With more people on the move than in any other part of the world, the impact migration has on food security and rural livelihoods in the Asia-Pacific region is being closely examined during this year’s World Food Day.
Of the world’s 815 million hungry people, more than 60 percent, or some 490 million of them, live in this region. Escaping poverty, or just seeking greater livelihood options, millions are migrating within their own countries (for example to urban areas), or across borders.
Migration can take many forms – seasonal, temporary or even permanent – and it can be a positive move for many. But for others it is too often undertaken in desperation, due to conflict, natural disasters and climate change. People migrating in these circumstances are more vulnerable to increased food insecurity and worsening poverty.
A royal endorsement for zero hunger, safe migration and investment for rural development
In Asia and the Pacific, a regional World Food Day event illustrated this year’s theme “Change the future of migration. Invest in food security and rural development.”
The event’s Guest of Honour, UN FAO Special Ambassador for Zero Hunger in Asia and the Pacific, Her Royal Highness, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand, called for the region to recognize both the risks and opportunities associated with migration.
“This year’s World Food Day theme calls upon us to harness the potential of migration to support development and strengthen receiving and sending rural communities’ resilience. This will not happen automatically but as a result of concerted efforts and measures that maximize the positive outcomes of migration while minimizing the negative ones.”
“As FAO Special Ambassador for Zero Hunger, I strongly support FAO in its efforts toward helping governments and partners to invest in rural development and achieve sustainable agriculture systems,” Her Royal Highness added.
Building stronger rural economies will benefit all
The people who produce our food in Asia-Pacific are primarily smallholders, yet many of them are aging as the younger members of their families – particularly the young men – migrate in search of non-agricultural occupations. In many countries, this has resulted in women taking on all the roles in the household and on the farm.
“We need to rethink the way we farm. This will mean rethinking how we produce, what we produce, and the institutions within which we produce,” said keynote speaker, Bina Agarwal, Professor of Development Economics and Environment at the Global Development Institute, University of Manchester. “Today, we have an opportunity to tread an alternative path to agrarian change – one which is equitable and inclusive, ecologically sustainable, institutionally innovative, and attractive to women and youth. Cooperation, community, and conservation are the three key principles which will help us build this innovative and sustainable farming future.”
FAO calls for a wide-ranging response in Asia and the Pacific
“On this World Food Day, FAO joins with governments, civil society organizations, and millions of others to work together to make migration a choice and not a move of desperation or a relocation of last resort,” said Kundhavi Kadiresan, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific. “Working together to resolve conflicts, investing in rural development, enhancing social protection, adapting to and mitigating the effects of natural disasters and climate change – all of these things can help us respond to the negative effects of ill-prepared migration, while building a more food-secure and resilient Asia-Pacific for us all.”
Model farmers receive awards
FAO’s annual Asia-Pacific World Food Day event honoured five model farmers from across the region. The five – four women and one man – came from Afghanistan, Indonesia, Japan, Nepal and Thailand. Each received a certificate of accomplishment from Her Royal Highness, on behalf of the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. Citations detailing the farmers’ achievements are attached to this news release (see below).
AWARD CITATIONS TO FAO ASIA-PACIFIC MODEL FARMERS
Shafiqa Wahidi, a model farmer from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,
recognized for success in agricultural inspection and training
It’s not easy to be a farmer in Afghanistan. But being a female farmer, when you are a widow and a mother of five, is an even greater challenge.
For Ms Shafiqa Wahidi, practicing agriculture in a country with harsh weather, water scarcity and an ongoing conflict, requires much discipline and dedication to increase production and gain acceptance, especially from a community where men often frown upon women in work.
But Ms Wahidi has proved that, while it might be difficult to work under these conditions and traditions, advances can be made.
After losing her husband to war and conflict 14 years ago, Ms Wahidi was forced to become the family’s sole breadwinner. Farming is the only thing she’s ever known, and back then it was agriculture to which she turned to feed her family. As the years went by, Ms Wahidi’s confidence grew. She began teaching young children and she gained greater respect among the men in the community. They trusted her, and allowed her to teach their daughters beyond primary level.
The teacher once again turned to farming, eventually as a full-time occupation. She began growing root vegetables and mushrooms at her home. After some trial and error, she came up with an agricultural method to overcome extreme climate by introducing rooftop farming and drip irrigation. The systems she devised were inexpensive, easy to install and consumed much less water. She found from her own experience that plastic sheets could effectively retain moisture in soil. The method reduces water consumption while minimizing damage to produce. She also gained skills in animal health inspection practices and has shared them with more than 250 other women.
During the cold winter months, Ms Wahidi developed ways to preserve vegetables grown at her small-scale plantation. This significantly reduces food waste and even saves money. With her roots in teaching, she began sharing this knowledge and experience with other women. Now some 40 Afghan women currently follow her home-based gardening methods and preservation of mushrooms, pickles, jams and dried fruits, improving their food security and nutrition.
Ms Wahidi says she’s very happy that she’s helped other women, some of whom are now supporting their husbands. When asked if she has a message for the millions of other women in her country, Ms Wahidi replies with a firm yes. “Do not become dependent on other family members, including husbands,” she says. Learn to move forward step by step on your own. Our model farmer has already taken many of those steps indeed.
Ulus Pirmawan is a model farmer from the Republic of Indonesia,
recognized for his success in innovative vegetable production systems
Sometimes, innovation can transform the lives of smallholder farmers who are often seen as poor, overworked and voiceless. But Mr Ulus Pirmawan, with only a primary school education, is a shining example of how innovation, passion and determination can reap great rewards – even for a smallholder farmer.
Each day, two large cold-storage trucks loaded with about three tonnes of baby beans and other vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, pumpkin, spinach and tomato leave his farm near Bandung. One load is destined for markets in Japan and the other to a nearby farmers’ wholesale market.
In addition to hard work, Mr Pirmawan’s success is a combination of collaboration, rich volcanic soil and a desire to share his knowledge with others.
Fertile volcanic soil in West Java contributes to a huge volume of high-quality agricultural products. In fact, three hectares of plantation can produce as many as 1.5 tonnes of baby bean. As head of the local farmer’s group and its 20 members, Mr Pirmawan works to ensure their produce reaches the market at the right time, in the right quantities and at fair market value.
This wasn’t always the case. Before the farmer’s group was formed, Mr Pirmawan and his neighbours had no choice but to sell their produce to middle-men or brokers who then sold to others. The supply chain was long and prices paid to farmers were very low. To address this, the government encouraged the creation of farmer’s groups and Mr Pirmawan and his neighbours took advantage of it.
When a group of Japanese development experts visited his village in 2005, they sampled his baby beans and told him they were perfect quality for export. It wasn’t long before those beans were on their way to dinner plates in Tokyo. Now, after taking on the functions of the middle-men, Mr Pirmawan’s group of 20 are each earning up to US$ 1,150 per month – a four-fold increase from the old days.
But to Mr Pirmawan, becoming a model farmer is more than just increasing one’s income, it’s also about sharing one’s knowledge with others. He has a passion for learning and teaching. In 2014, he was part of a JICA agricultural exchange programme and gained marketing skills. That same year, and again in 2015, Mr Pirmawan received an Indonesian government export award for the high quality of his baby beans. Today he employs 15 people and has shared his knowledge with hundreds more including farmers from neighbouring Timor-Leste. When asked if he ever gets tired, he replies “Yes. But I will work and train others for just as long as I can. I am proud of this.” And he should be.
Eri Otsu, a model farmer from Japan,
recognized for success in raising the voices of rural women and farmers
When this well-educated woman from Japan told her family and friends that she would settle down as a farmer in a rural area, they all asked her “Why?” Ms Eri Otsu’s reply was immediate and forceful. “Why not?” she said.
Born in Germany, Ms Otsu grew up in metro-Tokyo but did not hesitate to leave her urban life behind in pursuit of love and rural happiness. As an only child Ms Otsu had longed for an extended family. The big city, in her view, was not suitable for raising children.
So when she got married she encouraged her husband to start a new chapter of family life by going back to his farming roots. But first, after the couple finished their Master’s Degrees in landscape planning overseas, they returned to Tokyo. As her husband’s parents were getting older, they wanted him to take over the running of their one-hectare farm in the far south of Japan. Ms Otsu decided the time to move was now or never, and her husband agreed.
With some help from her husband’s uncle, Ms Otsu began farming by primarily growing organic rice. She also helped her uncle in-law breed Japanese brown cattle. Ms Otsu then put her landscape planning knowledge into practice by promoting renewable energy and she now encourages Japanese farmers to follow such practice. Indeed, she is the director of Kyushu Biomass Forum, a non-profit organization established to advocate and raise public awareness of renewable energy benefits for rural development. Technology, she believes, is key to future food security – as the average age of farmers in Japan is approaching 70.
Ms Otsu’s voice is a strong one – and well recognized in her home country. She speaks up for farmers and advocates for a stronger voice for women in farming. Following the earthquake in 2016, her voice became even louder. She launched several projects to optimize rural development. One example was her “Little Farmers School” project, which teaches rural children about food and agriculture. The project received awards from the Ministry of Environment. Ms Otsu also runs a “Restaurant Bus” – a tourism project designed to take visitors to farming areas affected by the quake – so they could try local dishes made from fresh produce from farm sites affected by the disaster.
As a key player for the designation of a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems site in Aso, Ms Otsu states unequivocally that “Even with a great plan for protecting and improving landscapes, we cannot do so without farmers. As their livelihoods are at stake, farmers themselves should speak up and send out this message. “Their voices must be heard,” she says. Well, today we can say we’ve heard yours – as an activist, a mother, a migrant and a farmer.
Indra Kumari Lawati, a model farmer from the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal,
is recognized for success in resilient farming in a remote region
At least one person in every household of Mrs Indra Kumari Lawati’s remote village – situated more than twelve-hundred metres above sea level – has left town. Most of the young men have migrated for work in the Middle East and the rest are working or studying in the capital Kathmandu. For those that do go abroad, they do so with dreams of a better life.
But in Mrs Lawati’s view, this dream does not always come true. Her husband has been working as a labourer in the Middle East for 12 years but still cannot earn enough to support the family. Left alone in the highland, this mother of one has tried to make ends meet for her son and herself.
Born into a family of farmers, and with a strong will to take matters into her own hands, Mrs Lawati began cultivating the 1.3 hectares of land that her husband inherited. First, she grew chili as demand was high. But she strongly believed she could do more with the farmland. Mrs Lawati reached out to agriculture officials in the district office, some eight hours away by car, to test the soil. Coupled with the cool climate in her village, the test results indicated that her soil was good for growing oranges, which were also in great demand in urban areas.
But, as we all know, success never comes easy. For three years the orange seedlings failed to grow. Never a quitter, Mrs Lawati moved forward with new ideas and added livestock. This she believed would make her small farm more economically and environmentally resilient.
It worked. Since then Mrs Lawati has pressed ahead with her integrated farming plans. She obtained a small loan from a cooperative, purchased more land, and finally grew those oranges, alongside dairy cows, goats and pigs.
She has expanded her knowledge through local training courses on animal husbandry and irrigation.
Today, Mrs Lawati is earning, on average, US$ 600 per month. She also employs nine local villagers and more than 200 others on a part-time basis. But most importantly, she has proven to her in-laws and neighbours, who were initially skeptical, that a mother, on her own, can manage integrated farmland in a remote area and earn a stable income for her family.
Mrs Lawati gives much credit to her father. When she was a young girl, he always encouraged her to do her best. Indeed she has. When asked if she would ever think about moving away from her remote homeland, she replies no – my identity is here. Indeed, where there’s a will there’s a way. This model farmer has proved that.
Boonpheng Nasomyon, a model farmer from the Kingdom of Thailand,
recognized for success in improving agricultural livelihoods and food security
Like many big cities across this region, Bangkok draws millions of migrant workers from its rural areas. Many hope for a better income and lifestyle. But unexpectedly high living costs, economic hardship and social problems often overwhelm these domestic migrants. It was a similar story for Boonpheng Nasomyon.
Working in Bangkok for 10 years, and moving from job to job, Ms Boonpheng could barely make ends meet. All the money she earned was eaten up by daily expenses, transportation and house rental fees. Like most other mothers working away from home, she was also duty-bound to send money back to her family home. Then her marriage failed. Ms Boonpheng was divorced and penniless. She felt defeated and returned home to her village.
But eventually she rediscovered her drive to succeed. Her maternal instinct kicked in.
With some help from her father, who gave her a plot of land, this single mother became a rice farmer. Born into a farming family, Ms Boonpheng is well aware that insufficient savings and technical know-how, as well as single cropping practices, make it difficult to improve income. And so one day, she decided to do something about it. Ms Boonpheng was determined that farmers should be able to save the money they earn from selling rice and earn additional income from other local agricultural products.
With her never-say-die spirit and strong will to improve the lives of other local women, she pressed ahead with her project aimed at requesting technical support on occupational training and livelihood development from district and provincial agricultural offices. She got that and more.
Udon Thani Rajabhat University’s faculty of business management liked her ideas, and students came to her village to research and map product development feasibility. Eventually a total of 14 occupational groups were formed, producing different products based on local wisdom and innovation. They ranged from snacks and herbal medicines, to agro-tourism, backyard poultry farming, textiles and financial cooperatives, based on the interests of individual members. Ms Boonpheng was now a leader.
Ms Boonpheng accepts that her life has slowly but sustainably changed for the better. Her determination and outreach to others, her endurance, sincerity and respect has helped improve the livelihood prospects of her community and others nationwide. She is therefore indeed a model farmer.