By The Progressive on June 06, 2008

Solving the food crisis means empowering women.

This week, world leaders are meeting in Rome to devise new strategies for world agriculture. They ought to be promoting women’s rights.

The majority of the world’s farmers are women. In the poorest countries, where the food crisis is at its worst, women grow and produce 80 percent of all food.

Boosting the capacity of small farmers to produce and sell food locally is a key part of the solution. But as women, many small farmers face gender discrimination that undermines their capacity to feed people.

For example, in many countries, women who grow the food that sustains the majority of the population are not even recognized as farmers. They have no legal right to own land. And women are routinely shut out of government agriculture programs. They lose out on access to credit, seeds, tools and training that is more crucial than ever now, since farmers have to adapt to climate change.

All of this means that policies aiming to resolve the food crisis need also to uphold women’s rights.

These policies also must recognize the damage that so-called free trade has caused women.

Ana Chumba is facing a choice that no mother should ever have to make: whether to feed her daughter or send her to school.

Ana is a small-scale farmer who also sells homemade tortillas to make ends meet. But this year, the cost of staple foods in Nicaragua, where she lives, has more than doubled. If she keeps her daughter out of school to help with the tortillas, they may be able to bring in enough to buy rice, cooking oil and, on a good day, milk.

For most of us, the world food crisis has meant an annoying hike in our grocery bill. For Ana, already living on the brink of survival, it’s a true emergency.

Economists explain the food crisis as a perfect storm: rising demand for resource-intensive foods like meat, protracted drought, and more land being used to grow fuel instead of food.

But long before biofuels became a household word, international trade rules had bankrupted millions of small farmers in the developing world.

Because of huge government subsidies to factory farms in the United States and Europe, food imported from these countries became cheaper than food produced by local farmers.

As a result, food-producing countries like Nicaragua were turned into food importers, leaving people like Ana at the mercy of global markets.

The global food crisis is no natural disaster. Hunger is a consequence of failed policies.

Fortunately, policies can be changed.

The time to change them is now.

The kind of small-scale, sustainable farming that women traditionally do is exactly the mode of agriculture that we need to expand. The Rome meeting should realign world agriculture policy with the interests of small-scale women farmers instead of giant corporations. If we can do that, we may just be able to meet the challenge of today’s global food crisis by feeding all people while protecting the planet.

Yifat Susskind is the communications director for MADRE, an international nonprofit group based in New York that works for women’s rights and resources worldwide. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

More

By Ruth Conniff

Wisconsin workers face a lousy jobs picture this Labor Day, according to...

Here, for Labor Day, are the top ten working class hero movies of all time.

At a swank club in Madison, Walker supporters get an earful.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project

Newsletter

Get Breaking News and Alerts!