Dr Villareal welcomed the participants to the SEAMEO Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture or SEARCA.
He stated that he was happy to be able to collaborate with FAO and CIP-UPWARD in organizing this important activity. He noted that in May 2001 SEARCA worked with CIP-UPWARD in conducting a workshop on microenterprises. He was glad to note that barely four months later, they were in partnership again on this worthwhile endeavour.
SEARCA is the oldest regional centre of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO). SEAMEO, the mother organization, is an international treaty organization composed of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam. It aims to promote regional cooperation in education, culture and science.
As a regional organization, SEARCA is committed to strengthening institutional capacity in sustainable agriculture to attain food security in Southeast Asia through human resource development, research, knowledge exchange, and policy support.
SEARCA has three research and development programmes, namely, Natural Resource Management, Agro-industrial Development and Knowledge Management. The Gender and Development project is one of the special projects whose concerns cut across all the other programmes of SEARCA.
Moreover, as a regional organization, SEARCAs main method of carrying out its mandate is through partnership with national, regional and international organizations, both governmental and non-governmental. It forms strategic alliances and partnerships as well as forward and backward linkages, which enable it to work in the context of complementation of strengths and resources. SEARCAs working relationship with UPWARD is a good example of such a partnership. Dr Villareal said that he believed that the paper presenters in this consultation would provide ample information and ideas to mull over and to use as the basis for coming up with the consultations expected outputs.
He further noted that no matter how many times he had heard the statistics, it never failed to impress him that on a global scale, women produce more than half of all the food that is grown. He wondered if statistics would show that more than half of all the food available is eaten by men, adding that he would not be surprised if that were the case.
Research has also shown that in communities where women play a major role in agriculture, the role of agrobiodiversity conservation is likely to be equally high. It would thus be logical to suggest that to optimize such positive effects, the role of women in agricultural development efforts should be expanded or at the very least given due recognition so that right at the beginning, their contributions are factored into programmes and considered in policies.
Dr Villareal expressed the hope that this consultation would result in relevant and pragmatic policy recommendations, and that participants could work together to bring such recommendations closer to the consciousness of policymakers and decisionmakers so that recommendations will cease being just recommendations and be translated into workable policies and programmes.