African women farmers reject the same old business as usual

Members of the Rural Women’s Farmers Association of Ghana (RUWFAG) prepare a field for sowing.

The World Economic Forum is meeting this week in Cape Town, with much self-congratulation on “economic growth”, “poverty eradication”, and “women’s empowerment”, all brought by those who engineered a world economy based on growing inequality, galloping individual debt, expanding precarization of labor, and anything but the empowerment of women. Part of this circus maximus is the meeting, held largely behind closed doors, of the partners of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. Across Africa, women farmers see this “new alliance” as the same old same old, and they’re not buying it.

The New Alliance, cooked up by the G8 and the European Union in 2012, sports all the “right language”: transformation, growth, partnership, security, sustainability, sharing. But the New Alliance opens ever-larger amounts of land to corporate investors and multinational agro-corporations, because nothing says sustainable security like over-the-top investments, land grabs and the forced eviction of local populations. Women farmers’ organizations have decried the physical and cultural violence of this project. They have protested the Alliance’s refusal to consult, and they have shown the devastation this “new alliance” harvests from the destruction of women’s bodies and lives.

But what do women farmers know about food security or nutrition, and, in particular, what do African women farmers know? Once again, they must be saved from themselves.

The premise of the New Alliance is that “land titling” will fix everything. Here’s what’s actually happened. Malawi was induced to release about a million hectares, or 26 percent of the country’s arable land, to large-scale commercial farming. According to ActionAid, “Land titling can give small-scale food producers more security over their land, but in the current New Alliance-related processes, it appears to be a way to primarily help governments facilitate large-scale acquisitions of land. Secure land tenure does not necessarily require individual land ownership but can be achieved with clearly defined and sufficiently long-term use rights over land that is ultimately state property. The abolition of customary or communal tenure systems and their replacement with freehold title and the private land market has often led to extinguishing the land rights of the poor, notably women.”

Notably women. Yet again, the “new” produces wider and deeper vulnerability, especially for women, all in the name of security and sustainability. This new is not so new.

Malawi women farmers are not the only targets. Women farmers in Nigeria, Senegal, and Burkina Faso report the same, as do women farmers in Tanzania. As Tanzanian farmer Anza Ramadhani explained, “We never had a chance to influence the decisions concerning our land and future. There has been no transparency whatsoever. We don’t know if we will be resettled, where it will be or if we will be compensated. We don’t know how much the compensation will be or if it will be at all.”

In Ghana, women farmers are threatened with being forced to give up their control, and knowledge of seeds, by a new law, called the “Monsanto Law”, which would restrict, and even prohibit, storing and trading seeds. This law is a condition of New Alliance aid. The new is not at all new. As farmer Esther Boakye Yiadom explains, “My mother gave me some seeds to plant, and I’m also giving those seeds to my children to plant. So that is ongoing, every time we transfer to our children. And that is how all the women are doing. We don’t buy, we produce it ourselves.” Patricia Dianon, chair of the Rural Women Farmers Association of Ghana and traditional queen, agrees, “After harvesting, the women are able to store the seeds … They are able to dry it, tie it, and preserve it … So when the year comes, they bring these seeds to sow again.” Victoria Adongo, Program Director for the Peasant Farmer Association of Ghana, concurs, “Seed is where you grow your food from. So if you save the seed, then you grow food the following year. It’s very economical because you don’t have to go and buy seed. That is what we farmers have always done … We, the small holder farmers, want to have good lives. We want to be healthy. We have our seed systems that we like and are proud of. So we do not want multinational companies to come in and take over our seed systems.”

In the pursuit of profit, the New Alliance condemns women to “new” lives of increasing, intensifying and expanding vulnerability, hardship, and disposability. Across Africa, women farmers are saying NO! to the international delegation of liars and thieves. They are saying, “We don’t buy, we produce it ourselves. We want good lives. We want to be healthy.”

 

(Photo Credit: Global Justice Now / Common Dreams) (Video Credit: Global Justice Now / YouTube)

African women smallholder farmers haunt the G8 … and The Guardian

In 2012, the G8 launched the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which, controversially, gave agribusiness a seat at the African farming table, right next to governments and aid donors. Agribusiness had always been there, but now the arrangements of hand holding and pocket filling would be formalized. Despite promises of the `new’, transparency around the arrangements did not increase. If anything, the world of African food security and nutrition transactions became murkier.

This week The Guardian ran a series of articles on the New Alliance. Many see the Alliance as colonialism with a neoliberal face. First, the aid processes become increasingly privatized and imbedded into the workings, and failings, of markets. Second, the contractual and policy decisions are not only made behind closed doors, they’re made in settings that prohibit any direct involvement of smallholder farmers. Neither the Alliance nor The Guardian seems to care that smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa are overwhelmingly women. What’s not new here? Millions of women workers rendered invisible … again.

Ten African countries signed agreements that `open’ them to greater foreign direct investment. The countries are Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania. The national commitments involve land and water; seeds; tax; finance; infrastructure; food security or nutrition; and other. Ten countries signed 209 commitments. Of those ten countries, only Benin made any commitments to women, and those two commitments are, at best, vague: “Design and set up a gender-based information and communication system to prompt behavioural change in the agricultural and rural sector.” “Improve how gender is addressed when designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating projects/programmes and activities in the agricultural sector.” As of yet, the progress on these is listed as “Unknown.”

The Guardian reported on Malawian smallholder farmers being kept in the dark on Malawi’s commitments; on Tanzanian smallholder farmers’ concerns that the new alliance will only turn them into cheap labor for the new, large farming corporations; and on Ghanaian smallholder farmers’ mixed reactions. The Guardian doesn’t mention or quote any women smallholder farmers.

Women comprise as much as 80% of African subsistence farmers. In Burkina Faso, gardeners and smallholder farmers are overwhelmingly women. From palm oil production in Benin to cocoa production in Ghana to general smallholder production in Tanzania, women predominate in numbers but not in access to resources or control. In Malawi, women make up almost 70% of the full time farmer population. Every major multinational agency has issued a report on the centrality of women in agriculture to any food security agenda. Repeatedly, reports demonstrate that women constitute the majority of smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, and yet have little to no access to land tenure or to State or international assistance. Those reports also suggest that extension services automatically look to men as `change agents.’

Women farmers are a majority of the adult farming population. They are not part of the picture. They are the picture. They are not part of the story. They are the story. When you see the picture, when you read the story, if you don’t see and read about women farmers, write to the authors and tell them, “No women farmers, no justice.”

 

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org)

Around the world, women say, “Hell no!”

Brazil’s Vinegar Revolution

Around the world, women are loudly, softly, even silently rejecting the `advances’ of repressive regimes, from Turkey and Greece to Senegal and Brazil, women are saying, “Hell no.” The State says vacate, and women say, “No, we’re staying.” The State says move on, and women say, “We’ll just stand still for a while.” The State says, “Come to our big event”, and the women say, “No, and here’s why.” The State says, “Ok, come on in,” and women respond, “You know what? After the way you’ve treated me, you can keep your so-called invitation.”

When the Greek state tried to close the ERT television station, workers, women like Maria Kodaxi, refused to move. Across Turkey, women refused to accept the violence of the State and, one by one and then in tens and hundreds, became “duran kadin”, standing women. In Greece and Turkey, the struggle continues.

As Turkey gave the world Gezi Park and #durankadin, Brazil this week gave the world … vinegar. Vinegar uprising. Vinegar revolt. The salad revolution. Police thought they’d quell and dispel a relatively small group of protesters with tear gas, batons, and violence. Instead of quell, they got rebel. Where there were tens, a million marched and more are on the move. And vinegar became the symbol of resistance and solidarity. It’s a good week for new symbols that match new forms of action.

Carla Dauden is one Brazilian woman engaged in protest, and she is not going to the World Cup. Dauden is a young filmmaker, a native of Sao Paolo, and the director, producer, narrator and face of “No, I’m not going to the World Cup.” Part of her reason is an ethical calculus: “Now tell me, in a county where illiteracy can reach 21%, that ranks 85th in the Human Development Index, where 13 million people are underfed every day and many people die waiting for medical treatment, does that country need more stadiums?” As of this writing, over 2.5 million people have watched and listened, and maybe heard, Carla Dauden explain why she is saying, “No”.

In Senegal, Bousso Dramé is not going to Paris. Bousso Dramé is, by any standards, an accomplished woman, whatever that means. The World Economic Forum thinks she’s a “global shaper”: “a proud African, committed Senegalese citizen and vibrant young woman.” Dramé works for the World Bank, has many advanced degrees, speaks many languages. She recently won a national spelling bee. Part of the prize was a round trip ticket from Dakar to Paris and back. When Dramé went to the French Embassy to apply for her visa, she was treated like dirt, “as less than nothing.” This abuse happened repeatedly, and was visited upon her by a number of embassy personnel. And so, when Dramé finally, finally was informed that she had finally been approved for a visa, she write an open letter to the French government saying, “No, thank you.”

Dramé said no not only in her own name, but in the name of Senegalese across Europe, of Africans across Europe: “If the price to pay … is to be treated like less than nothing, I prefer to reject this privilege altogether… I wanted to put forth a symbolic act for my Senegalese brothers and sisters who, every day, face being crushed in the embassies of Schengen zone.”

From Turkey to Greece to Brazil to Senegal and France, the particulars may change, but the dance is the same. And women across borders, in studios, parks and streets, videos, embassies, consulates, and open letters, are saying, “Hell no.”

 

(Photo Credit: Reuters)

You have struck the woman farmer and farm worker …

It’s Women’s Month in South Africa, and the news from government is predictably grim. Women are still suffering, announced Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulama Xingwana, and in particular for `rural women’. This comes a year almost to the day of the Human Rights Watch report, Ripe with Abuse Human Rights Conditions in South Africa’s Fruit and Wine Industries. The report described and documented the face of the abused farm worker in the Western Cape, and, to no one’s great surprise, the face is a woman’s.

A year later, the struggle continues.

For example, Worldwatch Institute issued a report this week that finds that investment in women farmers, globally, is too low. Remember, women produce half of the agricultural output in South Asia and 80 percent in sub-Saharan Africa. Further, women farmers produce more than half of all food and comprise 43 percent of the global agricultural labor force. `Forgetting’ women endangers food security as it threatens food sovereignty. Beyond that, and perhaps more to the point, excluding women farmers and farm workers imperils democracy, locally, nationally, regionally, globally. Remember that the next time you bite into a piece of fruit, wherever you are.

While the situation is grim, the news is not all bad. In the United States, undergraduate women enrolled in agriculture programs outnumber undergraduate men by more than 2,900 students. That’s out of a sum of around 50,000 students. This trend corresponds with the increase in women farm operators.

In Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Senegal, the Philippines, Nepal, and beyond and between, women farmers, women farm workers, rural women activists and organizers, ordinary rural women, are breaking new ground … literally. They are moving from a field not quite her own to a field of her own. And that’s good news … for food security, for food sovereignty, for democracy. The struggle continues.

 

(Photo Credit: Phuong Tran/IRIN)