Caritas project seeks to fight hunger in South Asia

Scheme will help small-scale farmers to promote local food across India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal
Caritas project seeks to fight hunger in South Asia

Officials of Caritas India hand seed packets to farmers in a symbolic gesture of togetherness at the launch of a five-year farming project at a function in New Delhi on July 31. The project aims to help small farmers achieve economic, food and nutritional security. (Photo by Bijay Kumar Minj/ucanews.com)

Catholic Church agency Caritas has launched a project that aims to end hunger across South Asia by 2030. 

Caritas India launched the program in collaboration with its international partners to help farmers adapt methods to cope with erratic climate conditions.

"Climate change is a global challenge and affects agricultural production and human well-being. It hits hardest where people directly depend on agriculture for food and livelihoods," said Sunil Simon, India head of the special project.

The Smallholder Adaptive Farming and Biodiversity Network was launched in June during Caritas Asia's regional conference in Bangkok, Thailand.

"The unique program aims to address our common goal of ending hunger by 2030," said Christoph Schweifer, secretary-general of Caritas Austria.

The project was officially launched in India at a function in New Delhi on July 31. Caritas organizations in Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan will implement the program with the support of Caritas Austria and Caritas Switzerland.

The scheme aims to fight hunger and malnutrition by promoting local food through small-scale farming in selected areas of South Asia in the context of climate change, Simon said.

The program will contribute to achieving the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture in South Asia.

While 40 percent of the global population are employed in the agriculture sector, 54.6 percent of India's 1.2 billion people are farmers, according to U.N. studies. Although more than half of Indians are farmers, agriculture contributes only 15 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

India has nearly 191 million hungry people, or 25 percent of the world's total, who do not have a complete meal each day, according to the U.N.'s 2017 report on the state of food security and nutrition.

About 51 percent of Indian women of child-bearing age (15-49) are anemic for lack of a balanced diet, while 38 percent of Indian children have stunted growth for want of nutritious food, the report said.

The project aims to create a network of farmers to discuss their environment, climate and agrarian economy to pinpoint their specific problems. They will then identify locally acceptable solutions and test them to arrive at the best option.

"Mutual sharing, learning and proactive problem solving between farmers, agricultural scientists and governmental and non-governmental organizations are at the core of this project," Simon said.

The five-year project aims to benefit 10,000 farmers in India and 40,000 across South Asia before concluding in 2022, he said.

Caritas India director Father Paul Moonjely said small farmers are crucial in achieving the nation's food and nutritional security goals.

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The project will also look to generate demand for small-farm products in markets, particularly in cities. It should ensure income for farmers and promote both agro-biodiversity and environmental preservation, he said.

South Asia depends on small farmers who cultivate less than two hectares of land, according to T. Haque, former chairman of land policy at the Indian Planning Commission.

While South Korean and Japanese farmers easily earn five-figure incomes annually, the average Indian small farmer earns less than US$1,000 a year, he said.

Haque believes the achievement of Korean and Japanese farmers lies in the plethora of small farmer associations they have established. The new project has incorporated this as its strategy.

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