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Technical support

The success of the Farmer Field School approach

Farming communities often indicate that they would like to receive more technical information, particularly in relation to soil management, improving the efficiency of fertilizer use, increasing output and controlling costs.

The Farmer Field School (FFS) approach, developed earlier by the FAO Integrated Pest Management (IPM) intercountry programme, confirmed that farmers can become experts at ecosystem analysis and make informed decisions about necessary interventions, both from an ecological and an economic point of view. The field school setting offers farmers the opportunity to learn by doing, by being involved in experimentation, discussion and decision-making. Through participatory approaches, farmers analyse their own production practices and identify possible solutions and potential for development.

Training of trainers in the Philippines

It seemed reasonable to assume that the FFS concept could be applied to enterprises and processes other than IPM. It was therefore decided to test the FFS approach in field sites as a means of giving farmers access to learning about integrated soil management, starting in 1996. With the assistance of NGO officers who had been trained as IPM facilitators, the FARM programme, stationed at RAP, began to develop the first curriculum and manual for “Farmer Field Schools on Integrated Soil Management” (FFS-ISM). These tools were tested and subsequently adjusted during a number of farmer field schools in integrated soil management held in several countries in the region.

This culminated in a three-week FFS-ISM training of trainers, at the UPLB campus in Los Baños from 7 to 26 September, organized by the FARM programme in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture of the Philippines. Thirty-three participants attended, of which 13 were women, from four countries - Cambodia, Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam. The training aimed at building the capacity in the Philippines and other countries interested in facilitating FFS-ISM. An additional output was to adjust the draft curriculum of the FFS-ISM.

The FFS facilitator's manual is now finalized. Many people have contributed to it, soil specialists and other scientists, but in particular all the farmer participants in the schools whose experience and suggestions helped improve the curriculum and contents of the learning sessions by broadening the scope of the schools to encompass soil and tree crop management.

Vientiane workshop on Mekong River floods

On 19–21 March, more than fifty participants attended in Vientiane, Lao PDR, a regional workshop on flood management and flood mitigation of the Mekong River and its tributaries, jointly organised by the department of irrigation of the Lao Ministry of Agriculture, the Mekong River Commission and FAO.

In line with the recommendations of earlier regional conferences regarding the impact of natural disasters and the need to improve early warning and preparedness, the workshop provided an opportunity for international specialists and senior officials of four of the six riparian countries of the Mekong River — Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Viet Nam — to exchange experiences and assess areas for further co-operation and support.

The workshop made a series of technical recommendations on how to deal with floods along the Mekong basin. More generally, it concluded that better regional co-operation is needed and national governments require adequate technical support and resources. The role of the Mekong River Commission Secretariat was considered essential to ensure regional co-operation and to assist governments in the implementation of national flood-management plans. The secretariat's capacities need to be strengthened, in particular by introducing advanced techniques in flood monitoing and flood forecasting. So do the capacities of the riparian line agencies. The need for FAO and other development agencies to support national governments and act as partners in regional co-operation to introduce sustainable solutions to overcome flood problems in the agricultural sector was also stressed.

Rethinking irrigation system operations

Held in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India, from 28 to 30 October, the fifth meeting of the Information Techniques for Irrigation Schemes network on the modernization of irrigation system operations drew a total of 60 participants, both from the region (India, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand) and from outside the region (France, Iran, Morocco and the USA). The gathering was organized jointly by IWMI, CEMAGREF, FAO and the Water and Land Management Institute of Aurangabad. The Irrigation Department of the Government of Maharashtra hosted the event.

Modernization of irrigation system operations is the key to success in increasing yield and productivity in agriculture and in enhancing the management of limited natural resources such as water. FAO is promoting the need to modernize large and medium-sized irrigation systems in the region, and the meeting endorsed the FAO proposal of an international training programme for irrigation engineers on modern water control and irrigation design, operation and management concepts — a programme which could be initiated in selected Asian countries.

The meeting agreed that modernization implies a fundamental transformation of the management of water resources, which may involve changing rules and institutional structures. It also stressed the need to rethink the operation of irrigation systems within a more global framework, including a clear redefinition of water as a service, elaboration of a consistent water management strategy at scheme level, identification of constraints, and a vision for the future development of the scheme.

How to get agricultural production to respond to market signals?

On 27–30 October a consultation was held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, among 24 experts hailing from seven Asian countries — China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand — on the promotion of market-oriented production systems in the field of agriculture with a view to attaining food security and resource sustainability as well as higher income for farmers. Dr Prem Nath, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, delivered the opening statement.

Through a review of case studies on various types of contract farming, the assembled experts noted that the crucial issue is that agricultural production responds to market signals and that, since food security rests on availability, stability, and access to food and improved nutrition, there must be an increase in income to improve the purchasing power and access to food through market-orientation. In order to orient production to market, and to minimize the impact of various forms of market imperfections to the small farmer, the traditional role of government in providing goods and services should be enhanced. Policies which are barriers to trade and hinder competition should be removed to enhance farmers' capacities to take advantage of the market.

Participants of the consultation in Chiang Mai

Toward a regional network on deciduous fruits in Asia

On 2–4 June, 14 experts from eight countries - Australia, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand and Viet Nam-held a consultation in Bangkok on deciduous fruit development in Asia at the initiative of FAO/RAP. Deciduous fruit refers to fruit produced by deciduous trees growing in the cooler (and often poorest) highlands, such as apple, cherry, peach, pear, and persimmon or plum.

The purpose of the gathering was to review the status of deciduous fruit production in the region, discuss the problems faced and strategies required to solve them, elaborate on the potential and opportunities for development of such fruit in the region, and seek ways and means of strengthening collaboration in research and development in this field.

The exchange of knowledge and experience resulted in the publication of a report containing conclusions and recommendations - such as the creation of a research and development network as a forerunner to a regional network on deciduous fruits in Asia. To further help disseminate information on deciduous fruits, the proceedings of the consultation are also to be published.

Surfing the TAMNET in Hanoi

The Third Meeting of the Tropical Asian Maize Network (TAMNET), held in Hanoi, Viet Nam, from 27 to 29 October, gathered experts from China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam, as well as representatives of the Asia and Pacific Seed Association, CIMMYT and FAO - altogether 29 participants. Prof Ngo The Dan, Vice-Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Viet Nam, attended the opening session. The meeting, which received local press coverage, discussed the results of the regional hybrid maize trials carried out in 1997 and 1998, prepared a work plan for the 1999 trials, and identified articles for publication in the TAMNET newsletter, which is shortly to launch its own Web site.

Revised plant protection agreement

The Asia Pacific Plant Protection Commission (APPPC) originally in cluded nine countries. Over the past 43 years its membership has grown to 25 countries. Amendments to several articles of the original agreement entered into force in 1969, 1983 and 1990. At the same time, important changes concerning plant protection have occurred on a worldwide scale, such as the establishment of the Sanitary and Phytosanitary committee in the World Trade Organization, a programme to develop international phytosanitary standards, and others.

As these changes affect the APPPC, the FAO regional office organized in Bangkok, on 20–24 April, a working group meeting to prepare the first draft for a revised agreement for the APPPC. During the meeting, the experts discussed and decided to put some new contents into the revised agreement such as a preamble, references to the creation of a sub-commission, the continuation of links with FAO, the provision for developing regional standards, and finally a new article on international cooperation.

On one article of the agreement, “Measures to exclude South American Leaf Blight of hevea rubber from the region”, the meeting could not reach a consensus. Several alternative texts were prepared, reflecting the differing views of member countries on the issue.

Hands off harmful chemicals

On 8–11 December, a regional awareness-raising workshop on the Rotterdam convention on Prior Informed Consent was held in Bangkok as a follow-up to the FAO International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides. The code aims to reduce indiscriminate use of highly toxic and unwanted pesticides for crop protection. The FAO headquarters' Plant Protection Division and the joint secretariat of FAO and the UN Enviroment Programme (UNEP) supported the workshop.

Thirty-eight participants from 15 Asia-Pacific countries assembled to discuss and extend knowledge of the procedures recommended by the Rotterdam International Diplomatic Convention (held the previous September) and of the changes from voluntary to mandatory “prior informed consent” mechanisms shortly due to regulate the trade in restricted or banned pesticides and other chemicals that are on the WHO/FAO/UNEP global list.

Suggestions and recommendations were made for implementation by the relevant authorities of the countries of the region of the international rules regulating the trade in such chemicals.

Litchi and longan harvesting in China

Between 23 July and 2 August, a four-member technical team put together by RAP made a backstopping visit to the litchi and longan project in the vicinity of Guiping, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China, during the harvest season, to assess the progress and technical impact of the project.

The team also organized a comprehensive on-site training course on post-harvest management. A separate training course on litchi and longan production, held in Guiping on 3–7 August, was attended by 23 senior extension trainers.

After considering the current challenges, recommendations were made and technical advice provided. Other technical inputs were made available through the FAO office in Beijing.

From food convention to food federation

The Fourth International Food Convention held in Mysore, India, on 21–28 November attracted nearly 2,000 registrations from 30 countries around the world. There were 44 technical sessions held in five locations on every imaginable topic related to food, along with a four-day food and equipment exhibition which registered more than five thousand visitors.

The event, organized by the Association of Food Scientists & Technologists (India) and two Mysore-based research institutions, and co-sponsored by the Indian Ministry of Food Processing Industries, brought together food processors, producers, distributors, scientists, technologists, engineers, government officials and international agencies concerned with food, to discuss issues related to the food industry, self-sufficiency in food and food security.

One major outcome of the convention was the creation of an Afro-Asian Federation of Food Science & Technology Institutions, endorsed by 13 Asian and African countries, the United Kingdom and FAO. The objectives of the federation are to build a network between professional bodies in Asia and Africa, create a technology information bank to facilitate technology assessment and transfer, act as a consultative body on food science and technology related issues and promote international scientific and technological activities.

Making cheap, storable meat products

In two regional training courses of four weeks duration each, held in Beijing, China, 40 specialists from 14 Asian countries - Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam - went through intensive training on the manufacturing of shelf-stable, low-cost meat products. The training at the China Meat Research Centre of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce was made possible by a US$164 000 contribution by FAO. Half of the candidates selected came from the private sector, half from the public sector. They were provided with know-how on the manufacture of protein-rich animal food, which is low-cost and affordable by low-income people and can be stored under ambient conditions in the absence of a cold chain. Since then, these 40 trained meat processing specialists have started disseminating their newly acquired knowledge in their home countries.

Launching a major small-scale fisheries study

1998 also saw the launching of an investigation of small-scale fisheries in Asia which will be carried out into the next century as part of the promotion of efficient, sustainable and responsible management in the fishery sector. Initial research involves a study in Thailand (data collection in the Phangnga Bay area). Additional data from the Philippines (analysis of the impact of the country's new fisheries code) and Myanmar (use of mangrove areas in the Ayeyarwady [Irrawaddy] Delta) might complete the overview.

An accurate knowledge of the impact of small-scale fishing in coastal waters is needed to assess the value of these activities, including their environmental impact and benefit to society at large, before governments can regulate fishing activities to best effect, by keeping fishermen in business while protecting and conserving inshore areas for the benefit of future generations-one of the major challenges of the next millennium.

Small-scale fishing in coastal waters in Myanmar and Philippines

An update on forestry action programmes in Asia and the Pacific

Three years after a similar update, Asia and the Pacific - National Forest Programmes - update 33 came out in July under the aegis of the FAO, and in a revised format, as part of an international exercise triggered by the recommendations of the United Nations Conference for Environment and Development and subsequent forums and meetings. Similar updates have been carried out in other parts of the world by the respective FAO regional offices.

In line with the broad definition of national forest programmes, a variety of strategic frameworks are included in this publication, such as plans related to biodiversity, environment or desertification. Basic country data are restricted to total land area, total forest area in ha and as a percentage of total land, and total natural forest area in ha. Time-series reflect the change in forest cover in ha from 1990 to 1995 as well as the annual percentage change in forest cover during the same period.

This tightly packed 150-page compendium provides standardised, if uneven country profiles complemented by a brief overview of the whole region. It contains the latest official information on the current state of, progress in and future actions relevant to the planning and implementation of national forestry action programmes in 28 countries of tropical and temperate Asia and tropical and temperate Oceania.

Decentralization of forest management

Between 30 November and 4 December, an international seminar on decentralization and devolution of forest management in Asia and the Pacific drew nearly two hundred participants from more than twenty countries to Davao, Philippines. Mr. Antonio H. Cerilles, the Philippines' Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, attended the opening session, and the whole event enjoyed extensive press coverage.

The seminar was jointly organised by the Philippines' Department of Environment and Natural Resources/Forest Management Bureau, the Regional Community Forestry Training Center, and FAO/RAP, which co-ordinated it under its Forestry Policy and Planning sub-programme. Financial support and funding of participants came from more than thirty contributing organizations.

The objectives of the gathering were to critically review decentralization and devolution of forest management in Asia and the Pacific, discuss emerging issues associated with various approaches to decentralization and devolution efforts, identify and analyse opportunities and constraints in recent such endeavours, examine gaps between policy and implementation in the field, and explore how successful pilot efforts might be scaled up to generate wider impact.

Four working groups made recommendations for follow-up activities. A comprehensive set of papers is to be published as proceedings, and there were indications of follow-up workshops to be organized at national level in selected countries.

Toward a tropical fruit network

On 25–28 May, in Pattaya, Thailand, 173 delegates from 23 countries around the world and various international organizations attended the first session of the sub-group on tropical fruits of the FAO Committee on Commodity Problems, held at the invitation of the Thai government. The Thai Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Mr. Pongpol Adireksarn. inaugurated the meeting.

The purpose of the gathering, which enjoyed wide press coverage, was to establish the Tropical Fruit Network (TFNET) and to exchange information and experience on promoting the production, consumption and trade of tropical fruits. In the event, a framework and timetable for establishing TFNET were adopted.

The global network, linking institutions and governments through one lead agency, would gradually expand through regional networks. It would have both ordinary and associate members, with membership fees determined by the scale of production, consumption and trade, category of membership and other relevant factors.

It is worth noting that TFNET will be distinct from the Tropical Fruit Network Web site set up by the International Trade Centre UNCTAD/WTO.

During the same session, the sub-group on tropical fruits determined to seek International Commodity Body status with the Common Fund for Commodities, and recommended that the FAO Secretariat apply for it on its behalf.

FIVIMS: a systemic approach to fighting undernutrition

On 20–23 October a regional expert consultation of the Asia-Pacific Network for Food and Nutrition was held at the Bangkok FAO regional office on the creation or strengthening of food insecurity and vulnerability information and mapping systems, FIVIMS. The event drew together 18 participants, including the representatives of nine Asian countries - Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam.

The purpose of the meeting was to generate interest and promote activity in the countries where such systems have been set up and are in various stages of implementation, with priority attention being given to food and nutrition monitoring and assessment, as strongly suggested in his opening address by Dr Prem Nath, Assistant Director-General and FAO Representative for Asia and the Pacific.

The assembled experts reaffirmed the importance of national FIVIMS, called for the examination of some of their nutrition components, and recognized the systems as useful tools for governments to target vulnerable people, so as to reduce all forms of undernutrition by half by the year 2015, as pledged at the 1996 World Food Summit.

Kunming workshop on agricultural accounts

From 30 November to 4 December, 40 participants from 11 East and Southeast Asian countries attended a workshop on systems of economic accounts for agriculture. The workshop, held in Kunming, China, was organized jointly by the UN Statistical Institute for Asia and the Pacific (SIAP) and FAO. On the FAO side, the regional office for Asia and the Pacific co-operated closely with the Statistics Division from FAO headquarters in the planning and conduct of the event, which was hosted by China's State Statistical Bureau.

The workshop reviewed different aspects of the 1993 System of National Accounts, and discussed ways and means to compile and maintain economic accounts for the agricultural sector. The joint meeting, a direct result of the close co-operation between SIAP and FAO/RAP over the last few years, was a good example of synergy achieved through inter-agency joint activities.

How can cooperatives survive financially?

Hosted by the Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development, the RAP-based Network for the Development of Agricultural Co-operatives (NEDAC) organized a regional workshop in Comilla, Bangladesh, from 20 to 23 May, on the financial viability of agricultural cooperatives. Twenty - six participants and resource persons from four countries (Bangladesh, China, Philippines and Thailand) participated in the meeting.

The financial viability of cooperatives was reviewed in terms of the accumulation of capital through share purchasing or through regular savings, profits from marketing members' produce, business undertaking, assets creation and credit arrangements for the members. The conclusions and recommendations of the meetings are contained in RAP Publication 1998/20.

One day before the workshop, a NEDAC Executive Committee meeting was held also in Comilla. The main discussion point was the need to increase the financial resources of NEDAC, through expanded membership and enhanced collection of membership contributions.

Transferring technology to rural women

From 2 to 5 November, 20 participants, observers, and representatives from nine countries of the region (Bangladesh, Bhutan, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam) gathered in Bangkok at the behest of the FAO regional office to explore the achievements and constraints in technology transfer to Asian rural women and to identify innovative practices that could be replicated.

Through the projection of two FAO-produced video films (From Farmer to Planner and Back and Gender Issues in Rural Fisheries) and the presentation and discussion of resource and secretariat papers, the consultation led to a preliminary report setting out recommendations on how to improve women's access to technology in a changing rural environment. It also led to a concept paper underway in Malaysia on the technological needs of women in countries facing economic crises, as well as to a document on “technology for rural women: information sources” to be distributed in electronic and hard-copy form to member countries in Asia for ready access to information on technologies appropriate for rural women.

Food security for rural women

From 15 to 18 September, 18 resource persons, observers, and research and development professionals from eight Asian countries -Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, Lao PDR, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines and Thailand - held a technical consultation in Bangkok on intra-household dynamics and rural household food security, as part of the activities of the Women in Development programme of the FAO regional office's Sustainable Development Group. The meeting recognized country-specific realities of gender dimensions as they affect rural household food security, created a regional working group on the same topic, and formulated a plan for local action. A preliminary report was circulated. As a follow-up to the consultation, work has been in progress since then in Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan to identify research priorities.

Decentralized rural development and the role of rural self-help groups

From 4 to 6 November, more than forty participants from six countries and representatives from international and regional organizations from Asia attended a workshop on decentralized rural development and the role of rural self-help groups in Chiang Mai, Thailand, organized by the FAO regional office. The consensus was that the alleviation of poverty should be tackled by mobilizing and organizing the rural poor through self-help groups, and the meeting recognized the role of participatory decentralization of rural development as a core strategy. The workshop produced action plans for the participating countries to promote participatory, decentralized rural development.

ADB loan for Laos

From 28 January to 14 March, an FAO/Investment Centre mission visited the Lao People's Democratic Republic to undertake the final preparation of a shifting-cultivation stabilization project aiming to replace traditional shifting cultivation in upland areas with perennial, diversified farming systems and thereby increase agricultural productivity, protect natural resources and improve household incomes.

The mission included field visits to the project areas, and participation in a workshop involving central and provincial government officials and beneficiary farmers. The proposed project originally centred on the provinces of Luang Prabang and Houaphanh, in northern Laos, where more than 35 percent of the country's shifting cultivators live. An integrated rural development project, it involves agricultural, industrial and horticultural crops, forestry, livestock and fishery activities as well as improvement of local rural infrastructure and services.

The Investment Centre officer stationed at RAP participated in another three Asia Development Bank (ADB) appraisal missions during 1998 and early 1999. The size of the project has been reduced to only include Houaphanh Province. The project will be implemented between 1999 and 2006 and will focus on two areas comprising some 12,600 people in 48 villages over 77,000 ha. Total project costs are estimated at US$8.5 million, 64 percent of which is to be financed by ADB and the rest by UNDCP (14 percent), the Lao Government (20 percent) and the beneficiaries (2 percent) in the form of labour.

Shivalik Hills integrated watershed development

The main development objective of this project, prepared with the as sistance of the World Bank officer outposted at RAP, Mr G Mukami, would be to restore the productive potential of the Shivalik hills in five participating states using evolving cost-effective watershed treatment technologies and community participation approaches. This would contribute significantly to arresting soil erosion, increasing water availability and alleviating poverty in the contiguous areas of the Shivalik hills. An associated objective would be to assist with institutional development and consolidate progress already made in unifying approaches to watershed development management among various programmes, including participating states, national and international agencies, operating in the Shivalik hills.

The project area includes the sub-tropical Shivalik and temperate Karewas ranges of the Himalayan foothills in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh states of India. The Shivalik hills, which constitute more than 90 percent of the project area, extend from north-west to southeast across all five states; the Karewas, in Kashmir, are separated from the Shivalik hills of Jammu by the Pir-Panjal mountain range. The Shivalik and Karewas hills differ in soil, climate and elevation, but both face severe devastation and will continue to be denuded if no steps are taken to reverse the trend.

The project would be implemented, over five years starting from June 1999, by the Watershed Development Council of the Indian Ministry of Agriculture and the watershed project implementation offices of the participating state governments.

Technical support for the Pacific

In December 1997, the US Seafood Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) rules came into effect. These rules have enormous implications on the export of seafood products from Pacific islands to the US. In response, the FAO Sub-regional office for the Pacific has prepared a training programme for upgrading the HACCP capacities of countries in the region.

The 2nd National HACCP Training Workshop for Tonga was held in Va'vau from 26 to 30 October 1998 in collaboration with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). The workshop was part of the regional TCP project “Assistance to the South Pacific to Meet New Fish Importing Regulations”. Eighteen individuals representing the public and private sectors successfully completed this certified course.

Reports from other regional bodies located at RAP

Association of Food and Agricultural Marketing (AFMA)

Main activities during 1998 were:

Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI)

The 5th general assembly and an expert consultation were organized in the Republic of Korea in November. A memorandum of understanding was signed with the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute for promoting plant genetic research networks in the region.

During the year, the Group on Fisheries and Aquatic Research of the International Centre for Living Aquatic Resource Management — part of the CGIAR — was officially incorporated into APAARI.

In 1998, APAARI published two success stories, Direct seeded rice in Malaysia and Groundnut in China, and two issues of its newsletter.

In June, Dr R.S. Paroda, Executive Secretary of APAARI, was elected chairman of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research for three years.

Asia-Pacific Rural and Agricultural Credit Association (APRACA)

Statutory meetings convened were:

The main programme activities were a workshop and an international course on rural and micro financial products and services; a national course on outreach structures; four regional training courses on micro-credit projects for poverty alleviation, effective loan management, bank marketing and client development. Field visits were conducted in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Philippines and Thailand.

The Asia and Pacific Seed Association (APSA)

The year 1998 marked the end of the FAO project which established APSA as a regional seed association. As of 1999, APSA will be an autonomous body with its own financial resources, yet will maintain an institutional link with FAO.

In response to the economic downturn in the region, a special membership drive was held, adding 52 new members and bringing the total to 221.

The main APSA activities were the 5th Annual Seed Congress, the General Assembly, and executive and technical committee meetings. A seminar was held on plant patents in the region, and APSA continued to expand its collaboration with several R&D networks.

Several publications were issued, including six issues of the APSA magazine Asian Seed and Planting Material, trade reports on Fiji, New Zealand, the Philippines and Thailand, and several comprehensive seed sector country reports.

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