In the Asia and Pacific Region, there are about 500 million hungry people, out of estimated 800 million undernourished in the world. Two third of the hungry and poor are living in rural areas. There is a high correlation between poverty and hunger. There may be ample food available in any specific country, yet individual persons or households, particular the rural poor, may not be able to purchase the food needed for a healthy life. FAO's main objective is to achieve universal food security. Also the Asia-Pacific region should be free from hunger and poverty, and FAOs programmes are designed to address food insecurity and sustainable agricultural development in rural areas. Farmers with disabilities are among the poorest of the poor. Because of their disability, they are often not given the same opportunities to develop their potential capabilities, and live like active members within society. FAO has appointed a focal point within the Rural Development Division to promote and coordinate international, regional and country level support activities for capacity building of disabled farmers and rural disabled people.
The FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (RAP) pioneered a training programme for disabled farmers in the poor northeastern part of Thailand with funding from its Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP): Mushroom production training for disabled people TCP/THA/8821(A). The TCP technical capacity building activities were designed and implemented by a joint RAP officers team in close collaboration with the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare of Thailand. The project strategy aimed at expanding the outreach and impact of mainly vocational training programmes for the promotion of non-farm and formal sector wage earning skills. It also included skills training for agro-based small enterprise development by disabled farmers. The activities were carried out in Ubon Ratchathani province in the Training Center for Disabled People. The FAO inter-disciplinary taskforce provided technical assistance and expertise on mushroom production, marketing, design and use of processing equipment, criteria and guidelines for disability and gender response. It also dealt with awareness building, extension of technical skills and small enterprise development. As a result of the well-coordinated project inputs, many trainees became successful mushroom farmers and a few became trainers.
The pilot training and mushroom production activities were largely developed as part of "learning by doing", guided by a successful Thai mushroom entrepreneur and national trainers and extension workers from the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. Yet to facilitate the further replication of this successful pilot project, there was a need to develop a mushroom production-training curriculum for disabled farmers, post-anthem in English, covering the entire training process. The FAO lead technical officer, Wim Polman, responsible for rural development at the FAO regional office in Bangkok, coordinated the preparation of this first training manual, written by FAO international consultant Johanne Hanko. Cultivation procedures were developed, tested and revised by the two national consultants, Satit Thaithatgoon, a renowned Thai entrepreneur and mushroom cultivation expert, and Prasert Wuthikamphee, an expert from the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives from Thailand. Mr Thaithatgoon further provided technical support and revisions for the publication.
The manual is intended as a training and information tool for government and non-government trainers and extension workers on the subject of income generation for people with disabilities through mushroom production. The training manual is divided into two main parts. The first describes each phase of the training process, and the second gives a detailed and illustrated hands-on description of every task involved in mushroom production. Pictures in the manual show disabled trainees and trainers in action at the center and on their own farm.
The enthusiasm expressed by the faces of the disabled farmer's trainees show their feeling of achievement as full and active members of society, both socially and economically, acquired during the training. They are now integrated into society and capable of taking care of themselves and their beloved ones.
I am confident the Training manual on mushroom cultivation for people with disabilities will be a useful tool for trainers involved in (in)formal grassroots poverty alleviation programmes aiming at income generation and enterprise development for people with disabilities in rural areas.
Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific