The rain poured down outside but inside, it was warm and welcoming. Candles were lit, grains were shared, and new Caritas friends were made at the opening ceremony of the Southeast Asian Farmers’ (SAFaR) Conference 2010. Hosted by Caritas Asia, this event brings together over 60 participants to exchange ideas, compare challenges, and share good practices from the field. The main focus of the 2010 conference is “Climate Change, Farmers’ Life, Mitigation and Adaptation”.
Mr. Zar Gomes, Caritas Philippines, guided us through the events of the day while translators whispered to their respected farmers in all of the 15 languages spoken at the conference. The findings from previous conferences were reviewed to provide a foundation for our work. During previous conferences, it was observed that farmers coming from South Asia share almost the same topography, culture, food, and agricultural practices, the same cannot be said about farmers in South East Asia (mostly ASEAN). For this reason, farmers were divided into groups by geographical similarities and shared their lessons learned from their country programmes.
Fr. Steven Chen, Caritas Hong Kong explained that, while this is only his third conference and regards himself as being very new to the programme, the wealth of information that is shared at this annual event has inspired many changes in the Shaanxi Province. Caritas Hong Kong is now collecting unpolluted soil, making fermentation cakes and hosting workshops to raise awareness of these simple yet effective methods. The long-standing and self-proclaimed ‘most experienced’.
SAFaR’s veteran Mr. Augustin Baroi, Caritas Bangladesh has been attending these conferences since 2000. When asked what major achievements he’s seen take place in the past decade, he stated that the conference are becoming more farmer centric. Since farmers learn best from farmers, one of the main criteria for this conference is that there are very limited external resource persons. Most of the sessions and practical demonstration are shared and facilitated by the farmers’ and programme officers. It important to bring these farmers together to learn from one another since they share the same livelihoods and climate concerns. Mr. Baroi also highlighted the success of having properly skilled program officers at the conference. Programme officers learn agriculture in books while farmers know the realities on the ground. This information sharing session combines both skill sets and leads to long-standing results for both parties.
When programme officers are good facilitators and learn a lot from the conference, they return back home and disseminate the information to a wider scope of farmers, increasing the knowledge sharing.
Throughout the week-long conference, there will also be sessions on advocating for farmers’ rights over seeds and a round table in which farmers will express their views to both their Minister of Agriculture and their Minister of the Environment. The goal is to empower farming communities to take the power into their own hands. In the words of Gabriel Baroi, Caritas Asia “our organic farmers are our inspiration” so we need to give them the platform on which to raise their voices and speak in solidarity.