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Landless women feed the world

Landless women feed the world

By Ma. Ángeles Fernández

‘Tembi’u rape’ is the Guaraní television program that shows the Paraguayan ‘ways of the kitchen’. It leads the audience towards traditional ways of eating that are increasingly forgotten. Nestled in the heart of South America, between powers such as Argentina and Brazil that have controlled their economy and therefore their production and food, through soy and livestock, Paraguay is a clear example of how the production model can transform the economic, ideological and social paradigm of a State.

“Statistics show that only 2 percent of the land is in the hands of peasants and indigenous communities. The rest is controlled by agribusiness companies or by large landowners who are engaged in livestock and soy production, or some type of grain that is governed under the same model: large-scale production, with transgenic seeds, with the introduction of mechanical technology and intensive use of pesticides. All of this entails the massive deforestation of large areas of land, deterioration of the environment, the soil, and forced displacement of communities. And those who bear the worst part are the women, ”summarizes, as if it were simple, the presenter of‘ Tembiù Rape ’and member of the National Coordinator of Rural and Indigenous Women (Conamuri), Perla Álvarez.

Between 3 and 20 percent of landowners are women

‘Teko karu sâ’ÿ’. So it is said in Guaraní, the official language of Paraguay spoken mostly in rural areas, ‘food sovereignty’, a cross-cutting concept in ‘Tembi’u rape’, which vindicates the role of local peasants in food. "The issue is politicized and decisions are made at the state level, despite the fact that it is a daily issue for women, who have always been in charge of food," adds Álvarez.

The notion of food sovereignty was introduced by La Via Campesina, a social movement that threads the social struggles of the peasantry in a large number of countries. “We are united by the rejection of the economic and political conditions that destroy our livelihoods, our communities, our cultures and our natural environment. We are called to create a rural economy based on respect for ourselves and the land, on the basis of food sovereignty, and fair trade ”, they explained in 1996 in Mexico, during their second international conference, when they spoke for the first instead of this concept.

They do not own the land, but it is women who mostly work it. In the South, FAO recognizes that 70 percent of food production is contributed by women. A fact that becomes chilling if one takes into account that more than 60 percent of them suffer from hunger in the world. Not forgetting that in some countries tradition dictates that they eat the last or that during a crisis they are generally the first to sacrifice their food consumption in order to protect the diet of their families. Women also do not have access to agricultural credit, where the percentage that covers them does not reach 10 percent. They cultivate and produce, while economic transactions are in male hands. Also decision making.

The situation by country presents nuances, but always with tones of inequality and discrimination. “In Honduras there are two million peasant women: 1.3 live in poverty and 86 percent do not have access to land. They are violating the right of women to have a dignified life, to continue contributing to development and to guarantee food for the people, ”emphasizes Wendy Cruz. "We take care of chickens, plants, people ... all that work is invisible and unpaid," he adds.

Consumption is also a political act closely linked to food sovereignty

‘Jaguerujey ñane retã rembi’u reko’ or what is the same: “Recover the food culture of our country”. The activist Perla Álvarez portrays Paraguay, a country in which agribusiness and GMOs are the engine of the economy and where only 1.6 percent of the owners share 80 percent of the agricultural and livestock land, according to data from Intermón Oxfam. “Indigenous women are the ones who carry out the resistance to maintain the territory because many of the leaders are bought by the ranchers or by the soy farmers. They rent the land but the women who bear the worst are, who know what value and importance the territories have for food, but also for culture, for the community and to maintain themselves as a people ”.


In a context in which food production is increasingly in fewer hands, is the object of economic speculation and does not understand aprons or dressings, the voice of women is essential because food sovereignty "is anti-capitalist and anti-patriarchal," says Leticia Urretabizkaia, co-author of the book Las mujeres baserritarras: analysis and future perspectives from the Food Sovereignty, together with Isabel de Gonzalo. "The issue of food has often tried to be a matter for male decisions, both in families and in organizations, because those who are going to negotiate with the Government are usually men," adds Perla Álvarez.

For years, the land, and its products, have been the object of desire of large transnational corporations and the financial markets. "The neoliberal capitalist, following his logic of accumulation, exploitation and predation, has placed food production in the hands of the international market, distancing it more and more from the needs and interests of people and from sustainable production practices", explains the technique of Cooperation of the Gender and Feminism axis of Mundubat, Isabel de Gonzalo.

Consumer groups as a challenge

‘We recovered tremi'u apoukapy kuera’. "We recover recipes." Perla Álvarez tries to show the traditional ways of eating, explain the importance of consumption as an emancipatory element. We are what we eat. Also how we eat it. It does so in Paraguay, where 25.5 percent of the population is malnourished, while the agriculture and livestock sectors account for 28 percent of GDP.

Consumption is also a political act closely linked to food sovereignty. In a society in which identity is increasingly linked to the concepts of ‘buying’ and ‘spending’, social transformation should not ignore this part of life. Moving towards food sovereignty is also moving towards short food circuits or consumer groups, “another way of putting into practice the maxim of feminist economics of putting life at the center”, in the words of the activist of the group of Decrease Desazkundea Kristina Sáez.

The path of short marketing circuits is still long. "We are currently in the phase where consumer groups are realizing and beginning to recognize the absence of the gender perspective," says Urretabizkaia, who works on the diagnosis for a dairy production and consumption cooperative. There are many groups that work in this regard.

Nekasare is a consumer group that was born in 2005 from the ENHE-Bizkaia union. At that time the economic crisis was an unthinkable nightmare and the percentage of women was around 70 percent of the attached producers. The situation changed completely with the increase in unemployment: "When the couple is left without work in industry and agriculture is the main economic activity, there is an absolute displacement of women," explains Isa Álvarez, ENHE-Bizkaia technician and coordinator of the Nekasare network. There was a change of roles and a large part of the women gave their space in public to their partners. Today, out of 80 producers, only 35 are women.

When agriculture becomes the main economic support in the absence of other income, women are displaced, at least from the public sphere. In the North and the South, the invisibility of women's work in the fields is notorious, although the responsibility of feeding the world falls on them, without land, without machinery and without credit. "If we talk about food, we talk about life," concludes Perla Álvarez. And of women. ‘Ha mba’e hembireko kuera’.

PIKARA Magazine


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