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VI. Overview: FAO gender and the biodiversity programme - Revathi Balakrishnan

Regional Rural Sociologist and Women in Development Officer
FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific


The Women in Development Service (SDWW) deals, among other issues, with the inter-relationships between local knowledge systems, management of agrobiodiversity and gender. Women in Development Service programme activities in the Asia-Pacific region focus on gender dimensions in agrobiodiversity management and household food security. The regional initiative limits its activities to agrobiodiversity with full recognition that agricultural production systems include livestock, forestry and aquatic elements. The focus on gender role diversity in crop biodiversity management assures a manageable entry point towards an understanding of such complex systems.

The current expert consultation complements the various FAO initiatives in Rome and builds on the work undertaken in the regional office in the last few years. The work began with commissioning country studies in South Asia. M.S. Swaminathan Research Institute scientists collaborated with the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in undertaking studies in India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. The country studies for Nepal and Bhutan would be finalized after completing participatory work with specific relevance to gender dimensions in biodiversity management. These bodies of work would hopefully build a knowledge base on women and men’s roles in bioresource management and fill the current information gap. The FAO regional office has also initiated activities to build an information base on gender dimensions in agrobiodiversity management for ASEAN countries. In the Philippines, FAO has commissioned a study with CIP-UPWARD which would document gender dimensions in secondary crop production, specifically sweet potato.

In 1999, the FAO regional office in collaboration with the M.S. Swaminathan Foundation organized a technical consultation on “Gender dimensions in biodiversity management and household food security”. Her Excellency the Minister for Agriculture of Bangladesh gave the keynote address and participated in most of the sessions of the technical consultation. The report of the consultation was published and included recommendations and strategies for research and programme development in the area of gender dimensions in biodiversity management for household food security. The participants in the 1999 meeting were mostly institutional researchers. The second expert consultation now being organized in the Philippines in collaboration with CIP-UPWARD will focus on grassroots-level conservation of agrobiodiversity with a gender role perspective. The rationale is one of exploration of grassroots-level realities to identify action areas for creating enabling policy conditions to support the roles of rural women in agrobiodiversity conservation as an initial step in managing resources.

Within the context of the Norway-funded regional project “Gender, biodiversity and local knowledge systems to strengthen agricultural and rural development” that is based in Rome, field activities have been implemented in Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Mozambique. These have provided training, small grants and technical backstopping to raise awareness and build capacity in these countries on the use and value of local knowledge for food security. A curriculum/module on gender and biodiversity for an African agricultural programme was developed. For sustainable gains in gender development, mainstreaming this curricular approach would be most appropriate.

SDWW has also prepared three case studies on gender issues and management of plant genetic resources (1998). These were “Peasant women and Andean seeds”, “Women and indigenous knowledge in animal production in Bolivia” and “The role of women in the conservation of maize genetic resources in Guatemala”. SDWW also supported research on the gender impacts of crop diversity in Mali.

Other activities developed by SDWW include mainstreaming gender issues into the FAO work in biodiversity by providing technical assistance to FAO technical divisions, a gender and biodiversity fact sheet, and a gender and biodiversity inventory of actors and issues in Peru. The LinKS project produced a video entitled “Sharing the knowledge”, about gender, biodiversity and indigenous knowledge. There are FAO websites that provide additional details on the work and publications of SDWW on gender and biodiversity.

A SEAGA (Socio-Economic and Gender Analysis) guide on genetic resources is now in a draft version. The LinKS team will verify the guides and manuals that are available, evaluate and appropriately consolidate these documents.

Currently, SDWW is obtaining final approval from the FAO Conference for the Gender and Development Plan of Action for 2002 to 2007. The plan differs from previous ones in the process of development. Every technical division of FAO was requested to prepare its plan for mainstreaming gender issues in their respective technical activities. To achieve gender-equitable responsibility for gender mainstreaming, technical officers from all divisions will take appropriate action. Each technical division will have a focal person to follow up these activities. SDWW will provide support as required, monitor and evaluate the divisional activities and undertake training to improve the gender analysis and gender planning skills of the technical staff.

The programme linkages of SDWW with other technical units, both at the regional level and in Rome, will be strengthened to achieve the gender mainstreaming mandate of FAO. The field programme activities in the region will focus on regional projects, while Rome will take on inter-regional activities. The country offices will implement country-based projects. It is understood that the SDWW activities in the region and in Rome will coordinate to formulate collaborative activities under the framework of the Gender and Development (GAD) Plan of Action 2002-2007. With such a mode of collaboration, the deliberations in the current meeting would feed into various normative activities within the programme area of gender and natural resource management.

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