In Cambodia, woman farmer Hoy Mai says NO! to the theft and devastation of her land and life!

Hoy Mai

This week, Cambodian woman farmer Hoy Mai has appeared in a Thai court, where she has filed suit against Thai sugar company Mitr Phol, Asia’s largest sugar producer. Hoy Mai, now 56 years old, has been waging a mighty campaign against the Goliath corporation for two decades, a campaign for land, life and justice. This week’s court case is considered a landmark case. If the court decides in Hoy Mai’s favor, thousands of displaced farmers could benefit. The story begins in October 2009, in the northwest province of Oddar Meanchey, in the throes of the Khmer Rouge violence. In one of the most violent areas in Cambodia, Angkor Sugar Company, a subsidiary of Mitr Phol, evicted 119 households. Since that day, Hoy Mai has fought for restitution, first, and justice, for herself and her neighbors.

According to the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, “Hoy Mai’s family and 118 other households in Bos village, Oddar Meanchey province, were forcibly evicted in October 2009 as part of an ELC [Economic Land Concession] granted to Angkor Sugar Company. Their homes were burnt down and they lost all their belongings and farmland. Despite promises that she would receive another plot of land, she received neither land nor compensation, leaving her and her children homeless and destitute. Hoy Mai, at the time five months pregnant, was charged with violation of the Forestry law and jailed for eight months after trying to appeal to the authorities in Phnom Penh. She went into labor in the prison where she was forced to stay for three days and two nights until she was taken to the hospital. Only a few hours after she gave birth to her baby she was taken back to jail. For two months, she nursed her son in the prison with terrible sanitary conditions and sharing the cell with seven other women. Eight months after her detention, Mai was brought before a judge. Instead of a fair trial the court told Mai that she would be released only when she signed an agreement to with- draw all claims to her land in Bos village and accepted replacement land.”

The Khmer Rouge is gone, but the damage remains, as does Mitr Phol. From 2009 to today, Hoy Mai has refused to accept that situation: “We want compensation so we can rebuild our homes and farm our land. We hope the court will give us justice.” Hoy Mai and her attorneys have hit upon the idea of going to Thailand, where Mitr Phol is based, and instituting a class action suit there. Hoy Mai demands compensation, restitution, recognition, acknowledgement, truth and justice. It’s that straightforward.

In 2014, Hoy Mai explained what she and her neighbors wanted and expected from the State: “We want them to help us get our land back so we can live like before.” In 2016, Hoy Mai explained that she and her neighbors planned to return to their own lands: “Whether the governor allows us back or not, we will still go to our land. We are scared, but we have to struggle. We experienced being evicted. So we are not afraid.” This week, Hoy Mai said, “They took our land. I lost everything. My children did not go to school and I had no farming land … I survive by the day … For us, it [the land] is our life.”

In Cambodia, for the past twenty years, woman farmer Hoy Mai has said NO to the theft and devastation of her and her community’s land and lives. Hoy Mai joins rural women and women farmers in PeruIndiaEcuadorLiberiaGhanaMalawi, and around the world in demanding justice not only for herself and her community, but for women farmers and rural women everywhere. Mitr Phol may be the fifth largest sugar producer in the world, but Hoy Mai knows that justice is larger, wider and deeper than any corporation. “For us, it is our life.”

(Photo Credit: Leonie Kijewski / Al Jazeera)

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)

Indian rural women say NO! to the theft and devastation of their lands and lives

 

In India, last month, rural women shouted, “Enough is enough!” They marched, organized, and raised a ruckus about proposals to make corporate and State land “acquisition” easier and more “efficient.” They marched by the thousands to Delhi to express more than opposition. They went to articulate the value of their presence. And they promised that if no one in authority listened, they would return by the tens and hundreds of thousands.

In 2013, the Indian government passed a Land Acquisition Act that addressed consent, public purpose and urgency, and social impact. While the 2013 law had issues, it began a process of democratizing land acquisition. Local populations had to be consulted. The State was under stricter guidelines and controls concerning its capacity to declare a public need or urgency and thereby seize land. Social impact, such as mass dislocation, would have to be factored in. These provisions have complicated large scale land purchase, and so the new government has decided to prove its corporate creds by erasing over 65% of the national population. After all, farming communities are surely the source of India’s poverty, not “big capital [which] could get away with unconscionable waste, choke off all credit in the economy, externalise their costs on to society and flout regulation” and certainly not “the state [which] could fritter away vast land resources without any accountability.”

The new bill has been called anti-farmer, anti-Dalit, anti-poor, anti-women, and so Dalit women, tribal women, poor women, and women farmers united and went to Delhi. Kallan, from Uttar Pradesh, explained the women’s mobilization, “You see, men are scared of police. They flee at the first sign of trouble. We do not. Take us anywhere — to the police station, to the court anywhere, we will go… We will only go home when we get out patta (land documents).”

Sabubai, a tribal woman from Madhya Pradesh, agrees, “The farmers near our village sold off their land to the government, they wanted money and the land was to be used for a sugar factory. We are sharecroppers, we never owned the land. But we wrested it back from them. We have it now, but not the patta… we want the patta too.”

Baldiya Rana, an Adivasi from Assam, asked why the State is “so desperate to cease tribal cultivation close to forests, however encourage tree felling for firms”. Adivasis make up 8.6 percent of the Indian population, and 40 percent of those displaced by “improvement tasks.” Of those Adivasis who have been displaced, only 21 percent have been resettled.

Dalit farm laborer Hiranya Devi, from Uttar Pradesh, noted, “If solely the landowner will get a job and rehabilitation in trade, then the lots of like me will come and fill your cities. Anyway, that’s the place all of the street, electrical energy and water goes.”

Konsa Bai, a tribal woman from Madhya Pradesh, put it succinctly, “We have no land. Only big people have land in the village.”

Life for rural women has never been easy, anywhere in South Asia, and the everyday struggle for survival has always been hard. Where the food has been grown, hunger has always stalked women and children first. But recent years have been catastrophic. From 2001 to 2011, the number of women agricultural laborers increased 24 percent, while the total number of women farmers dropped 14 percent. Of nearly 98 million Indian women who have agricultural jobs, around 63% are agricultural laborers, dependent on the farms of others. Force women off their own land and then force them to return as laborers, in order to barely survive. It’s an old story and a very new one, and it’s part of the reason women marched to Delhi. They have seen the cost of `shining development’, and they know it targets women, viciously and violently.

Last month, thousands of women went to Delhi to say NO to the theft and devastation of their lands and lives. They went to say YES to their own dignity, to affirm the value of their presence and lives. That was last month. And next month … ?

 

(Photo Credit: BBC / AFP)

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)

A tale of two (billion) women farmers

 

Mwajuma Hussein

In two days, in Jakarta, Indonesia women farmers from all over the world will gather under the banner slogan, “Sowing the seeds of action and hope, for feminism and food sovereignty!

Close to 2 billion women, out of a global population of around 7 billion, depend on agriculture for their livelihood. For those women, these are the best of times, these are the worst of times. Herein is one tale of two women farmers in these times.

Mwajuma Hussein is a 75-year-old woman farmer in the Geita Region of Tanzania. In 2007, she and all the residents of her small rural farming community, Mine Mpya, were evicted from their homes and lands to make way for the Geita Gold Mine, operated by AngloGold Ashanti, a South African mining corporation. They were forced out and have lived since, for close to seven years, in a “cluster of makeshift tents constructed from plastic sheeting and bits of wood and metal.” As Mwajuma Hussein remembers, “[One day in 2007] I was attacked by police at 5am.  They arrested three people and beat them, and then they dumped us here.” In the bitterest of ironies, the residents sometimes call their “cluster” Sophiatown, and other times they call it Darfur as well.

Women make up a large and increasing part of the agricultural work force of Tanzania. On the one hand, men are leaving to work in the cities or in the mines. On the other hand, women play an integral role in agricultural production and ensuring household food security. Women are in charge of farm labor, especially subsistence crops; child care; food preparation; water retrieval; household maintenance; caring for the sick; building and holding community together. Women run the farms … up to a point. Women do not have formal decision-making authority over land use and earned income, and they have at best tenuous land rights. For widows, the situation is even more precarious.

What happens to the women farmers of Mine Mpya now? They become day laborers. Where life was difficult before, especially for women, it is now reduced to the hardship, and practical impossibility, of purchase-based survival. Where before, women ensured that the household had enough food to live, enough water to function, and enough social connections to weather almost any storm, now that’s all gone.

Phindile Nkosi is also a woman farmer, in the Mpumalanga Province of South Africa. She has a share of Elukwatini Farm, in an arrangement with the upscale mega-market Woolworths. Woolworths set up Elukwatini Farm this way: 13 farmers farm 1 hectare each. Those who succeed get more hectares. The others are out. Phindile Nkosi now farms 3 hectares, and employs five full-time workers. It’s good for her, for her children, for the region.

As Phindile Nkosi explains, “There have been no jobs in the area since the mines closed down 15 years ago. But Woolworths has helped us to help ourselves and the community. When my neighbours saw how poor I was, living in a mud house to what I am now, they too want to start farming. For my children as well it’s been good.”

Phindile Nkosi is a single mother of four. With the profits from selling tomatoes to Woolworths, she has managed to build a home and to send her eldest through university.

Are “Sophiatown” and Elukwatini signatures for the worst of times and the best of times? Yes and no. In both Geita Region and Mpumalanga Province, women farmers are responsible for sustaining food production and reducing household food insecurity. The hand that rocks the cradle tills the fields. In both Geita Region and Mpumalanga Province, the mining industry devastated the agricultural sector at large and the political economy of women’s lives.

Most critically, both stories point to the utter refusal of the State to address women farmers. Mwajuma Hussein was not removed from her home by mining security guards.  Police removed her. Phindile Nkosi did not live in a wasteland created by the mine’s closure. She lived in a wasteland created by State policies of “non-intervention”. A little over ten years ago a study reported that rural women in South Africa were “isolated, confined and marginalized through the non-interactive government policies on rural areas.” Since then, rural women in South Africa have become more active and engaged in farming and in farm work, no thanks to any `interaction’ from the State.

In Tanzania and in South Africa, the rural zones are treated by the State as empty space, and, for the State, the women who inhabit that empty space don’t exist. If they’re lucky, a `beneficent’ corporation will come to their empowering rescue. If they’re not, they end up in Sophiatown – Darfur. Either way, where is the State?

Phindile Nkosi

(Photo Credit 1: IRIN / Zahra Moloo) (Photo Credit 2: Business Day)

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)

Women haunt land grabs and mass evictions

Oxfam came out with a major report this week on land grabs in five countries, Uganda, Indonesia, Guatemala, Honduras, and South Sudan. In Uganda, over 20,000 people were evicted from land they had farmed for decades, evicted so that a British corporation, New Forests Company, could come in, create tree plantations, earn carbon credits, sell timber.

The residents were never consulted. Quite to the contrary, tales of violence abound. For example, Olivia Mukamperezida, whose house was burned to the ground. Her eldest son, Friday, was at home because he was sick. He was killed in the fire. She buried Friday, and now is not sure if he’s even in his grave. “They are planting trees,” she says.

Christine was forced off her land as well: “We lost everything we had .… I was threatened – they told me they were going to beat me if we didn’t leave.”

Christine lost more than everything she had. She lost the future. Before she and her family lived in a six-room house, farmed six hectares, sold produce, sent their kids to school. They had been doing so for twenty years. Now, they live in two rooms, eke subsistence living out of a small plot, eat once a day, and the children no longer attend school.

The Oxfam report highlights the particular vulnerabilities of women, and the specific impact of eviction on women around the world. They note that in Africa, the situation is particularly dire: “Women’s land rights are less secure and more easily targeted. They also depend more on secondary uses of land, which tend to be ignored in large-scale acquisitions. Furthermore, although women comprise the majority of farmers, men effectively control the land and the income derived from it, even if it is the fruit of women’s labour. In practice, a new commercial opportunity often means that men assume control of the land at the expense of women’s access. Thus, new sources of income from the land are likely to burden women and benefit men. The new competition for land between biofuels and food crops, leading to less availability of food and higher prices, is also likely to affect women more than men, as women tend to take responsibility for feeding the family.”

From direct physical and verbal assaults to the processes to the consequences, the entire land grabbing machinery is violence against women.

None of this is new. Previous researchers have issued reports on that describe the gendered impacts of commercial pressures on land, that wonder if land grabs aren’t simply, and intentionally, another bigger, badder yoke on women’s land rights. Activists, such as Esther Obaikol, Executive Director of the Uganda Land Alliance, have also been organizing with women farmers … for decades.

When it comes to land grabs in Uganda, as elsewhere, women farmers have been pushed harder, deeper, further. They are the first and final targets of land grabbing. Mass evictions attack women. Women haunt land grabs and mass evictions … everywhere.

 

(Photo Credit: Sven Torfinn for The New York Times)

The low spark of high-heeled African women farmers

Esnai Ngwira in mucuna field

The planet of slums is fed, clothed and sheltered by continents, and oceans, of farms, many of them small farms. Many small hold farmers are women. This is the case in China. By focusing on women farmers, China, with 10% of the world’s arable land, now feeds 20% of the world’s population.

And now, according to reports, China is turning to Africa, not in a land grab but rather in skills sharing and capacity building. China “seeks to show its trading partners in Africa that feeding their populations is only possible when women are empowered.” China is pushing for land rights for women farmers and for investing in women farmers. A key problem, however, is “the low skill base of Africa’s farmers, who are mainly women”.

What?

The clause concerning “low skills” is slipped in at the end of an article, but it’s actually a bombshell. The reason “Africa” is hungry is that its women are “low skilled”?

This would come as a surprise to those, such as Andrew Mushita and Carol B. Campbell, who have argued, “Most often, women are the keepers of the seeds, tucked away among the beams in the thatched roof, protected from pests by smoke from cooking fire. Others are stored in tins in another location. Villagers volunteer labour to build storage buildings for seed banks, protecting the treasure within the public trust.”

For centuries, and more, women farmers have tended to the seeds, nurtured biodiversity, sustained communities, developed new, and successful, medical treatments, and more.

Esnai Ngwira, a 57-year-old farmer in Ekwendeni, northern Malawi, would be surprised to hear she has a low skills base. Ngwira has been working with a program that builds social ecology in sustainable ways. Rather than using fertilizer, for example, Ngwira uses crop residue. She gets a better maize harvest, helps the soil, helps the earth. Esnai Ngwira is considered “a star innovator.”

Marie Johansson and Victoria Mulunga, of the Creative Entrepreneur Solutions (CES) in northern Namibia, would also be surprised. They, and the other women in their group, are fusing farming practices, gender-responsive environmentalism, and women’s market practices into a sustainable agricultural political economy. They haven’t done that by relying on a “low skill base.”

Likewise, in Kenya, Joyce Odari, an elderly subsistence farmer, was once arrested by forest guards for having cut down trees in a public preserve. She turned her imprisonment into a women’s sustainable agro-forestry operation, that now involves over 200 women in her region.

There are other stories, other women, other names. In the Gambia, women farmers are using simple store-powered dehydrators and dryers to preserve mangoes, which, as dried fruit, they sell to local schools. The mango is a key source of Vitamin A, and its season is short. By drying and distributing them the women farmers are combating blindness, providing extra nutrition in their own homes, and securing extra income.

The stories are everywhere because the women farmers, everywhere across the African continent, are doing what they do. Storing. Sharing. Experiment. Farming. Sustaining. Experimenting some more. Sharing some more.

The first problem for women farmers, on the African continent as elsewhere, is access. Access to land, access to market. Access to resources, access to decent and equal pay. Access to education and then more education. The second problem is security. Land tenure security, market access security. The third problem is autonomy. Global systems of exchange have no respect for the local “customs”, much less the biodiversity that women farmers have created over centuries through open and principled sharing.

“The low skill base of Africa’s farmers, who are mainly women” pretends to focus on women as it obscures the actual lives that women, in this instance women farmers, lead. Not women farmers’ low skill but women farmers’ access to real power haunts a world teetering on the brink of famine. That’s our world.

 

(Photo Credit: Flickr.com / soilsandfood)

 

Let them eat pesticide

There are hunger strikes and there are hunger strikes.

For the past 37 days, six pro-democracy Iranian asylum seekers have been on a hunger strike outside the central headquarters of the United Kingdom Border Agency, in Croydon, in the south of London. Some had sewn their lips shut. Sewing one’s lips is minor compared to the torture all six had suffered in Iranian prisons. They had the medical evidence to prove the torture, and yet were initially denied asylum. Finally, today, after 37 days on hunger strike, the six refugees – Ahmad  Sadeghi Pour, Morteza Bayat, Keyvan Bahari, Kiarash Bahari, Mahyrar Meyari and Mehran Meyari – were assured their cases would be reopened and they would at least be able to apply once again. They ended the hunger strikes, and proclaimed the struggle continues.

Sometimes, hunger strikes save lives and secure at least the glimmering hope of something like justice.

Then there are the hunger strikes that are fatal and ferocious drone strikes, assaults on the body, community, and land. Globally, over 900 million people go hungry every day. That’s down from one billion the year before, but the prospects for the next year are gloomy. Food prices are on the rise everywhere. In fact, food prices are at a twenty-year high. In Asia and among Pacific island nations, food prices are skyrocketing and food `shortages’ loom large. For example, in the Philippines, thanks in large part to marketization and speculation, rice is suddenly both scarce and overly expensive.  Egypt is running out of food, as is the entire Middle East and North Africa.

But it’s not all bad news. Glencore, for example, is “a leading commodities producer and marketer.” Glencore is doing fine. Along with tons of mineral, literally, Glencore controls 10 percent of the world’s wheat, and 25% of the world’s barley, sunflower, and rape seed. Glencore takes, the world slakes. And then dies … again, literally.

Across the United States, two million men, women and children work on farms, picking by hand fresh fruits and vegetables. The US government estimates that every year 10,000 to 20,000 of those workers suffer acute pesticide poisoning.

In India, over the last sixteen years, 250,000 farmers have committed suicide. That’s one farmer every 30 minutes. And this number only includes the farmers who are acknowledged as such by the national government. Those who can’t hold title, they’re not included. Women farmers, Dalit farmers, Adivasi farmers: they don’t count in life, they don’t count in death. What killed these farmers? Indebtedness. Market liberalization. The invisible hand of the market, that hand which polished shining India, provided farmers with loans they could never pay but had to assume, with dwindling access to water, with impossible competitive demands. And so the farmers die.

And they leave behind notes, addressed to the Prime Minister, to the President, to all the lofty people who are nestled in the invisible hand that killed them.

And they leave loved ones behind. Widows. Children. Women like Nanda Bhandare, a farmer, a widow since 2008. When her husband killed himself, she had to pull her two young children out of school to work the farm. The money, if there was any, has gone to pay off the predators. The land, a small parcel, no longer provides sufficient harvest in the current economies to feed even a family of three. Who will be next to drink the pesticide in that household?

There are hunger strikes and there are hunger strikes. For every hunger strike that saves a life, even temporarily, such as that of the six Iranians in England, there are literally 900 million deadly hunger strikes. The planet is aflame with hunger strikes. Farmers are poisoned and are dying, women and children in particular are starving, and the response of the global market, and of the nation-States it supports and controls, is as it has always been. Let them eat pesticide.

 

(Photo Credit: http://indiatoday.intoday.in)

 

Women farmers wait for justice

From left, Gail Lennon, Rosemary Love, Lind Bara- Weaver

In the Washington, DC, metro area, the local food banks are swamped. Loudon County, a half hour away or so, is the wealthiest county in the United States, at least if measured by median income. For the first time ever, its food pantry is providing free food. It will feed some 2000 families this week. The same story goes for the other nearby wealthy counties, Montgomery in Maryland, Fairfax in Virginia. Food insecurity is on the rise here.

The past week’s news stories of people seeking food more often than not profile women. On the one hand, it’s the season. Thanksgiving is in a couple days. Winter is looming large, as are Christmas and other Festive Season holidays. This year, the stories are of women who had jobs, good jobs, well paying jobs, who break down into tears as they stand, for the first time, in food lines at soup kitchens, or at fast food emporia, seeking jobs that would have been unacceptable a few years ago. Readers and viewers shake our heads in sympathetic dismay, and we sigh.

The story of food security and food insecurity is more than a story of hunger, of lack. It’s a story of food from field to fork, as Raj Patel has argued. Where are women in the rising swamp that is our current food situation?

Women produce about half of the world’s food and own about two percent of all land. In the United States, women own 7% of all farms, their numbers doubled between 2000 and 2007. Women are the fastest growing demographic group among farmers in the United States.

Last Friday, the United States Senate voted to settle a claim by Black farmers against the United States Department of Agriculture. Those farmers, the ones still alive, will receive $1.5 billion. It sounds like a lot. It’s not. On one hand, this case started in 1997, when Timothy Pigford, a North Carolina Black farmer, sued the USDA for discrimination. In 1999, the Clinton administration came to a settlement. Then it was `discovered’ that thousands of Black farmers were left out of the initial deal. And so, eleven years and how many dead Black farmers later, we have a deal. Meanwhile, in 1910, Black farmers owned more than 15 million acres of farmland. In 2005, that number was 1 million.

A similar story holds for women farmers. In October 2001 Rosemary Love and nine other women farmers sued the USDA Farm Service Administration, FSA,  for discrimination, dating back to 1981, in loan making practice. That case is still pending. One of the stories of women denied loans begins in … Loudon County:

Lind Bara-Weaver’s difficulties with FSA began in 1984 when she sought to obtain an FSA loan in order to purchase and operate a 16.5-acre farm where she planned to raise Welch ponies, holly trees and worms. Ms. Bara-Weaver was repeatedly refused loan applications by FSA staffat the Loudon County, Virginia office. She was told that there were no loan application forms or loan funds available. Yet Ms. Bara-Weaver’s husband was able to obtain a loan application during this same time period by simply calling the FSA office and requesting that an application be mailed to him. She tried to obtain a farm loan from FSA again in 1988, but to no avail. After some difficulty, she was able to obtain an application, but was told by the FSA loan officer for Loudon County that women could not run farms. The loan officer also called her patronizing names like “cutie” and “honey,” and made sexual advances toward her. While making a visit to her farm in order to appraise it during the loan review process, the loan officer again made sexual advances toward her, which she refused. Her loan application was subsequently denied. Ms. Bara-Weaver lodged a formal complaint with the FSA state office in Richmond, Virginia, and with the USDA Office of the Inspector General in Washington, D.C., but never received a response to either of her complaints. After her husband’s death, Ms. Bara-Weaver relocated to Florida and sought again to apply for a farm loan from FSA. She visited the Flagler County, Florida FSA office a number of times in 2000 before she was finally able to obtain an application form. When she submitted the completed application in person to the Flagler County office, the loan officer asked her how she expected to farm without a man around, and then he threw her application in the wastebasket right in front of her.”

Loudon County is the wealthiest county in the United States. When you read about `food insecurity’, when you read about local food banks being swamped, remember Lind Bara-Weaver, of Loudon County, and all the women farmers and Black farmers who have struggled for decades to provide us with food.

 

(Photo Credit: Women’s Space / Jerry Hagstrom / Capital Press)