruments which can be very attractive because of the low level of interest rates on the Japanese currency.
On the second day in Tokyo, a meeting held with the Vice Minister for International Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Shuji Yamada focused on land investments. Yamada said that the food crisis and persisting price volatility are fostering interest within the private sector and governments to secure food availability through land lease/acquisition. Japan is very keen to see the development of appropriate rules for dealing with this growing phenomenon.
The President recalled the current effort by IFAD, FAO and the World Bank to frame guidelines for responsible investments, in order to achieve win-win solutions. During the meeting, climate change implications for agriculture and trade-related issues were also discussed.
Nobumitsu Hayashi, Deputy Director General International Bureau, Ministry of Finance and IFAD Alternate Governor, expressed great appreciation for the work taken forward by the President since taking office and expressed confidence in his leadership. Hayashi enquired about the comparative advantage of IFAD within the international aid architecture. The President highlighted the IFAD specificities and briefed Hayashi on accountability. The result-based management system allows IFAD to clearly report to its members about the outcomes achieved through the use of financial resources paid in by taxpayers in donor countries.
Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Shuji Kira stressed the confidence of his administration in IFAD and in the new leadership. Despite severe budgetary constraints, Japan decided to increase the pledge to the 8th replenishment by more than 80 per cent. The new administration is committed to food security and poverty reduction. The two men discussed in details the outcomes of the visit and about strengthening of the partnership with JICA. They agreed on the relevance for IFAD and Japan to further develop partnership through the APOs programme.By Farhana Haque-Rahman and Gesolmina Vigliotti
Day two of the Western and Central Africa regional implementation workshop started with three parallel chat shows focusing on the following three themes:
- Agricultural value chain development
- Rural and agricultural finance and rural enterprises
- Support to capacity building
During the chat show participants shared their insights, experience and knowledge about the various challenges and opportunities of the above themes. For many, this was the first time they had participated in a chat show and most of them thorougly enjoyed it.
At the end of chat show the hosts (Carlo Bravi and Chrisitiane, Perin Saint-Ange and Coumba Fall, Mohamed Manssouri and Stefania Dina) quickly formulated three questions based on the insight that emerged from the chat show. These questions were then addressed during the World Cafe.
Your reporter had the daunting task of acting as cafe host for all three parallel world cafes. I must admit this was quite challenging also because I had to set up the cafe tables for Carlo's group. Encouraged by the enthusiasm of the participants, I started with Carlo and Christiane's group outlining the process. 5 minutes later I went to Perin and Comba's group and did the same. I then rushed upstairs to Mohamed and Stefania's group.
Stefania and Mohamed were great cafe hosts and had explained the process to the participants. Drenched, I headed back to the secretariat for a sip of water.
The cafe host is also the time keeper. So 20 minutes into the first round of questions, I did my rounds to ask colleagues to move table and get on with their second question. I must admit that everyone collaborated and they moved orderly to the next table, trying their utmost to keep 5 to table.
Mohamed and Stefania had done their maths right and had managed to have 5 francophone and 5 anglophone tables!!! The participants in all three cafes were completely engaged. I heard comments such as: "This cafe thing is really good". Martin Raine said: "You know, I was a skeptic, but this structured chaos is really great!". Steven reflecting on the process said "I wish we had started by asking the participants to talk about their successes, because when we did that at the last round, the energy level changed." And Steven is right, the question is one the important ingredients of a world cafe, it can make it or break it.
I am currently immersed in a series appreciative leadership courses, so his comment resonated completely with my changed mindset. He was right on: we always need to start looking at strengths and build on these, rather than falling in the trap of looking at weakness.
After lunch, participants regrouped in their original table to do the summary of their discussions. These were then used for the speed geeking. An hour later, a total of 30 table hosts descended to the open area, carrying flipcharts or their flipchart papers. They created their stands waiting eagerly to present their table's work to other participants.
I think the speed geeking could have gone a bit better, if before the participants made their way downstairs, we would have reminded them what was expected from the table hosts and from the other participants. This said, the outputs were remarkable. I walked to three stands and must say I was quite impressed.
Kudos to the Western and Central Africa for having fully embracing using knowledge sharing methods at their events. This is now the second time. Early this year, they used the same knowledge sharing methods at their community-driven development workshop.
For your reporter, it was an absolutely rewarding day. I hope colleagues back home get a flavour of the richness of this day. Hope I've done justice to the great work that went on today.
Now, we are all getting ready for a well deserverd dinner somewhere near the beach. We'll talk tomorrow. If you feel inspired, please comment on these blogposts.
We all knew it was going to be a big moment in the India mission. The President’s visit to ICRISAT at Pantacheru, near the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, was more than just a homecoming to a site where he had spent a decade of his professional career.
ICRISAT’s Director-General, William Dar, told him it was an honour and a pleasure to have a key player in agriculture and development – and a staunch supporter of ICRISAT and the whole CGIAR system – as chief guest at their Annual Day on December 1.
For the President, it was a precious opportunity for catching up with colleagues from his time as a scientist. As he toured the institute, various white-coated colleagues emerged from their labs to recall the working time together. When he arrived at the entomology lab, where he had worked, it was an emotional moment.
It was also the chance for a belated farewell party. When the President was called to take over his post as Director-General of the Africa Rice Centre (then WARDA), there was little time for all the farewells to be fitted in prior to his departure.
The President was keen to visit the large test plantations that surround the research site. And he identified a few plots that he had actually worked on himself, more than a decade ago. The expansion in test plots that has taken place in the meantime was significant.
The institute has dedicated to President, the Kanayo F Nwanze Crop Protection Laboratory and his visit was used to inaugurate the lab centre. Another facility was named after former chair of ICRISAT’s governing body, Dr Ragnhild Sohlberg from Norway.
The ICRISAT senior management met with the President where, among other issues, a grant proposal for research on understanding economic opportunities in semi-arid agriculture in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa was discussed.
The President pointed out that there had been excellent collaboration between ICRISAT and IFAD well before he took office and that this was the result of the high quality work that ICRISAT produces. He also told the Director-General that it was good to see them reaching out to the private sector for partnerships.
The President delivered the keynote address to the Annual Meeting on the role of agricultural research in the face of global challenges, including food security and climate change.
On the first day at Pantacheru an animated press conference was held attended by some 25 journalists.
“Agriculture, even smallholder agriculture in remote areas, must be treated as a business, that provides a livelihood and an income" , the President told the reporters, who were well-versed in agricultural and rural poverty issues.
“This business attitude is already happening in many parts of India” he said, noting that supporting smallholders with the right government policies was vital, policies that would link them to vibrant local competitive markets.
While in Hyderabad, the President also met the Chief Minister of Andra Pradesh, K. Rosaiah, who requested him on the possibility of IFAD supporting a major food security project covering seed development, mechanisation, farmer training and water conservation techniques. Media coverage in Hyderabad was extensive, as it was throughout the India visit.
By Farhana Haque-Rahman
Day one of the Western and Central Africa workshop is coming to a close. This morning we had the honor and privilege of having the Honorable minister of agriculture at the opening session of the workshop.
The minister reminded the gathering that the workshop coincides with the celebration of Farmers' Day which is an important day for Ghana, a day that the country honours farmers for their untiring and relentless efforts of feeding the nation.
"The food crisis experienced recently was a loud awakening to the world, particularly for those of us in developing countries as we now need to redouble our efforts and better plan for our nation's food security", said the minister.
In his speech, the minister reminded the audience that by 2050 world population would reach 9.1 billion, and that nearly half of the additional 2.3 billion people in the next 40 years will reside in developing countries.
The minister then proceeded to say: "Feeding these extra people is a challenge we need to recognize and plan for. The 'business as usual' approach will be catastrophic."
"The time is ripe for us to rethink our agricultural development efforts, recognizing that agriculture is no longer just a production tool for industry but a tool for satisfying objectives of growth, poverty reduction, food security and sustainable rural development in a complex setting influenced by globalization and climate change."
The minister shared Ghana's strategy for reviving and strengthening the agriculture sector. "I are planning to revolutionize agriculture. I have promised to double rice production in two years", pledged the minister.
He concluded by sharing the key principles behind Ghana's Food and Agriculture Development Policy:
- value chain approach
- focus on selected commodities for greater impact
- diversification for income generation and stability
- enhanced productivity
- transforming smallholders through improved organization of farmer-based organizations
- public-private partnership
- improved coordination and harmonization in the agriculture sector
The afternoon sessions were dedicated to country team meetings, where the participants reviewed the Douala action plan and reported on progress, opportunities and challenges.
There is quite a bit of frenzy in the atrium of the ORCHID Hospitality Management Services (Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons), Accra, Ghana where IFAD in conjunction with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture of Ghana, is holding a regional project implementation workshop for Western and Central Africa. These events present a wonderful opportunity for people to reconnect. You can see many smiling faces, people hugging and kissing and catching up with each other.
Adriana, Letizia, Christiane and others are helping with the registration. The last couple of days were quite hectic. Stefania and Martin, the two pillars of this workshop have diligently been organizing the minute details of the workshop. Yesterday we had a series of meeting to make sure that all the logistics was working like a swiss watch.
We spent all of yesterday setting up. Everyone, and I mean everyone, contributed to making sure we had everything. The gentlemen, Steven, Leo, Loko and others helped with assemblying the kits. David set up the exhibit and the publication desk. Stefania, Martin and I went were responsible for the signage and to make sure the breakout rooms were set up.
I am really excited, as tomorrow we'll be using a wide range of knowledge sharing methods. We'll start with three parallel chat shows, then we'll move to three parallel world cafes and we'll finish the day with a speed geeking session where colleagues will present their findings and learnings!
Kudos to all the colleagues in Western and Central Africa for embracing knowledge sharing methods. For sure, this workshop will be different and more engaging that previous editions!
This morning we'll have the honour and privilege of having His Excellency the Minister of Agriculture for the official opening. We'll then have a series presentation by the Director of Western and Central Africa and IFAD colleagues on the IFAD-funded project portfolio and the progress since the last implementation workshop.
So, let me sign-off at this point. More to come during the day. Internet access permitting we'll also be tweeting. So make sure you also check out the tweets both from @ifadnews and @rsamii.
On arrival in Chennai we were whisked straight to the home of Professor Swaminathan, where this 84 year old legend was awaiting us under the portico. Inside, his wife Meena, had prepared a meal for us. (The humility and simplicity of their welcome was disarming). The President and the Professor became swiftly engaged in deep discussions over the Green Revolution – that Professor Swaminathan helped father – and a much-needed new revolution to meet the challenges of food security and climate change.
We were later shown around the headquarters of the MRSSP Swaminathan Foundation. One of the most fascinating elements of their work is the gene bank houses collections of seeds of all varieties, some at risk of extinction, gathered from around India. The Foundation also has India’s largest collection of tubers and roots and vanishing crops – primarily medicinal plants .
The President delivered the keynote Millennium Lecture organised by the Hindu Resource Centre. He then went on to launch the Foundation’s climate risk managers programme, which provides communities with guidance on approaches to risk mitigation and managing climate change. These managers will be tasked with going out to the villages and supporting small farmers and poor rural people, so the solutions will have input from those most directly affected by climate change.
Professor Swaminathan emphasised the importance of strong links from lab to land and land to lab – so that scientific knowledge and traditional wisdom could be harnessed together. The President talked about food insecurity in rural areas, the importance of mapping potential rainfall patterns, tracking price volatility and identifying hotspots.
The day continued with video conference links to village knowledge centres operated by farmers groups, in IFAD-supported projects.
In the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami, the Naga Pattinan coastal district saw its agriculture and fishing industries wiped out. Village resource or knowledge centres played a major role in relief efforts, and now ICT tools are being used to improve lives and businesses.
Ramesh, a fisherman, told us that through new technologies they have adopted more hygienic methods of handling the catch and more sustainable fishing practices. Incomes have gone up too, with fish prices increasing from 30 rupees per kilo to 110 rupees. Ramesh now trains other fishermen.
What do you do with your extra income, the President asked.
“My kids are at a private school, I have bought computer and GPS equipment for my business and paid off some of his debts,” Ramesh replied.
In the next video link, from Orissa, people from five villages involved in the IFAD-funded Tribal Empowerment Project told how the villages now have seed banks and farmers are aware of the quality of seeds required for these banks.
Some 85 per cent of those in the area are living below the poverty line, 55 per cent are tribal people and 60 per cent are illiterate, so forming the Self Help Groups was a major challenge. Once done though, they were away!. Now community-managed gene banks are holding some 500-1000 varieties of seed for next season.
Professor Swaminathan noted that IFAD was the first to start Self Help Groups, in Tamil Nadu, and this had since catalysed a movement across India, a transformation in sharing knowledge.
He said he was very grateful that he had provided support to the establishment of IFAD “In 1974, we thought we could make poverty history by 1984. That has not happened,” he said.
The two men addressed a well-attended press conference, where the President spoke about the need to find grass roots level solutions to climate change to – help mitigate as well as adapt.
“Thirty years ago when I met Professor Swaminathan I did not know that one day I would be standing here to deliver a Millennium Lecture,” said the President. “But what we did in research three decades ago is relevant today as we face down the challenges of climate change,” he added. “Ending hunger and poverty are possible, we need to remember that.”
By Farhana Haque Rahman and Mattia Prayer Galetti