Agriculture And Rural Development
Cooperation under Agriculture, Rural Development and Food Security
According to 2014 statistics, South Asia is home of 1.749 billion people and 67% of them are living in the rural areas. Almost half of the workforce is employed in the agriculture sector 42% of South Asia’s landmass is under agricultural operation. Considering the facts and importance, the Heads of State or Government agreed at the 18th Summit (Kathmandu 25 November 2014)-
…to increase investment, promote research and development, facilitate technical cooperation and apply innovative, appropriate and reliable technologies in the agriculture sector for enhancing productivity to ensure food and nutritional security in the region. They also underscored the importance of promoting sustainable agriculture.
Subsequently, the Third Meeting of SAARC Agriculture Ministers (Dhaka, 7 April 2016)-
…noted that though agriculture’s contribution to national economies is relatively less it holds tremendous importance in terms of meeting the ever growing nutrition and food security goals of a vast population.
Details of cooperation focusing on agriculture is here
Details of cooperation focusing on rural development is here
SAARC Agriculture Ministers’ Meeting
The Third Meeting of SAARC Agriculture Ministers’ has successfully been held after a significant break of seven long years. The meeting was graced by H.E Prime Minister of Bangladesh and attended by all the Member States. The Ministers expressed concerns over long gaps between the meetings and stressed on the timely implementation of previous decisions including the summit directives, decisions of the past Ministerial and Senior Official level meetings. They also stressed on the sharing of inputs and exchange of high quality seeds and germplasms not more than five years of release, among the Member States. The Agriculture Ministers called for addressing barriers in intra-regional trade in agriculture and promotion of a regional value chain in agriculture. While the Meeting directed that SAC to implement need-based programmes with participation of experts and practitioners from all the SAARC Member States, noted the challenges facing the SAC such as low programme budget, difficulties in recruiting and retaining high caliber scientists due to unattractive remuneration, lack of response from the Member States in providing inputs for various research and capacity building programmes, difficulty in ensuring participation of resource persons in trainings and workshops, lack of flexibility and mandate to forge partnership with international organizations and specialized bodies. The Agriculture Ministers urged that the SAARC higher bodies should address the issues with deeper consideration. In this respect, the Ministers recommended that the SAC should take over the responsibilities of the closed SAARC Forestry Centre particularly with emphasize on the agro-forestry perspective.
The meeting was also of the view that the Food Bank should cooperate with international organizations such as IFAD, WFP and FAO on technical and operational issues and the international specialized organizations could be invited to attend TCARD meetings. However, as regards participation of international organizations and specialized bodies in the SAOM and ministerial level meetings, as observers, the Secretariat is to circulate note verbale seeking Member States’ views.
Technical Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (TCARD)
It has been observed that like all other SAARC mechanisms, meetings of TCARD are day by day becoming irregular. Though the practice was at per the approved TCARD-ToR for having at least one meeting a year, the re-organized TCARD met only 8 times in fourteen years and only two meetings took place in last six years. These irregular meetings affected the regular activities and their quality. Often the following meeting finds its previous discussion out of date and irrational in the prevailing context and discontinue. As for the Eighth meeting of the SAARC Technical Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (TCARD) held in Dhaka from 4-5 April 2016 after a span of three years, the Meeting observed that a number of decisions taken in the past at various mechanisms who report to TCARD were not followed up resulting in little progress in implementation of the decisions. The situation is overwhelmed with non-availability of relevant data from the Member States.
Having 67% of regional population in the rural areas, rural development though supposed to be one of the regional priorities any regional initiative is becoming prey of traditional neglect, lack of focus and lack of focal institutions in the Member countries and bureaucratic miss-management. The Secretariat is of the view that focused and integrated rural development programme is need of the time.
TCARD is now considering 13 new project proposals including 9 from Bangladesh and 2 each from Bhutan and India. However, no views on the proposal have been received till date though circulated on 6 May 2016.
Multi-stakeholders’ Dialogue on Agriculture
For the second time, the Multi-stakeholders’ Dialogue on Agriculture preceded the meeting of the Technical Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (TCARD). The meeting was as devised, attended by Government and non-government agencies, development partners, farmers representatives and private sector representatives. The outcome of the meeting was subsequently considered by the TCARD along with the outcome of the previous dialogue held in 2010. The Ministers considered the two multi-stakeholders’ Dialogue on Agriculture held in 2010 on ‘Management of Soil/Land – towards Sustainable Agriculture in South Asia’ and in 2016 on ‘Pulses Research and Development in SAARC Region: Challenges and Way Forward’ and directed the SAARC Agriculture Centre to devise implementable regional projects in line with the dialogue recommendations. The Meeting endorsed the recommendation of Senior Agricultural Officials of holding one-day multi-stakeholders’ dialogue preceding the TCARD meeting. The multi-stakeholders’ dialogue would have two segments: cross-cutting and thematic.
SAARC Food Bank
In line with the Eighteenth SAARC Summit directive to eliminate the threshold criteria from the SAARC Food Bank Agreement the Eighth SAARC Food Bank Board meeting (Male’, 2-3 September 2015) agreed to entrust the Secretariat for drafting the amendment to the Agreement. Subsequently, a draft was circulated and views received from Member States. Subsequently the 9th Meeting of the Food Bank Board (Kathmandu, 21-22 September 2016) considered the matter and unanimously recommended the draft amendment for approval of the SAARC higher bodies.
The amendment includes omission of the threshold criteria for drawing food from the bank and cooperation with the development partners with whom SAARC has the MoU. The next Board meeting is to be held in Pakistan. However, till date Pakistan hasn’t conveyed/announced the dates.
As decided by the Eighth Food Bank Board meeting (Malé, 2-3 September 2015), SAARC Food Bank Information System (SFBIS) has been inserted in the SAARC Agriculture Centre (SAC)’s website. Also “A Guide to the SAARC Food Bank” has been published collating all relevant information and references.
SAARC Seed Bank
The Agreement on establishing the SAARC Seed Bank which has entered into force on 15 June 2016 upon completion of the ratification process with the Maldives. A Board has been constituted with representative of all the Member States and the Board met for the first time in Dhaka on 27-28 September 2017. As the Third meeting of the Agriculture Ministers laid emphasis on exchange of seeds and germplasms among the SAARC Member States for conducting adaptive trials and recommended to preferably facilitate the exchange of seeds and germplasms released within less than five years, the Board is now identifying the crops in line with the SAC programme of adaptive trials. The Board is also working on developing a strategic action plan, SoP and a protocol to facilitate exchange of seeds among the Member States. The 2nd meeting is to be hosted by either Afghanistan or Bhutan.
Enhanced networking among SAARC CVOs
SAARC Chief Veterinary Officers’ (CVOs) Forum is one of the regular Forum of SAARC dealing with controlling trans-boundary animal diseases, capacity building on epidemiology activities, networking among the veterinarians, regional laboratories and other veterinary institutions. During the Fifth CVOs meeting, the Forum considered a concept note on establishing SAARC Livestock Vision Group submitted by the representative of Pakistan and the status of usage of the Epidemiology Mapping Tool (EMT) by the Member States and directed the Regional Support Unit (RSU) to extend support wherever necessary. The meeting noted that RSU is providing support to the Member States for Laboratory Information and Management System (LIMS) and SAC is organizing one Field Epidemiology Training Programme for the Veterinarians (FETPV) in collaboration with the RSU. The meeting started baseline discussion on cooperation on matters relating to Anti-Microbial Usage (AMU) and monitoring Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR) in the farm animal. The meeting noted that the FAO to support a regional project in this respect along with the “Support to address the avian influenza and other high impact animal diseases in Asia”. The CVOs also agreed upon holding the meeting of the Global Frame-work on Trans-boundary Animal Diseases (GF-TAD) for SAARC in every alternative years back to back with the CVOs meeting.
However, the meeting was overwhelmingly concerned over the sustainability of Regional Support Unit, Regional Epidemiology Centre, SAARC Epidemiology Network (SAARC EpiNet), SAARC Animal Disease Information System (SADIS) and SAARC Laboratory Directors’ Forum (SLDF) beyond the project period till July 2017. The meeting urged the SAARC higher bodies to consider creating optimum posts at the SAC to retain the mechanisms in line with the directives of Forty-second session of the Standing Committee (Kathmandu, 22-23 November 2014) to incorporate the mechanisms within the SAC and providing additional budget support to the Centre.
Though the following meeting was to be hosted by Pakistan, being guided by the CVO, Pakistan, the Secretariat is now working with the Government of Bhutan for hosting the same meeting back to back with the meeting of the Global Frame-work on Trans-boundary Animal Diseases (GF-TAD) for SAARC. The meeting is expected to be held from 8-10 May 2017.
Agricultural Research, Extension and Farmers linkages
The Secretariat managed to hold the the 3rd meeting of the SAARC Inter-governmental Core Group on Agricultural Research, Extension and Farmers linkages in Colombo in June 2015 with the help of the Government of Sri Lanka after a span of 6 years. However, look like the mechanism yet to be on track as the Secretariat did not have heard anything from the subsequent host i.e. Afghanistan. The meeting may note that the form is to foster the regional cooperation on systematic capacity development program for grassroot and farmer cooperatives are priority areas of intervention to fast-track the technology dissemination, developing priority project on agricultural research and extension, working with renowned stakeholders/development partners to resolve regional priority challenges. During its Third meeting, the Forum agreed to develop regional strategies for agricultural innovation and emulate successful extension model being used elsewhere (Africa, South America etc) like YoAgricultor in Chile, Farm Radio-Ethiopia, Management Company of Peru in the region and promote the impressive innovations of the region like mAgriculture, Agri Info Service and Krishibazaar of Bangladesh and mKRISHI® of India for welfare of the farmers of the region. Afghanistan has been requested to announce the dates for the Fourth meeting which was expected to be held in March 2016.
SAARC Development Fund (SDF)
The Eighteenth SAARC Summit (Kathmandu, November 2014) directed to strengthen the Social Window of the SDF and operationalize its Economic Window and Infrastructure Window at the earliest for effective implementation of regional and sub-regional projects. The Summit also stressed on expeditious development of projects under SDF addressing the livelihood issues of the peoples of the region and agreed to expand the Governing Board of SDF by including a representative of the National Focal Point of the Member States. Subsequently, the Thirty-seventh session of the council of Ministers directed to replace the matter related to NFPs inclusion to the following Summit for reconsideration.
Till date the Governing Board of SDF met for Twenty six meetings and the Governing Council of SDF met five times.
Presently SDF is implementing thirteen regional projects of about USD82.60 million, under its Social Window addressing various subjects such as women empowerment, maternal and child health, water and sanitation, agriculture, education, IT, and violence against women and children. Mentionable that five out of the ten projects are at the final stage of implementation and expected to end by 2016. Other two would be completed by 2017, one in 2018 and the remaining two are at the preparatory stage. SDF circulated the brochure for Economic Window and Infrastructure Window and now considering a number of projects, however, none of them are ready for implementation.
The Council of Ministers endorsed a proposal of SDF Governing Council for amending SDF Charter reducing the required number to one with direct/indirect benefit to more than one Member State for any SDF project. Subsequently, Member States have been requested to forward their instrument of acceptance to the Secretariat. However, till date Bangladesh, India, India and Nepal have conveyed their concurrence to the amendment.
SAARC Agricultural Centre (SAC)
SAC has been working on priority cross cutting areas in crop, livestock, fisheries sectors and natural resources management identified by the member countries where partnership as well as regional collaboration is the driving force. The Centre has been organizing regional study, workshops, trainings and consultation meetings with regional subject matter experts/ specialists. These regional programs help for identifying emerging need-based priority issues and areas for intervention. SAC has been implementing its activities and programs in partnership and collaboration with National Agricultural Research System (NARS), National Agricultural Extension System (NAES), State Agricultural University (SAU) and international development partners. The Centre also has been publishing valuable books, monographs, proceedings, bulletin, news letter, journal and recommendations for agricultural stakeholders of the region. Besides, the Centre facilitates sharing of elite plant and animal germplasm for adaptive trial as well as genetic improvement purposes.
The Centre organized 73 regional expert consultations/ workshops/ trainings at different premier institutes of SAARC member countries from 2008-2016 on different priority issues. To meet up the future demand of the region in the area of agriculture with increased population and changing climate, the Centre has taken initiatives to intensify the program in the frontier areas such as biotechnology, hybrid technologies, GMO, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), Farming systems in adverse ecosystems (hill, coastal agriculture, saline zone, flood and drought prone agriculture etc.), sericulture, agro-forestry, organic agriculture, bio-pesticides, value addition and agriculture trade, GIS based agriculture, good agricultural practices on selected crops, crop modeling, dairy production, animal feeds and fodder, genetic improvement of indigenous farm animals, Trans-boundary animal Diseases (TADs), brood fish management and coastal aquaculture, etc.
SAARC Journal of Agriculture (SJA), a half yearly publication of the centre envisages to serve a platform for exchange of latest knowledge on breakthrough topics in the field of Agriculture, fisheries, livestock, forestry and allied subjects that are of current concern of researchers, extension specialists, students and policy makers.
The Centre successfully implemented SAARC-Australia project on “Developing capacity on cropping systems modelling to promote food security and the sustainable use of water resources in South Asia” funded by Australian Government which was challenging and new experiences of SAC. The Centre is also implementing SAARC-FAO technical cooperation project on” Strengthening the Capacity of SAARC in the Development, Coordination and Monitoring of a Regional Food Security and Nutrition Framework, Strategies and Programmes”. The Centre has developed project for SDF funding “Livelihood Enhancement of the Rural Poor in SAARC Region Through Small-scale Agro-business Focusing on Value Chain Development”. The Centre has signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with IRRI, CIRDAP, ISC and ICRISAT for mutual cooperation to promote agricultural research and development in the region. Apart from this, SAC is organizing its activities in collaboration with international partners like FAO, APAARI, GFAR, APO, APN, ILRI, CIMMYT, IFPRI, ICARDA and ICRAF, which have opened new windows as well as dimension of the activities of the centre.
SAARC’s partnership with the development partners
The Secretariat is now implementing four projects in the field of agriculture, rural development and food security supported by four different development partners. With ADB and FAO, the Secretariat is implementing Trans-boundary Animal Diseases (TADs) project (2015-2017) as follow up of erstwhile Highly Pathogenic and Emerging Diseases (HPEDs) project supported by the European Union from 2010-2014. The TADs project is expected to end by July 2017. With FAO and OIE, SAARC just completed a joint project on controlling PPR that is peste des petis ruminants. Another project is supported by FAO for strengthening the Capacity of the Secretariat and SAC in the Development, Co-ordination and Monitoring of a Regional Food Security and Nutrition Framework, Strategies and Programmes. The implementations of the projects are at various stages. While the projects on PPR aimed to develop regional roadmap for eradication of the disease, TADs project is to carry forward the objectives of the EU supported Highly Pathogenic and Emerging Diseases (HPED) project, the strengthening SAARC Secretariat and SAC project planned to revisit the seven food security projects approved by the Thirty-eighth and Thirty-ninth sessions of the Standing Committee, organize donors’ meeting and developing SAARC framework and action plan for regional food and nutrition security. This strengthening SAARC Secretariat project has recently got an extension till December 2017. The Secretariat also implementing two more study projects with support of UNESCAP and International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) on “SAARC Food Bank: Institutional Architecture and Issues of operationalization” and “Strengthening the Role of SAARC in the Sustainable Intensification of Agriculture in South Asia” respectively. Recently, the Secretariat submitted a USD3.5 million dollar project to the IFAD Headquarters for developing efficiency in water management. For the record, this would be the first ever natural resource based cooperation in SAARC.
Efforts to combat Trans-boundary animal disease
It is evident that last few years the Secretariat is really putting visible focus of fostering cooperation Trans-boundary Animal Disease. To this effect, a number mechanisms i.e. Regional Support Unit, Regional Epidemiology Centre, SAARC Epidemiology Network (SAARC EpiNet), SAARC Animal Disease Information System (SADIS) and SAARC Laboratory Directors’ Forum (SLDF) are now in place. Relevant SAARC Forums (TCARD, CVOs Forum, Agriculture Ministers) are now anxious on retaining the mechanisms and carrying on the activities beyond the ADB supported project completing in July 2017. There has been directive from the Forty-second Standing Committee to incorporate RSU and REC in the SAARC Agriculture Centre. The SAARC Agriculture Ministers met in April 2016 recommended to sustain the mechanisms whereas the SAARC CVOs Forum is regularly pointing out their concerns over the issue.
Project based Cooperation
a. Agriculture and Rural Development Projects funded through the SDF:
Four of the nine priority projects that the SDF has been implementing regionally (with total amount of USD 62.51 million), relate to Agriculture. These projects are: Strengthening the livelihood initiative for home based workers in SAARC Region (SABAH) amounting US$ 16,775,821; Scaling up of Zero Energy Cold Storage (ZECS) technology for the horticultural commodities in the high hills of SAARC countries for US$ 3,380,931; Empowering Rural Communities "Reaching the Unreached” with budget support of US$ 7,938,335 and Post Harvest Management and Value Addition of Fruits in Production Catchments in SAARC Countries of US$ 4,979,075.
b. External Funded Projects
Following the SAARC higher bodies’ directives, the Secretariat is regularly partnering with the UN agencies and other international organizations for implementing potential regional projects. At present, the Secretariat is implementing six regional projects in the field of agriculture, rural development and food security including (i) SAARC Food Security through control of Trans-boundary Animal Diseases supported by ADB, (ii) Strengthening the Capacity of SAARC in the Development, Co-ordination and Monitoring of a Regional Food Security and Nutrition Framework, Strategies and Programmes supported by FAO, (iii) Strengthening the Role of SAARC in the Sustainable Intensification of Agriculture in South Asia with IFAD and (iv) one on Support to address the avian influenza and other high impact animal diseases in Asia supported by the Government of Korea.
- Under the aegis of GF-TAD, HPED project was implemented with financial support from the EU. As stipulated in the project document, Regional Support Unit (RSU) and Regional Epidemiological Center (REC) have been established in Kathmandu. The Project also established networking among the professionals and three Lead Diagnostic Laboratories have been established in three different countries e.g. Pakistan for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI); India for Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and Bangladesh for Peste-de-Petis (PPR).
- A website of the project has been established (http://www.saarc-rsu-hped.org) and is regularly updated to share disease alerts in the region and other relevant material. The project activities are also being hosted on social media like Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/saarc.rsu.hped/info) and LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/company/regional-support-unit-for-hpeds/) for wider dissemination and impact.
- To ensure the sustainability of the project achievement, a follow up project on SAARC Food Security through control of Trans-boundary Animal Diseases with financial support from ADB has been launched. As elaborated in the project launching report, the key goals of the project are:
- Carry on the HPED project activities;
- Support the PPR campaign in the region
- Sustain the activities of RSU, REC, EpiNet, Lab Directors’ Forum and so on.