by Firdavs Kabilov, GFRAS Participant, Uzbekistan

“Every hectare is golden” – was the message of the Kyrgyz official, Mr Rispek Apasov, emphasizing the importance of sharing knowledge on global good practices for improving agricultural production and eradicating poverty in rural areas. As the first day of the 6th Annual Meeting of Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS) on Global Good Practices in Rural Advisory Services (RAS) kicked off yesterday, this brief will look into some key messages of the day. This year’s annual meeting is taking place in a beautiful lake-side town Issyk Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Indeed, as the world population increases and the impact of climate change is significantly being felt throughout the planet, the productivity of every hectare of a land plot is crucial for the wellbeing of the vulnerable groups in rural areas and the world at large. Changing climate, market shifts and reshuffles in global business trends requires constant bottom-up adaptation and the role that can be played by the community of RAS and the process requires some serious scrutiny. This is important in order to identify “best practices” and whether those practices are “best” as such or each region requires specifically tailored approach in provision of RAS.

This year’s annual meeting is a special event in a way, as GFRAS is completing its five year strategy adopted in 2010, the year when it was initiated. And now the global community of extentionists, policy makers, donors and research community gathered in Issyk Kul to discuss and adopt a new ten year strategy for GFRAS activities. To my question in a separate interview, whether the money is well spent (referring to all the efforts of the past 5 years), Dr Rasheed Sulaiman, Chair of the Steering Community of GFRAS, enthusiastically mentioned active regional networks coming out as a result, while no networks of any kind existed five years ago. “While five year period has seen more of advocacy, collecting feedback and network building, a new strategy will concentrate more on strengthening regional and country-wide networks of RAS providers”, he concluded. To the same question, Dr Harry Palmier, a senior specialist and the representative of Global Forum Agricultural Research (GFAR) hosted by the FAO in Rome, answered with an optimism and a smile in his face - “Time will show but we think the answer is yes. By motivating not only in terms of technology and information, but also in terms of finance, we can have the small holders feel responsible for their future in getting [them] out of poverty”.

Another very important message of the day was acknowledgement of the shift in attitude of policy makers and governments. Ms Mariam Gelashvili, a deputy head of the Regional Coordination Unit at the Ministry of Agriculture of Georgia, mentioned the Strategy for Agricultural Development, which places significant emphasis on RAS in Georgia, and “it is very important that these kind of events provide knowledge sharing platforms”. Dr Alisher Tashmatov, Executive Secretary of Central Asia and Caucasus Association of Agricultural Research Institutes (CACAARI), mentioned a recent legislation adopted in Azerbaijan on RAS, which can be directly linked to the advocacy and joint efforts of GFRAS and CACAARI in the region. To my question on what specific benefits can bring forums like these, the Kyrgyz official stressed “the gap-filling potential”, referring to the loop-whole emerged after the collapse of systematic knowledge sharing platforms of the Soviet period.

As the conference is entering into the phase of more region focused and detailed content analysis many more interesting and stimulating outputs is to be expected.

Time for coffee.