FAO Representative (Philippines)
On behalf of the FAO office in the Philippines, Dr Lee conveyed his compliments, support and encouragement for this important regional initiative on Agrobiodiversity conservation and the role of rural women. For FAO, this consultation served as a very important reminder of the crucial role played by women in the collective drive to eradicate poverty, hunger and malnutrition all over the world. He congratulated the organizers for holding this at SEARCA.
On a personal note, Dr Lee expressed his appreciation to the organizers for holding the consultation at the University of the Philippines Los Baños, a beautiful campus situated in a green and well-preserved mountainous area. He noted that this important ecosystem, which is rich in biodiversity, is continuously being protected and monitored for conservation purposes at this time of rapid transformation of its surrounding communities. He appealed to the participants to use this area as a unique model to show that conservation is indeed possible even when there are manmade changes in its environment.
Dr Lee stressed the importance of recalling that since its establishment on 16 October 1945, FAO has been playing a catalytic role that has set the stage for integrating gender issues in both agricultural policy planning and programme implementation. This role was derived from the reality that women constitute the majority of the worlds total agricultural labour force. It is well documented that women are involved in traditional agricultural activities including production, harvesting, processing and marketing of agricultural commodities. We do not want to increase the burden on women, but if they are properly motivated, they could provide the required human resources in agrobiodiversity conservation.
Furthermore, the Peasants Charter, which was adopted by member-countries following the implementation in 1979 of the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, otherwise known as WCARRD, recognized the unique and important role of women in agricultural development, and he quoted:
Agricultural development based on growth with equity will require the full integration of women in terms of equitable access to agricultural land, appropriate technology, agricultural inputs, agricultural services and equal opportunity with men to develop and employ their full potential.
Since then, FAO has ensured that gender concerns and women participants are integrated in all relevant FAO projects and activities. The organization aims to give women equal access to and control of land and other productive resources, increase their participation in decisionmaking and policymaking, reduce their workload and enhance their opportunities for paid employment and income.
Dr Lee added that the FAO Plan of Action for Women in Development (1996-2001), adopted in 1995, presents a framework for ensuring that gender issues become an integral part of the organizations work. For FAO, gender is a cross-cutting issue requiring organization-wide responsibilities. For each of the technical areas for which FAO is responsible, programmes of action for the advancement of women have been developed. These programmes seek to strengthen the technical, professional and resource capacities of FAO to address issues of gender and to diffuse responsibility for integrating such issues among all those working in the development arena. This will help ensure that the FAO commitment to the advancement of women is translated into concrete achievements.
Dr Lee raised the question of how people could be expected to protect natural resources and agrobio-diversity and worry about future generations when their immediate survival is at risk. He posited that the true enemies of natural resource degradation, i.e. poverty and social inequality, must be seen and must be acknowledged at all levels. Management and conservation of natural resources at the national level represent key areas of concern, and unless a solid policy is established and politically accepted, efforts and resources will continue to be wasted. The FAO approach to sustainable agriculture is therefore inspired by considerations of human needs and production incentives. Natural resources are managed by people to safeguard their wellbeing by emphasizing the social and economic rather than technical dimensions.
Dr Lee then proposed that sustainable development and safeguard of the natural resource base can only be promoted through a well-defined policy framework and by facilitating legislation and institutions that ensure:
At the national level, an overall policy framework to promote sustainable development while safeguarding the natural resource base should aim to:
He further mentioned that over the last three decades, the world has seen differing strategies to achieve these goals, and enhanced dialogue and awareness of the need to conserve natural resources have been developed successively. During 1960-1972, there was an urgent need to raise local agricultural productivity in countries where it was most needed. In the 1972-1986 period, new issues related to the degradation of the worlds resources through soil erosion, deforestation, overgrazing, overexploitation and other abuses emerged. After 1986, we have witnessed the Den Bosch Conference on Agriculture and the Environment held on 15-19 April 1991. The Den Bosch declaration indicated the steps that needed to be taken to keep agricultural practices in line with sustainable production. Such steps include: (a) the alleviation of poverty; (b) the need to recognize the key role of women in development; (c) the need for more equitable land tenure arrangements; and (d) more balanced human settlement and population policies.
Conservation and development are interdependent, and it is not by coincidence that the term sustainable development was underscored in the World Conservation Strategy of 1980. This was followed by Our Common Future in 1987 and Caring for the Earth in 1991. To cap it all, the UNCED of 3-14 June 1992 focused on conservation and management of resources for development through the adoption of Agenda 21.
Dr Lee noted that the common denominators of these strategies that have been evolving over time are the critical requirements for implementable and affordable conservation and development policies at the national level, and the need to secure the participation of all people, not only women, through the organizations of their local communities.
Within this broader and historical context, and within the scope of sustainable agriculture and rural development, he assured the participants that FAO is anxious to continue to support this and similar regional efforts geared towards ecological balance and the sustainable management and development of agrobiodiversity.