Practical Action South Asia organises two Roundtable discussions in Orissa, India

Practical Action South Asia organises two

Roundtable discussions in Orissa, India

Practical Action South Asia and the Orissa State Volunteers And Social Workers Association jointly hosted two expert roundtable discussions in Bhubaneswar (Orissa, India) on the 24th and 27th June 2008. The two round table discussions were on the themes of "Rural Communities' Access to Drinking Water" and "Impact of Seeds Policy on Farmers' Rights, Poverty Alleviation and Overall Food Security."

Rural communities' access to drinking water

water roundtable discussion

project visit

The access to drinking water roundtable discussion focussed on ways to ensure sustainable access to safe drinking water to rural communities in Orissa. Presenters and participants were asked to share their experiences about project and policy impacts on rural communities with special consideration to safe water access for poor and marginalised community members.

The keynote speech on the water supply situation in Orissa was delivered by Er. R.K. Panigrahi (Chief Engineer, Rural Water Supply and Sanitation). Further presentations were delivered by Dr N. Panigrahi (NKC Centre for Development Studies), Er. B.N. Hota (Chief Engineer, State Water and Sanitation Mission), Mr S.R.N. Das (Consultant, State Water and Sanitation Mission) and Er. SK. Harichandan (Executive Engineer, Rural Water Supply and Sanitation). The presentations analysed the Sector Reform project and the Swajaladhara/Jaladhara water supply schemes and introduced the DANIDA tube-well project and the Chandaka Community Piped Water Supply Project, which Practical Action subsequently visited to talk to staff and beneficiaries. Presentations were followed by a roundtable discussion.

Participants indicated that the problem in Orissa was not water access but the poor quality of the available water. The move from a supply-driven approach (SDR), which was found to be inefficient and unsustainable, to a more decentralised demand-responsive approach (DRA) under the Sector Reform, Swajaldhara and Jaldhara projects was universally praised.

Under the demand responsive approach, decision-making powers, project ownership and full responsibilities for operation and maintenance are transferred to communities. Some participants criticised that the DRA responds to consumer demand determined by communities' willingness to pay for their water supply rather than a needs-based demand for safe water. Barriers to the successful implementation of the DRA, that were mentioned during the discussion, related to insufficient capacity-building to enable informed decision making and ensure the sustainable operation and the full transfer of powers from the government to communities.

Seeds policy on farmers' rights, poverty alleviation and overall food security

The seed policy discussion was aimed at discovering practical examples of policies that work (or do not work) in creating an environment in which technology and related knowledge is used for the benefit of all. In relation to seeds, such policies should safeguard small scale farmers rights, lead to poverty reduction, protect biodiversity and ensure overall food security. In particular we were looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the India 1966 Seeds Act, the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act 2001 and the proposed 2004 Seeds Bill.

Keynote speeches at the discussion were delivered by Dr Vandana Shiva of Navdanya and Ms Indrani Barpujari of the Gene Campaign. Shiva focussed on the impacts of Intellectual Property Rights on seed varieties and small scale farmers whereas Ms Barpujari presented India's 'Plant Variety Protection and Farmers' Rights Act' as an example of legislation that is appropriate to the conditions of agriculture in countries of the South. Further presentations were given by Dr. P. Kumar Das (Associate Director and Professor - Seeds, University of Agriculture and Technology), Dr. B. Singh (Professor - Plant breeding and Genetics, University of Agriculture and Technology) and Dr P.C. Kar (Researcher and author of a Practical Action case study).

A key aspect that emerged from the discussion is the general move towards seed certification and patents. Whilst these are beneficial to major companies, they do not appear to be in the interest of small farmers who risk loosing their traditional farmers' rights and livelihoods as they lack financial means and sufficient access to information. Several participants stated that food security, poverty reduction and adaptation to future disasters (including those related to climate change) can only be achieved by shifting the current policy emphasis on the private seed sector and large-scale monocultures towards supporting the plethora of small scale farmers and diversity of seeds.

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