Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative
FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
In his message, Dr Singh welcomed the participants to the expert consultation on Agrobiodiversity conservation and the role of rural women. He welcomed the interagency collaboration with Philippines-based international organizations, namely CIP-UPWARD and SEARCA, to sustain the technical contributions from institutions in the region for the advancement of rural women facilitated by the FAO Women in Development Programme.
FAO is responsible for monitoring the progress in the promises made in various UN meetings for improving the status of rural women, and in the World Food Summit Plan of Action global agenda for achieving food security with gender equity in access to productive resources. Dr Singh urged the participants to bear in mind that assisting rural women to improve farm production can be an effective means of achieving farm productivity and national food security.
The Asia-Pacific region is a rich biodiversity centre. However, its genetic resources as well as information on these are eroding fast. Women have played a major role in conserving the indigenous variability and possess knowledge on their variable uses. The genetic treasure needs to be conserved for today and tomorrows use and women must play a leading role in this direction. Recognizing the urgency of safeguarding the national endowment, several countries are creating regulations and laws on genetic resources. The roles of women should be clearly recognized in these regulations. Those countries that have regulations should develop actions focused on supporting women in sustainable use and conservation of these resources.
However, the passive approach to assisting rural women should be discouraged and an active approach to partnership with rural women encouraged. Partnership with rural women will be a valuable collaboration for scientists who aim to achieve the goals of sustainable natural resource management and productive agricultural systems. It involves linking two knowledge systems, namely of those who manage the farming systems and of those who aim to improve farm productivity through technological interventions. Rural women have gained knowledge of crops, plants and farming systems through observation and practice over the years and intergenerational transfer of traditional knowledge of seeds and soils. Such an endowment of local knowledge in agrobiodiversity should be given due acknowledgment in developing science and technology for resource sustainability and farm productivity.
The FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific has identified gender dimensions in agrobiodiversity management for food security as an important technical programme. Under this technical programme framework, various activities have been completed in the last few years. These have resulted in publications on gender dimensions in biodiversity in countries such as India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Dr Singh noted that a study on similar lines for the Philippines has also been completed and a joint publication of FAO and CIP-UPWARD on this is expected soon. In 1999, a technical consultation was completed with the participation of regional researchers and the report has been made available. Dr Singh asked the participants to look at the recommendations of the 1999 report on regional networks and policy framework. As a follow up, this consultation focuses on involving rural women who are the guardians of local biodiversity as partners in community-based biodiversity conservation programmes with important implications for policy.
Dr Singh welcomed the deliberations in this consultation, being himself a scientist with a keen commitment for biodiversity conservation and for developing a policy framework for community-based biodiversity conservation. He added that the consultation would explore gender concerns in agrobiodiversity management in the context of local knowledge systems and local community rights for natural resources and womens rights to these resources.
Dr Singh proposed the following policy agenda for deliberation:
He emphasized that this task could prove to be challenging. However, he was confident that as experts who have gathered for this consultation, the participants have both the skill and will to achieve this end in close collaboration with their respective national governments, relevant national institutions and representatives of civil society organizations.
Dr Singh concluded by expressing FAOs commitment to support the work in the region to achieve food security through equal partnership of women and men. He urged everyone to explore jointly with institutional partners all the means to achieve the global agenda for food security with equity. On behalf of FAO, he personally extended his appreciation to all for accepting the invitation to participate in the meeting. He thanked the organizing partners, CIP-UPWARD and SEARCA, for their cooperation in organizing the consultation. He said that he was looking forward to FAOs continued association with the regional institutions beyond this meeting and wished everyone to have productive deliberations and follow-up actions that would strengthen rural womens contribution to biodiversity conservation.