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Equitable and gender- responsive application of farmers' rights: areas of action

Equitable and gender- responsive application of farmers' rights: areas of action

The creation of an Intentional Fund has already been proposed under the International Undertaking to be used in support of in-situ conservation and to benefit rural men and women who produce and conserve PGR. To ensure that the resources will be allocated in a sustainable, equitable and transparent way mechanisms are required to:

In order to address the socio-economic and gender issues highlighted above, the international community should also adopt a concrete set of principles on Farmers' Rights that are designed to promote the conservation and sustainable use of PGR essential to agricultural development. Such a legal instrument should therefore: recognize ownership and rights to receive benefits from farmers' local knowledge for those communities who create, develop and enhance it; take into account the differential access of women and men to decision making structures; and respond to the differential needs of women and men farmers in PGR management and conservation. One risk to avoid is where only the formally educated and economic elite of countries with access to genetic resources and related technologies for their improvement will benefit, and the poorer and marginalized groups that nurture PGR, often women, will be by-passed. If this happens, Farmers' Rights may be widely discredited, particularly among farmers who continue to grow traditional crops.

Farmers in all regions of the world should be assisted in their conservation of natural resources and more specifically the selection, conservation, improvement and sustainable use of PGR. Appropriate incentives should be developed, with the active participation of those concerned, to convince communities, industry and governments of the benefits of conservation and development efforts and to provide financial resources, legal support, and technical capability to develop agricultural systems that are suitable for local agro ecological conditions and, where possible, based on locally available resources. Incentives should be used to enable farmers to divert land, labour and capital towards conserving biological resources and to facilitate the participation of certain groups in activities that promote the sustainable use of those resources.

The constraints to ensuring that women farmers, as well as men, benefit from their contribution to PGR conservation and use, through appropriate support, incentives and an enabling environment, are essentially the same as those outlined in any text on gender and agriculture. It is the recognition of the implications of these constraints with regard to PGR conservation that is essential to finding and implementing viable, effective and equitable programmes.

A number of specific areas justifying attention are indicated below with examples of appropriate action that needs to be adopted.

I. Policies and development programmes

Unfortunately, a widespread lack of attention by, decision-makers in the agricultural and environmental sectors to the differential knowledge, needs and priorities of men and women as agricultural producers and managers of natural resources has reduced the effectiveness and equity of policies and programmes in promoting sustainable agricultural production systems and PGR conservation efforts.

Action Required:

II. Legislation

PGR and other biological resources are often under threat from over-exploitation through inappropriate legislation; and/or where the responsibility for their management has been removed from the local people who rely on them and transferred through nationalization to government agencies located in distant capitals. The rural populations who live closest to the areas with the greatest biodiversity are often among the most socially and economically disadvantaged (McNeely, 1988). These rural communities, who might otherwise benefit from the development of these resources, bear the cost of conservation. Under such conditions and economic pressures, the poorest have no alternatives, but to deplete the diversity upon which they depend.

Action Required

III. Participation in decision making, at community, regional and national levels

As poorer farmers, and most notably, women farmers, are often excluded from decision making processes at different levels, their substantial efforts and innovations in PGR conservation and management may not be recognized and their specific needs and priorities may therefore be neglected. In recent years, Participatory Rural Appraisal (ERA) and other similar participatory tools and techniques have been developed and adapted for use in different regions and sectors. Additional efforts are still required to ensure a gender sensitivity of such approaches in PGR conservation and utilization.

Action required:

IV. Access to productive resources

Farmers' insecure land tenure and/or limited access to irrigation water may lead to unsustainable land use and farming practices as farmers will have little opportunity or incentive to invest labour or money in conservation efforts. Security of tenure as it relates to PGR includes common property and collective local decision making as well as private property. Women farmers throughout the world face insecure land tenure arrangements and despite land reform and the recognition of women's rights to land in state laws, often the application of customary laws perpetuates the discrimination at community levels.

Action Required

V. Access to agricultural services

As agricultural services and extension tend to be directed to the male head of household, regardless of the division of roles and responsibilities for different farm-household enterprises, women farmers have been shown to benefit little from support in terms of information and technology, inputs and credit, extension and research.

Modern plant breeding has concentrated on developing a small number of varieties which are widely adapted to many environments. In fact, conventional research and extension efforts have focused on introducing high yielding hybrid seeds and exogenous varieties to the detriment of local (traditional) varieties which have been adapted, for livelihood security reasons, to the diverse agro-ecological environments. The introduction of these exogenous seeds and related inputs has also differentially impacted rural men and women, often differentially benefiting better off male farmers in the community.

Action Required:

VI. Community development

In general farmers are interested in conserving resources. However, they are constrained from doing so because they do not receive any recompense for their efforts and they do not receive the benefits of their labours to increase their families' livelihood security. There is a need to build on traditional ways and means of managing PGR which may have been weakened in recent years due to the pressures of economic change at national/international levels. Smallholder farmers, especially women, have limited access to education, security' of tenure, credit and in the struggle for subsistence they may not have the option to invest in the conservation of PGR and the ecosystem.

Action Required

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