The birth of a network
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CTA. 2002. The birth of a network. Spore 102. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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'If we aim for the moon, we might end up on one of those stars' is a heady enough slogan, but quaintly matter-of-fact at the same time. It was often used during a momentous week of networking by a couple of dozen rural women in Madrid, Spain, early...
If we aim for the moon, we might end up on one of those stars' is a heady enough slogan, but quaintly matter-of-fact at the same time. It was often used during a momentous week of networking by a couple of dozen rural women in Madrid, Spain, early in October 2002. They had been brought together, some said later, by their own momentum, with a steer from the hand of destiny. Undoubtedly so, but the praise should be shared, to be fair, with the organisers of the third World Congress of Rural Women, with their own funders and with CTA who, along with the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR), arranged for a sturdy and unprecedented presence from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. The congress, bringing together 1,500 rural women from 84 countries, followed on from earlier events in Australia in 1994 and in the United States in 1998. It is an event, not an organisation, and it is a stronger phenomenon for that, being carried by the energy of its participants and the generosity of its self-proposing host nation. Rarely has a phenomenon run so fast ahead of the times: from being a sedate gathering of rural women principally from commercial agriculture in North America, the Antipodes and Western Europe, it is opening up to embrace the very different needs and anxieties of rural women in Africa, Asia and Latin America. At times, the growing strains were audible, and no wonder. Having started with rather sedate, welfare-focused drum-beating discussions in 1992, the 2002 congress found in its midst rural women from around the world who wanted to talk about land rights, war, AIDS, the bankruptcy of modern extension methods, and microfinance management and all in a far more participatory mode than the organisers were familiar with. Such growing pains are characteristic of any healthy networking body, but it was the ACP network itself which was the most fascinating process to witness. Every congress spawns bushels of networks, many of which die an early death. Not this network it was, it is, and long shall be one of those captivating fusions of the goodwill and experience of scholars, farmers, planners, bankers, extension workers and policy-makers that very occasionally happen, not only across professions but also boundaries, regions, and language zones. Within one day, they had acquired new recruits by the hour, fed each other, exchanged experiences and presented full-scale academic background papers . Within two, they had drawn up strategies on how to cajole the congress to be more open to grassroots women and the poorest of the poor in future sessions. On the third day they drafted their collective mission statement. And by the end of the fourth day, which they extended by 3 hours to put off the moment of parting, they had sketched out a multi-year action plan of networking, exchange visits, publishing and regional encounters to prepare future world congresses. And they had pledged their help in promoting the 'greater and more interactive participation of rural women and laid the way for the announcement of the next congress in South Africa in 2006. Whichever brave soul writes the, say, 2010 edition of The History of Networking, this network will deserve a good few chapters. It is, in 2002, thankfully not yet at the formalising stage; when the time comes, how about calling it the Constellation of ACP Rural Women ? [caption to illustration] She s got the whole world in her hands. Graça Machel, wife of Nelson Mandela, welcomes the rural women s wish to next confer in South Africa.
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