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Importance of disability inclusive agriculture

Published : Friday, 9 November, 2018 at 12:00 AM  Count : 149
Md Sazedul Islam

Persons with disabilities (PWDs) encounter many problems in our society and are often subjected to stigma and unnecessary discrimination. They remain largely marginalized, disproportionately poor and frequently unemployed. Steps should be taken for development, which should be equitable, inclusive and accessible for all people. Economic empowerment of PWDs is essential. If they are empowered economically, they would be able to contribute to not only to their family development but also to the development of the society.

Employment opportunities are one of the major tools to empower the PWDs. As most of them mainly live in rural areas, agriculture has a bright prospect for their employment.
Through agriculture, they can contribute to the household economy, either in food or income for the household, with the added benefits of greater empowerment of the PWDs within the household and the wider community. There is also scope to greater social inclusion at the household and community level. Contribution of agriculture to GDP will also increase due to their involvement.
Access to technology, land, credit, agricultural inputs and other resources must be intensified for the PWDs to improve their livelihoods.

Enlightenment and sensitization campaign is necessary in the rural areas where people are not aware about the rights of PWDs and that there are a lot of opportunities for making the PWDs self-reliant through agriculture. Let us increase awareness on human rights so that community members can speak up for the PWDs on obtaining better health and agricultural services.
We need to take an innovative approach of introducing agriculture development from a disability-inclusive perspective.

Projects executed by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and partners have shown how appropriate some agro-industries are for take-up by PWDs, for example, sericulture production, mushroom production, chicken production, beekeeping, etc.
Likewise fish farming, hatching, seed processing, floriculture, horticulture and poultry production are also among the "light" farming activities that can be extensively practised by the PWDs.
Some other activities that can be carried on by the PWDs are basket weaving, carpet weaving and pottery.

With the development of Supply Chain Management practices in agricultural sector, the PWDs can never be out of work. But before choosing an appropriate farming activity we need matching disability and/or capability with production requirements and/or constraints. PWDs are not always able to work in conventional fashion but they are quick to adapt when required.
They can either be trained or in some cases left to work through their own solutions to the task required. For persons with physical disabilities, certain techniques may be needed to replace the "conventional way" of doing things.

Surveys need to be carried out to select the farm activities that best fit the physical capabilities of farmers with disabilities, and should then assist those farmers to engage in such appropriate farm practices. Farmers with disabilities can carry out farm monitoring and management, seed cleaning and disinfection, mechanical harvesting, weeding, seeding and grafting satisfactorily.

While training the farmers in sometimes the importance of educational level becomes more important than their disability level as a constraint on the capability of the disabled person. The training programme would restore his self-confidence and enable him to realize his entrepreneurial ambition.
He could also train his family members like mushroom cultivation and they help him in developing his enterprise.  

As a successful micro-entrepreneur, he can gain economic self-reliance along with physical, mental and emotional strength. The training requires modification of techniques to meet the special needs of PWDs. Manufacturing can also be linked to agriculture with access to production skills, land and finance. The PWDs can be engaged in production, grading and/or cleaning of easy-to-store crops, viz. roots- carrots, onions, garlic, sweet potatoes; grain crops-  maize, rice, etc; dried crops (leaf, seeds, bark, fruits, etc.), spices, leather and chews.

PWDs can be engaged in establishing agro-industries for manufacturing agro-goods for human consumption and animal feed like coconut processing- oils, soaps, copra, dried meat, health drinks, shell/fibre handicrafts, charcoal, etc; nut processing -fresh, cooked, salted, etc.
There can be whole lot of opportunities for exploiting service industries with the manufacture and/or supply of farm goods, materials and/or equipment for e.g. tools, fertilizers, agro-chemicals and information.

Manufacturing can also be linked into the raw materials required for production like livestock feeds, fertilizers, fibres, agro-chemicals, protective clothing, and packaging and similar that may be required. The PWDs need assistive technology. Any technology that helps an individual with a disability to carry out a functional activity is defined as assistive technology. Assistive technologies can improve functional outcomes for them.
Assistive devices would enable them to continue operating equipment such as tractors, combines, and other self-propelled farm equipment.

Credit, offered by the government, with easy terms has to be made available at all level farming activities of the PWDs. NGOs and other private organizations should be encouraged in sanctioning the loan to the PWDs and their loan giving activities be monitored.
In most cases, the PWDs are deprived of getting loan from banks and other sources. They need financial support. The government should make suitable policy so that they can easily get financial support for carrying out agricultural activities. Without such support, they would not be able to do the activities.    

In Bangladesh, we have Disability Rights and Protection Act 2013, Agriculture Policy 2018 and other relevant policies. But none of the policies recognise the participation of PWDs in agricultural initiatives; nor is there much mention of the PWDs in agriculture policy.
It is needed to include agriculture in disability policy and PWDs in agriculture policy, giving priority to the PWDs. The authorities should keep a provision in the agriculture policy for giving agricultural facilities (training, services and other facilities) to the PWDs.
The rights activists stressed on the following adaptations to engage in PWDs:
In order to increase institutional capacity of PWDs it's important to aware them on their human rights, to generate their interest for self-employment through agriculture and to give them a unified platform for attainment of their rights. It will enhance knowledge, skill and capacity of the PWDs on agricultural activities.

They also suggested the following steps:
Disability specific adaptations and providing training on adaptive farming techniques; establishing networks that support the farmers with disabilities; civic education and sensitisation of public about the rights of PWDs; publicizing market condition and the government policy; and formulating proper marketing strategies for products produced by the PWDs.
The steps also include publicizing advance information about possible natural disaster; keeping representatives from the PWDs in market system and it's monitoring.

As NGOs and agricultural groups are now promoting small-scale agricultural projects as sustainable development initiatives, it is vital that these are disability-inclusive. According to Wikipedia, the PWDs constitute about 10% of total population in Bangladesh. Asking the State to ensure equality of opportunity to all the citizens, Article 19 of Bangladesh Constitution called for adopting effective measures to remove social an economic inequality among people.

Since its accession to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), Bangladesh is committed to ensure and promote the full implementation of all human rights for the PWDs without any discrimination. We cannot be a developed nation by excluding a huge number of people. So, proper initiative aimed at improving the economic condition of PWDs through agriculture should be taken up in our national life.

The author is a freelance contributor

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