This article is written by Tony Worthington on behalf of the Natural Resource Institute.
Parliamentary Agriculture Committees in developing countries have a hugely important function. The Committees are supposed to ensure the quality of the legislation regulating the industry that frequently provides work for over 70% of their country's population, to hold the government to account on its actions or inactions on agricultural matters, and to represent the interest of citizens in parliament. Their role is essential to ensure, for example, that women, frequently the majority of farmers, are properly safeguarded.
They also have a role to play in ensuring that the internet is accessible to all farmers everywhere. At the recent APPG inquiry on ICTs (Information and Communication Technologys) in agriculture we heard from Digital Green. Digital Green, which is based in India, uses Digital Video for extension work. Digital Green has a data base of over 2,900 videos in 20 different languages lasting 8-10 min each, which have each been distributed to more than 250,000 farmers across 3,000 villages in India. Each video has been viewed on line on Digital Green's website and YouTube more than 2 million times. Fundamental to the Digital Green model is participatory content production.
It is crucial that Parliamentary Agriculture Committees know of such organisations in both their central committee work and as constituency MPs.
But frequently, Parliamentary Agriculture Committees receive next to no assistance with turnover rates at elections often 70% or over; lack of policy making skills in the political parties; and lack of access to independent sources of knowledge for the Committee Clerk's department in Parliament. Agriculture Committees, with their bedfellows in water supply, fisheries and forestry are simply overwhelmed when having, for example, to tackle an issue such as climate change, despite the fact that these industries are essential to any effective response.
Faced with this neglect of Parliamentary Agriculture Committees, the Natural Resources Institute at the University of Greenwich (NRI) and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) have got together to see what can be done about these challenges.
We have recently held two successful workshops in Africa and Asia. The first was of 11 CPA African members, hosted by Malawi in April. I have just returned from Chandigorh, the capital of the Punjab in India and shall use this latter workshop held in October to illustrate some issues.
The CPA and NRI invited India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and the Maldives. The disparities between parliamentarians and their constituencies are huge. In a discussion group, on my left was a parliamentarian from the Maldives who represented 5,000 people in total from different islands. To my right, was an Indian MP who represented 1.5 million people. Did you know that 60% of Malaysia is forest and one third of the world's rubber exports (including 60% of the world's rubber gloves) come from there? To be contrasted with Bangladesh, where trees are incredibly rare and 80% of animal protein comes from fish.
The event was a great success and we are now exploring ways of establishing a resource centre geared to the needs of Parliamentary Agriculture Committees. The countries welcomed our initiative and produced a unanimous report, which is, in effect, their agenda for the next few years. The Parliamentarians stressed that the consequences of not meeting the current agriculture and food security challenges in Asia and Africa will be severe for both their own countries and humanity. Going forward we must give them more support than we are at the moment.