Women key to new ‘agricultural future’

Women food producers like Aida Fernandez (a seaweed farmer from Mindanao, the Philippines' food basket) produce half of the country's food but receive less support than men.

Even as some Filipino women have broken glass ceilings and won presidencies, many more remain invisible and marginalized, left to fend for themselves. This is the lot of women from the countryside, the women who grow the nation’s food and yet have scarcely enough to eat, because selling all their harvests barely earns them enough to support their families.

Rural women produce half of the country’s food, but they are not getting the same assistance as men. A study made by Daryl Leyesa of Centro Saka, Inc. found that only 36% of women farmers have access to irrigation, only 29% have access to seeds, 26% to training, 23% to extension service, 21% to fertilizer and seeds subsidy, 20% to pest control management, 20% to calamity assistance, and 14% to financial assistance.

In Mindanao, rural women constitute 50% of the poor population according to a 2003 study by the Mindanao Commission on Women (MCW). Women farm laborers are paid lower than men and there is a trend since the year 2000 of rural women leaving farm work to find employment in the city or abroad.

Women in Mindanao have also benefitted less than men from the government’s agrarian reform program. On the average, a female farmer would be granted 1.5 hectares of land while a male farmer would be given 2.13 hectares.

These figures bear out the commonly held but mistaken belief that women are not farmers or fishers, but often only housewives, and are therefore not entitled to livelihood interventions.

But given the same support as men farmers, women farmers would increase their production of food by 25%, according to projections made by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

This dramatic increase could partly buffer the Philippines from food shortages, which occurred in 2008 and showed signs of repeating in 2011. Supporting women would help usher in a ‘new agricultural future’ in which there’s enough food for all, produced in a sustainable way without taxing natural resources like land and water. It also means putting a premium on the welfare of, including fair income for, farmers.

“We call on the government to support us as we grow food sustainably. Sustainable agriculture is our ticket to national food security,” said Zenaida Mansiliohan, vice chair of the Pambansang Koalisyon ng mga Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK) and a woman farmer-leader from Agusan del Sur, at the opening of the Women’s Market in Davao today.

In Mindanao, food production is also at the mercy of creeping climate change impacts and human-induced disaster: armed conflict. “The government needs to fast-track measures to protect Mindanao’s agriculture from disasters,” said Snehal Soneji, country director of the Philippines program of international non-profit Oxfam.

“Climate change is a serious risk to the livelihoods of poor farmers. The government must invest in technologies to grow typhoon-resistant crops or to plant more mangroves to absorb sea level rise." -Snehal Soneji, country director of the Philippines office of Oxfam

“Climate change is a serious risk to the livelihoods of poor farmers. The government must invest in technologies to grow typhoon-resistant crops or to plant more mangroves to absorb sea level rise. Preparing for climate change must now be part of programs for sustainable agriculture,” said Soneji.

The Women’s Market, which is the first of its kind in the country, champions women small-scale food producers who grow food sustainably. It is a continuing initiative of PKKK and Oxfam, under its campaign Grow, a campaign for better ways to produce food as scarce resources are threatened by climate change impacts.

This edition of the Women’s Market is organized with the MCW, the Center for Empowerment and Resource Development (CERD), Inc., the Paglilingkod Batas Pangkapatiran Foundation (PBPF), the Sustainable Integrated Area Development Initiative in Mindanao – Convergence for Asset Reform and Regional Development (SIM CARRD), Inc., the Kasanyagan Rural Development Foundation, Inc. (KRDFI), the Agri-Aqua Development Coalition (AADC), the Mindanao Migrants Center for Empowering Actions, Inc. (MMCEAI), and the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), with support from the Davao City Government.

 

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