Thursday, October 18, 2012

Women wield plows, cast nets

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

"Grow your own, be sure, be safe, grow organic, go organic.”
“Make the shift. Go brown.”
“Food security is nutritional security.” 

These were some of the popular catchwords on World Food Day on Oct. 16 that brought together many Filipino women farmers, fishers and their supporters in a market venue.
Today is the last day of the 4th Women’s Market at the Quezon City Hall Plaza. Go celebrate, buy and support the women’s efforts to combat hunger and wrong food choices. Support their call for government to put up social enterprises that focus on women food producers in rural areas. 

Sponsored by the Pambansang Koalisyon ng mga Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK), women farmers and fishers from various regions of Luzon have come together this week to call for support and awareness of women’s role in global, national and local food security.
Women feed the world in ways that are not always recognized. They rock the cradle, yes, but they also cast nets into the sea and wield the plow. Like the fecund women that they are, the earth they move yield flower and fruit, the sea they scour yield fish aplenty. If only they can get more support. 

It is so energizing to be with these women of substance and energy, to be infected by their joy, to feel their trembling hopes, to hold their hands—rough, gnarled and therefore beautiful—that cause life to spring forth from earth and water. 

“It is high time the government strengthened its programs for women farmers by finding a market for their products and increasing their incomes,” PKKK president Mary delos Santos said. 

According to PKKK, over half of the world’s food is produced by women, and yet less than 30 percent of small women farmers have access to extension services and only 9 percent have access to government capital support. “The Women’s Market aims to promote an alternative market for local products of rural women and their communities,” Delos Santos said. 

This marketing scheme adopts the concept of “tabo” (a Visayan term for meeting or gathering, which refers to the regular market day), a gathering where producers interact with consumers. It is a practice that, alas, may be replaced by high-end commercial centers. Said Delos Santos: “Ito din ay isang paraan upang magbalik-tanaw tayo sa mga produkto mula sa kanayunan. Batid natin na napalitan na ang mga nakagisnan nating pagkain tulad ng suman, ginataan o ibat-ibang uri ng kakanin at gulay ng mga dayuhang pagkain tulad ng mga pagkain mula sa fast food.” (This is one way of taking a fresh look at products from the rural areas. We know that the food of our early years such as suman, ginataan and all kinds of native rice desserts, as well as vegetables, have been replaced by offerings fast-food chains.)

PKKK and other advocates of food security and sustainable livelihoods are offering locally grown and processed food products (organic rice, brown rice, vegetables, fruits, desserts, dried fish, herbal medicines) and non-food items such as indigenous handicraft and advocacy items. Cooking and product demos are included in the activities.

On opening day, the Women’s Market highlighted the Brown Rice Campaign of Oxfam, an international humanitarian organization. Oxfam has been campaigning for more Filipinos to eat brown rice in order to promote healthier and positive food choices and to support sustainable agriculture for smaller rural food producers. Brown rice advocates, such as celebrities Bayang Barrios and Roxanne Barcelo, graced the event. Two years ago Oxfam sponsored a food event that featured women’s food products and celebrity chefs.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has chosen “Agricultural cooperatives—the key to feeding the world” as the theme of this year’s World Food Day. FAO director general Jose Graziano da Silva said the theme was chosen “to highlight the many, concrete ways in which agricultural cooperatives and producer organizations help to provide food security, generate employment, and lift people out of poverty. For the FAO and its partners, agricultural cooperatives are natural allies in the fight against hunger and extreme poverty. Their importance has also been acknowledged through the United Nations’ declaration of 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives.”

Evidence shows that strong cooperatives and producer organizations are able to overcome and mitigate the negative effects of food and other crises, Da Silva said. Strong producer organizations have helped to fill a void. They have been able to overcome market and policy constraints by providing their members access to a range of assets and services. For instance, he added, they can reduce costs to farmers by allowing them to purchase in groups and benefit from better retail prices of agricultural inputs. They also make it possible for members to voice their concerns and interests—and have a say in decisions and policymaking.

The FAO supports member governments in helping cooperatives and producer organizations to thrive, by developing adequate policies, legal frameworks, economic incentives, and forums for dialogue on policymaking, Da Silva said. It generates evidence, knowledge and good practice that supports the emergence of more self-reliant, inclusive, gender-equitable, and market-oriented producer organizations and cooperatives. It’s now the call of our Department of Agriculture. 

Here at home, the women food cooperatives need all the help they can get. Go to the Women’s Market today, buy up the women’s produce, so that they will go home with empty baskets and broad smiles on their faces.