by Guido Rutten
“Treat us as equal citizens – don’t forget that it’s us who feed you in the city!”
When Abdelwahab speaks, the crowd looks up. The friendly Egyptian does not hold titles of academic importance. He does not have a fancy powerpoint with graphs that indicate daunting futures on water scarcity. He is a farmer, and he has a clear and simple message: your solutions won’t work without us – so you’ll have to work with us.
A few minutes later, Zahida Detho asks the farmers in the room to raise their hands. People in the front curiously turn around, their gazes meeting other eyes that scan for hands. There are no farmers. When Zahida asks the women in the room to raise their hands, the truth is already uncomfortably known to all. Zahida, a farmer from Pakistan, doesn’t need to say any more.
When their moment comes, these young professionals seize the opportunity. Senior experts gather round the sheets of paper on which the youngsters have sketched their challenges. How do you prevent migrant workers from carrying out illegal, water-polluting mining activities in Burkina Faso? How can we build up long-term ownership of irrigation infrastructure amongst farmers, if donor money needs to be spent so quickly?
The people in this story are the forgotten stakeholders. During the First World Irrigation Forum in Mardin, Turkey, they took their chance to come out of the shadows. IFAD supports these forgotten stakeholders in their quest to bring the uncomfortable truths to daylight.