India and AARDO in Search of New Horizons
India had played a leading role in struggle for political emancipation of many nations of Africa. The Mahatma once said “India’s heart pines for Africa”. Due to shared history, commonality of issues and challenges and geopolitical reasons India has been a strong votary and architect of solidarity and cooperation among Afro-Asian nations. From Bandung to hey days of Non-alignment and pinnacle of South-South Cooperation India has always stood up for a closer relationship and collective approach among the countries of the region on every possible sphere.
Afro-Asian Rural Development Organisation (AARDO) is the culmination of a unique camaraderie and resolve in exploring innovative and effective ways and means to strengthen cooperation between Asia and Africa in the field of rural development. AARDO is one of the earliest examples of South-South cooperation in rural development in the Afro-Asian region. It is an autonomous inter-governmental organisation.
Notwithstanding the growing and rapid urbanization of the countries of the region, an average 68 per cent of population in the region still live in rural areas. More than two-thirds of the world population lives in this region. Paradoxically, three-fourth of world’s poor also live here. No doubt poverty is a global phenomenon; it however does not affect every region of the world equally. Worldwide 2.7 billion people live on less than $2 a day, and 1.1 billion people live on under $1 a day.
In Sub-Saharan Africa almost 50% of the population lives on under $1 a day. Thirty-two of the world’s forty eight poorest countries are located in this region. Similarly, Southeast Asia account for approximately half of the world’s poor. Of a population of 1.3 billion, 85% live on less than $2 a day. The East Asia/Pacific region is home to 1.8-2 billion people, making it one of the most populous regions on earth. About 50% of the population here too lives on less than $2 a day.
Thus the whole Afro-Asian region in general and the rural areas of the region in particular are afflicted by extreme poverty.
Poverty is the greatest affront on human rights, dignity, and development. Many of the conflicts witnessed in the countries of the region are directly attributable to extreme poverty.
To banish extreme poverty and allied scourges from the face of the earth in a time bound manner by 2015 through a global partnership, UN adopted the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). As a natural corollary, AARDO in its New Delhi Declaration of 2007 undertook to achieve the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and agreed to carry forward the spirit of cooperation for rural development, to begin with, among AARDO member countries and strive to enlarge cooperation with others in the year to come.
The principal objective of AARDO has been the promotion of understanding among member countries for better appreciation of each others problems. To realise these objectives, AARDO has been implementing a number of concerted programmes on triennial basis. During the triennium 2006-2008, all out efforts were made to consolidate the existing activities of AARDO, namely, training programmes, workshops, seminars, deputation of experts, development pilot projects, dissemination of information and at the same time, initiate new programmes such as new training courses, regional level workshops/seminars and study visits, action research studies, meeting of heads of training institutes and regional representatives to discuss and review technical programmes, etc. AARDO also aims to help the member countries in obtaining financial and technical assistance for rural development programmes from the financial and other specialised institutions like World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB), African Development Bank (AFDB) etc.
Another major plank for AARDO has been collaboration with appropriate international and regional organisations, including the UN agencies and national level bodies both governmental and non-governmental, in the developed and developing countries, for the purpose of taking such actions as may accelerate the pace of rural development.
AARDO has also been assisting in the development of organisation of farmers and other rural people including the cooperatives for accelerating rural development in the member countries. It is in this backdrop that India’s experience and phenomenal success in the field of agriculture and rural reconstruction are of critical value to the AARDO member states many of which are still struggling to grapple with the issue of how to fast pace the development of their rural areas by eradicating thirst, hunger, illiteracy, disease and poverty.
From the dawn of independence one of the most abiding and absorbing tasks for our successive governments has been to develop millions of our villages where over 70 per cent of our people live. Keeping with the urgency of bridging the gulf, 5-year plans set out and achieved ambitious tasks of rural reconstruction. The methodology, strategy, orientation and trajectory were changed and adjusted, but the focus remained the improvement of the quality of life in our rural areas. Tenth Five-Year Plan had outlined India’s human development goals and targets for the next five to 10 years. Most of these are related to and are more ambitious than the Millennium Development Goals. Emanating from this is “Bharat Nirman” – a time bound business like programme for specific targets of rural infrastructure development by 2015.
To match up with the renewed emphasis and new mood of reaching out development in rural areas also called for a change in approach, a paradigm shift was hence introduced with more and more rural development programme becoming demand driven i.e. not limited by budget, programmes are also aiming at universal coverage. The new mantra for rural development is to foster an “inclusive growth” which does not leave out the vast majority of rural populace from the ambit of growth and development taking place in the country.
India’s concern for poverty eradication and emancipating the rural population from the scourge of hunger transcends her national boundaries as India always believes that poverty is indivisible and is the single biggest cause for conflict among communities and nations and hence need to be combated concertedly.
The formation of Afro-Asian Rural Development Organisation (AARDO) (earlier known as Afro-Asian Rural Reconstruction Organisation) in 1962 underscored the far-sightedness of the social and political leaders of Asia and Africa in recognising the need for cooperation among the countries in the field of agriculture and rural development. The “Copenhagen Declaration” described poverty as “….. a condition characterised by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information.”
Time has therefore come to strengthen AARDO to enable it to take a holistic approach to address the rural poverty as defined by the “Copenhagen Declaration” so that its mission and objectives can be taken beyond the realms of semantics. This can be achieved by bringing together many of the nations of Africa and Asia, which are still not members of AARDO and also by broadening its purview.
The forthcoming Golden Jubilee celebration of AARDO being held in New Delhi on 5-6th, March, 2012 shall provide a new fillip and also an apt platform to the 29 member nations to share their experiences and explore new areas of cooperation.