News Release — Grace Initiative
March 27, 2018
Vermont group involved in women empowerment seminar for UN Commission on Status of Women
UN CSW 62 – International and Vermont –
Practices for Rural Agricultural Development and Peacebuilding
On March 22, the Permanent Mission of Iraq to the UN, the Al-Khoei Foundation and the Grace Initiative, along with organizational support from the Yale Alumni Nonprofit Alliance (YANA) New England and Vermont, and Yale Blue/Green organized a seminar for the UN Commission on Status of Women (CSW) 62 in New York. This year the UN CSW focused on the empowerment of women and girls in rural development. In view of this year’s theme, our seminar called for empowering women and girls in advancing peacebuilding through community agricultural practices, with international and Vermont perspectives. The CSW seminar focused on an innovative practice that Grace Initiative with its partners, including its partners in Colombia, is promoting called Restorative Rural Agricultural Development (RRAD). An organic fertilizer company, GrewGrow Ventures was a sponsor of the event as well.
Restorative rural agricultural development (RRAD) combines three essential building blocks of family and community viability: (1) restorative justice, which includes elements such as story-telling and healing, (2) relationship building, engagement and social cohesion, and (3) community agriculture endeavors, which promote sustainable food security and livelihoods. This is especially important for women and girls, who suffer disproportionately during conflict. To this end, we firmly believe that agriculture offers a variety of healing benefits as it provides those involved with purpose and opportunity as well as physical and psychological benefits.”. In this regard, sustainable production of food, land and water are the sources of community peacebuilding, rather than the drivers of conflict. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), food insecurity and lack of water are a source for the rise of conflicts, exacerbated by climate-related shocks. Our project aims to promote conflict transformation while providing a local source of food security and livelihoods.
The restorative rural agricultural development program integrates global goals such as 2030 Agenda; food security; human rights notions of dignity and justice; climate change imperatives; action plans for preventing violent extremism; UN SCR 1325; the UN CSW62; the Beijing Platform; as well as the goals of the UN decade of family farming.
Ms. Jessica Scott, of UN Sustainable Development Network and Yale Blue Green, moderated the discussion, which included international and Vermont speakers. From the Permanent Mission of Iraq, Mr. Frias Alkhaqani explained the hardship that rural women face in Iraq, especially now after the war against terrorists. In this regard, RRAD has applications in Iraq. Ms. Rita Reddy, senior UN Gender Advisor, gave examples of women’s achievements in promoting community rural development in countries like Viet Nam, Malaysia and Timor-Leste. Ambassador Isaiah Chalaba (Zambia) endorsed the notion of RRAD as it combines spirituality and healing with community agriculture, and will consider integrating it into programs on Visionary Empowerment in Zambia. Visionary Empowerment focuses on rural programs for women and girls in community agriculture and education.
While attendees appreciated the international speakers, many found the Vermont (VT) speakers particularly compelling especially given its legislative efforts in promoting sustainable agriculture as well as its innovative Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) practices. Representative Amy Sheldon (Middlebury/Addison 1), who participates on the VT legislative agriculture committee, discussed community goals and challenges in advancing local organic branding and food production. Also, Representative Sheldon explained a variety efforts to promote VT farming and locally sourced food, through inter alia: the VT Food Bank; the link of fresh food from VT farms to schools and hospitals; the mission of the VT Land Conservation; and, the goals of the Women’s Agricultural Network (UVM). Also, Representative Sheldon discussed the hardship that dairy farmers face. (Representative Sheldon drove to New York and back to Vermont in one day to make sure that she was present for the legislation on gun safety). Ms. Heidi Lynch of Vermont Farmers Food Center (VFFC) discussed VFFC programs for health care, and its links with hospitals and the community to ensure nutritious and healthy food sourcing. Ms. Lynch also manages the VFFC National Education Association program on community farm stories. Finally, Ms. Amy Frost of Circle Mountain Farm concluded the program with both values and existential questions such as the links of community farming and the meaning of wealth, and the capacity to address life’s vulnerabilities and sudden shocks through farming. Also, Ms. Frost explained a link with CSAs and social justice. The Vermont speakers’ presentations exemplified local applications for global peace-building in a profound way. As Dr. Susan Sgorbati, Director, Corrective and Preventive Action (CAPA), Bennington College stated, “It is more imperative than ever to find ways to share information, collaborate on ecosystem projects, and build a world where we can provide a safe and healthy environment for our women and children.”
Ms. Sahar Alsahlani (Interfaith Farm Project and Al-Khoei Foundation) and Ms. Yvonne Lodico, the Initiative for Governance, Reconciliation, Agriculture, and Coexistence (Grace Initiative), a non-profit registered in Vermont.