Partner in the Spotlight: Esther Penunia, Secretary General of the Asian Farmers’ Association

Esther “Estrella” Penunia tells SAFIN about some of the recent innovations in financing farmers' cooperatives that the Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development is supporting, and why the Association joined SAFIN.

Esther Penunia, Secretary General, Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA)

Can you please tell us about the Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA) and its history?

AFA is a regional alliance of national farmers’ organizations in Asia. We were established in 2002, after a series of five farmers exchange visits over three years conducted by our partner NGO AsiaDHRRA. In these exchange visits, we saw a great need to come together to share, learn and act on our common desire for a better quality of life for our families, our farming communities and ourselves.

Currently, AFA is currently composed of 22 national farmers’ organizations (FOs) in 16 countries, representing around 13 million small-scale farmers engaged in crop production, livestock and fisheries, among others. AFA promotes farmers’ rights to land, water, forests and seeds; sustainable, climate-resilient agroecological approaches in farms, fisheries and forests; stronger cooperatives and their enterprises; women’s empowerment; and youth engagement in agriculture. We also strengthen capacities for effective governance through an integrated program on organizing and movement building, policy advocacy, monitoring and evaluation, learning and as well as business development.

Please tell us about yourself and your role at the Association.

I am the Secretary General of AFA. As a social development worker, I have spent four decades in the field of rural development, working with farmers, fishers and indigenous peoples in various capacities including as a community organizer, primary health care worker, participatory action researcher, gender advocate, and others. My husband and I are currently working in partnership with another farming family in developing a 2-hectare upland farm through sustainable agroecological practices.

What are some of the innovative areas of work around financing farmers’ cooperatives that AFA is supporting?

At the international level, we are working with other farmers organizations and civil society organizations (CSOs) for the inclusion of family farmers’ organizations in the governance processes of multilateral funding institutions such as GAFSP, IFAD and GCF. Together with two other CSOs, we successfully directed GAFSP financing towards farmers’ organizations and cooperatives. With IFAD, through the Farmers Forum processes, we strengthen partnerships at country and regional level, as well as influence the funding priorities of IFAD especially at country level. We also manage regional projects that help build capacities of national FOs in providing economic services to their members such as by establishing or strengthening commodity clusters or developing sound business plans. Going forward, we are developing plans for a Farmers Resiliency Trust Fund.

Access to finance is a key concern of small-scale family farmers. We want to collaborate on strategic solutions for this.

Why did AFA join SAFIN and how does it contribute to the network?

AFA joined SAFIN because access to finance is a key concern of small-scale family farmers. We want to learn from the experiences of others as well as collaborate on strategic solutions for this that can bring tangible results on the ground. We bring the experience and knowledge of our members to the SAFIN network, as well as raise our concerns so that SAFIN can respond to the needs of small-scale family farmers.