March 18, 2022
Role of women in sustainable agriculture
“Women are the nexus of agriculture, food security, nutrition, health, water, and energy. We see women in all these areas,” said Iris Baguilat, the Coordinator for UN Decade of Family Farming and Women Farmers’ Agenda at Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA).
Working closely with small-scale farmers, Baguilat witnessed how society failed to look into the contributions of women farmers on food systems despite their diverse engagement in the value chain.
Historically, society has walked behind the tail of a patriarchal system, where men exude control and dominance and where women, on the other hand, are associated with limitations and weaknesses that constrained their roles and obligations.
“Women bring a different perspective not just in the mindset, not just in figures, but in the talent and skills we have in our gender,” Baguilat stated, as she emphasized the need for gender analysis to better understand the roles of women farmers in the whole system and to arrive at appropriate mechanisms for women.
Ruthfreya Teresita Avila, owner of Terrapedrito Farm, echoed Baguilat’s statement, emphasizing that women are idea banks on how to further improve the food value chain.
Terrapedrito Farm runs courses under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) that teach farmers about agricultural production, organic crops and high-quality inbred rice, seed certification, and farming mechanization. It is also a partner of the Department of Education (DepEd) on its Joint Delivery Voucher Program (JDVP) for Senior High School Technical-Vocational-Livelihood Specializations.
Avila shared that they’ve recorded more women joining their TESDA and JDVP courses, adding that women participants are less likely to miss their classes and are more participative during discussions.
Vernie Yocogan-Diano, Consultant for Feminist Participatory Trainings at the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, also agreed with Baguilat.
“Indigenous women are always in the frontline in defending viable and sustainable production and resource management systems. Indigenous women are always in the frontline in building climate-adaptive measures, such as planting climate-adaptive seeds or plant varieties, combining natural and reduced chemical application systems of production. Indigenous women are unafraid to experiment and explore viable practices and remedies,” Yocogan-Diano noted.
Barriers in empowering women towards climate-smart agriculture
“Cultural norms still favor male farmers,” Baguilat claimed, as she talked about the barriers in empowering women to be agents of change for climate-proofing and making food systems more sustainable.
Baguilat noted that land titles are still named after male persons or husbands. She added that, in most cases, men farmers are the ones attending workshops and seminars on livestock and small-scale lands even though the women farmers (the wives of the male farmers) are the ones who are managing them.
In practice, Baguilat said that women are engaged in processing, distributing, and marketing stages of the value chain that mainly involves operating machinery.
“Most of the available technologies are still not women-friendly. It’s difficult for women farmers to operate on big machines,” Baguilat added, pointing out that need to dive into the role of women within the value chain to allow the development of appropriate technology that will not add to the burden that women farmers already carry.
Creating spaces for women in sustainable agriculture
Despite all the barriers floating around women farmers, advocates and movers are still focused on creating mechanisms to facilitate gender equality and women empowerment in sustainable agriculture.
“There is no other way but to keep changing the mindsets through raising awareness and capacity building,” Yocogan-Diano said, sharing that she intends to create more spaces where the rights and capabilities of women farmers are respected through her work with women farmers’ organizations.
Echoing Yocogan-Diano, Avila also pointed out the need to empower more women to help them materialize their own ideas on how they can contribute further to the value chain.
“Pag minsan mahina ang loob ng mga kababaihan dahil itong mga kalalakihan para bang bina-block nila ‘yung mga naiisip na enterprise nitong mga kababaihan dahil nga siguro meron tayong cultural mindset na mas malakas ang lalaki, mas astig kaysa dito sa mga babae,” Avila said. “Pero kung tutuusin, I have seen so many women farmers na mas kumikita sila, mas nakakaipon sila.”
Developing women leaders for climate-resilient food systems
Climate Reality Leader Elizabeth Lace Viojan, Community Coordinator for Sustainable Food Systems projects for WWF-Philippines, lamented that men farmers often are given leadership roles, overlooking the potential of women to lead and facilitate.
“What we do is we try to open up leadership posts [for women farmers] and then by trial and error, we coach and monitor them,” Viojan shared, narrating how she helps inactive farmer organizations by giving more responsibilities to women members who are relegated to secretarial roles.
This step, according to Viojan, opens the road for women farmers to access climate information and contribute to climate-smart agriculture.
“[Women farmers] not only knows the trail to work but she also empathizes,” Viojan noted as she discussed the potential of women to become more effective leaders of farming organizations and the need to push for mechanisms and interventions that are tailored-fit to address gender issues in farming and the food value chain.