Thursday, March 13, 2014

Empowered women farmers

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

Filipinos have a way of using superlatives when they see a how-good-can-it-get situation. So let me say: Women farmers na, empowered pa.

That is said with the supposition that being a woman farmer is not (or should no longer be) a burden but a blessing, not a diminishment of status and gender but an empowered state of being. Of course, the ideal is still far from what is happening on the ground. But maybe romanticizing the image of woman as farmer might help remove the stigma attached to working the soil, growing food and harvesting the fruits of the earth. But why shouldn’t that be a cherished calling if not a chosen way of life?
I know a number of well-educated women who turned their back on professional careers that many covet. Off they went to answer the call of the wild, so to speak, to nourish and bring back to life the fallow earth. These women’s immersion can even be described as spiritual. They have emerged from the experience richer and fuller in substance and in essence.

They personify the spirit of Ceres, the goddess of agriculture and bounty in Roman mythology. (Ceres’ Filipino counterpart is Ikapati. The word “cereal” comes from Ceres.) Fecund and fertile, she is usually depicted carrying grain and fruits of the earth. ]

March being International Women’s Month, those in the gender equality advocacy are calling attention to the role of women in the fight against hunger. And 2014 being the International Year of Family Farming, there is even more reason that women in farming families should be more visible.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) director general Jose Graciano da Silva said at the recent international women’s gathering in Rome that reducing gender inequality is fundamental to eliminating hunger and developing more sustainable food systems.

“This year we are celebrating Women’s Day against the backdrop of the International Year of Family Farming,” he said. “Family farmers are the dominant force in global food production. And, at the same time, they are among the world’s most vulnerable people. Much of the future of global food security depends on their realizing their untapped potential. Rural women are an important part of this, not just as farmers but also in processing and preparing food, and local markets.”

Representatives of the United Nations and its partner organizations recently gathered to discuss “closing the gender gap in agriculture” and the challenges rural women face in developing countries that are still stuck in subsistence agriculture, in places where the producers of food are the hungriest of all.

Discussed were the challenges faced by rural women in developing countries, who are highly dependent on subsistence agriculture to feed their families, but who often get caught in the cycle of poverty and hunger because of little access to adequate land and water, agricultural inputs, credit, technologies and training.

Da Silva recalled how, in 2003, the Brazilian government went to court to defend the decision to channel the bulk of cash transfers under the Zero Hunger Program through women based on the women’s “dominant role in family food management.” Would that our government’s cash transfer program for the poorest families empower the women indeed. Being food managers and ensuring good nutrition for the family should never be an unpleasant chore for women especially if the men are supportive instead of becoming burdens themselves.

At the gathering, keynote speaker Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, former UN high commissioner on human rights, and current head of the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice, said: “For global development to be sustainable, the issues of climate change, gender equality and food security must all go hand in hand.”

The International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) aims to raise the profile of family farming and smallholder farming by focusing world attention on its role in eradicating hunger and poverty, providing food security and nutrition, improving livelihoods, managing natural resources, protecting the environment, and achieving sustainable development especially in rural areas.

According to IYFF proponents, family farming has an important socioeconomic, environmental and cultural role. Family and small-scale farming are linked to world food security. It preserves traditional food products, contributes to a balanced diet, and safeguards the world’s agro-biodiversity and the sustainable use of natural resources. Family farming, with sound government support, should also boost local economies and the wellbeing of communities.

I hope IYFF is not just lip service. In the Philippines, small farming families who get mired in debt end up selling their property to real estate developers or farming conglomerates. Many leave the land, go abroad as contract workers, and begin a different cycle of poverty and debt.

Kudos to my women friends who are hands-on farmers/organic food producers/earth healers and protectors: Emma Alday and Isyang Lagahit of Tiaong, Quezon (Emma runs the Casa Rap garden-eatery in San Jose, Batangas); Daisy Langenegger of Green Daisy Farms in Alicia, Isabela (Green Daisy Restaurant at 20 Maginhawa Street in Quezon City just reopened); and the women farmers of Sarilayaville.

I do “farming in the city” and I will be attending a workshop on Agnihotra, an antidote to the massive pollution of the earth and our spirit. It borrows from quantum mechanics and the ancient practices of indigenous cultures. #