In order to consider Gender Mainstreaming and Women Empowerment in food and agriculture policies in the region one of course has to analyze the status of women farmers, landless women and agriculture workers. I am from Pakistan and will speak of the socio-economic and political dictates that face women, especially rural women.
The overarching policy environment has been based on neoliberal policies strongly dominated by semi-feudal and patriarchal control food and agricultural. Constant wars, and protracted crisis has further impacted rural societies.
Given time limitations, I will highlight only a few case studies that will show the impact of the above on landless & women farmers.
Even though Pakistan is an Islamic state, women’s right to land is abysmal. According to the government of Pakistan:
“The agriculture land distribution in Pakistan is highly skewed as only five percent of the agricultural households own 64 percent of farmland. On the other side, over 80 percent of farmers own less than five acres of land and women’s share of ownership of land is less than two percent.”
In addition, the enforcement of the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements such as the Agreement on Agriculture, the TRIPS agreement and Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) mechanism and Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) have further exacerbated the situation of women. For example, the SPS agreement has demanded international standardization of milk and other dairy products. Women farmers, especially the landless put immense time and energy on rearing livestock. Milk from livestock is one of the healthiest nourishing diets and allows them access to butter and clarified butter. Livestock also allows them to increase their herd and is a valuable asset in times of emergency. The SPS through the Codex Alimentarius has forced international standards that only benefit Big Dairy and Livestock corporations such as Nestle, Tetra Pak International and Maxim International.
Hand in hand with WTO other imperialist policies from International Financial Institutions (IFIs), especially the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have led to soaring agriculture input prices that are forcing farmers off the land and increasing the number of the landless. At the same time, the stress for cash crop production such as sugarcane and maize is creating an immense crisis in food production. Landless women and men are being forced to cut cane so that they can get the fodder off the cane for their livestock. They get no wages for the hard backbreaking. It needs to be pointed out that maize and sugarcane is also being used for ethanol production used in vehicles – so agrofuel for the rich capitalist countries to maintain their luxurious life styles and hunger for women.
Another example is of PepsiCo which has unveiled a “Next Generation Agriculture Strategy” based on which it will grow potatoes for its branded LAYS CHIPs on 7 million acres of land in 28 countries with Pakistan being one of them; in Pakistan it will use 20,000 acres of land of which 75% is in Kasur, Punjab. The potato growing season clashes with wheat cultivation and hence a critical staple food crop is lost; this is also true for sugarcane. Women agriculture workers have across the centuries harvested wheat for household food security as they are paid in kind. They are now forced to load potatoes for a measly 2USD – and only for at the most 40 days of work. Given the very high inflation, these wages melt away without getting food security for women. In addition, under patriarchal norms women’s wages are controlled by men; it is important to note that land lease is around USD570 and much beyond the means of small and landless farmers. Its clear that we are now in the grip of a neocolonial system where foreign entities control our land and its production.
It needs to be emphasized that LAYS potato chips are not at all healthy, especially for our children – its only carbohydrate with high salt. It also requires high use of fertilizers and pesticides. Also note that TRIPS agreement is being used here – farmers have no right to save the potato seeds – PepsiCo supervises the total land area where its potato is being grown – in essence farmers are now part of the assembly line for PepsiCo LAYS potato chips and other brand products production.
Lastly, I would like to emphasis that protracted crisis and wars of aggression have forced communities over vast areas to become refugees. Women suffer the most as they lose their shelter, access to livelihood and livestock and are prey to all forms of violence. This situation is made use of by international aid agencies to promote food trade and aid in our countries of their corporations– a very critical example is of promoting micronutrients therapeutic foods – essentially controlled by only 7 mega corporations such as Kraft, General Mills, Campbell Soup, Nestle and others.
In order to overcome this situation our recommendations are:
- Implement food sovereignty framework for sustainable agriculture and sustainable development.
- Equitable land distribution with emphasis on land entitlement in women’s names;
- Advocate government policies that protect women’s right to land and livestock as well as decent livelihood;
- Immediate stop to land-grabbing and land evictions in our region;
- Promote and implement agroecology;
- Protect and promote indigenous seeds as well as indigenous livestock;
- Promote food crops instead of cash crops;
- Advocate food systems based on self-reliance and prohibit imperialist policies in food and agriculture.