Who are the world's farmers and how are their contributions to PGR recognized?
It is estimated that 1.4 billion rural people are dependent on small-scale resource poor farming in developing countries (Spillane, 1996). Who do we mean when we speak of "farmers" or "small farmers"? Farmers are both men and women who have domesticated, developed, conserved and made available plant genetic and other natural resources (land; water; vegetation; animal, bird and fish life) to which they have access in order to obtain a livelihood and ensure the well-being of their family through the provision of basic requirements such as food, fuel and water and income from the land.
Statistics show that women's substantial contributions to agriculture range from 40 percent in Latin America to 60 and 80 percent in Asia and Africa. In Sub-Saharan Africa, women dominate the smallholder sector and produce, on average, 70 percent of the food for use in the region (FAO, 1995; Dankelman and Davidson, 1988). For example, in Sudan, women farmers represent 57% of the traditional sector while in Benin, 60-80% of the women are in agricultural work. Yet, while these statistics clearly demonstrate that rural women are indeed "farmers" in their own right, for years, they have been relatively 'invisible' partners in agricultural processes and thus have played a very limited role in policy decisions. This invisibility has been compounded by the use of agricultural censuses which only include/define those farmers whose labour is remunerated and hence visible to the formal state sector.
Over the last few decades, increasing numbers of researchers, extensionists, and policy makers have moved away from a rather top-down "science and technology transfer" approach to agriculture, paying increasing attention to local farmers' opinions, needs and experiences. Yet for many reasons, they have largely, and wrongly, assumed that men are the sole source of agricultural knowledge - or that men's and women's knowledge is identical. The transposition of earlier colonial views and present-day assumptions and stereotypes onto local cultures of the roles of women and men in society - and in particular - agriculture have contributed to this errant assumption.
What continues to be ignored is not only women's contributions in terms of labour and skills, but also their decision-making about how natural resources are used to satisfy the multiple needs of rural households. Rural women's (as well as men's) expertise and responsibility for decision-making about the use of PGR, and indeed other biological resources, makes their contribution and participation central to PGR conservation and indeed all sustainable agricultural development strategies at the local, national, and global levels.
In applying Farmers' Rights to the conservation and management of PGR, we need to look at other rights of farmers and also at other social, legal and institutional aspects. For example, it has been shown that the species, ecosystems and ecosystem services which are most overexploited tend to be the ones with the weakest ownership (McNeely, 1988).
These are often open access resources where the traditional management practices have been removed.
To identify differential rights of farmers, we need to understand the society, the traditions and customs, the roles and responsibilities, and the status of men and women, together with the type of farm-livelihood systems. Therefore, the following questions require further investigation:
· What are the determinants of social status (e.g. gender, seniority and marriage) and who takes decisions and decides on natural resources management issues? For example, if it is a male domain to discuss and decide on land use, then women's inferior role may be taken for granted; if women's roles are deemed inferior to men's then this will be reflected in the decision making process.
· What role do contemporary practices and attitudes play in exercising rights (social groups, power struggles, land ownership and rights of men and women over natural resources, responsibilities). For example, if men hold primary rights to land for agriculture/gardening then how can women, who may lack security of tenure and incentives to invest, benefit from their roles in, and contributions to, the conservation and use of biodiversity?
· How have changes in farming practices, population pressure, migration patterns, legislation, and so forth, affected the rights of women in contrast to men. For example, what influence has a change in state land laws had on the application of customary laws, and on the rights of men and women? and finally.
· Are there any clear relationships between the situation of farmers' rights and their level of education, income and social status and the intensity and duration of their contact with the formal agricultural sector and marketing channels?