In the hottest place in the north of the Philippines, farms are drying up and animals are dying. Men are getting old, or sick, or too weak to till the land. Their able children, in the meantime, have no interest in farming, and instead want a better chance at life outside the province.
But life has to go on. There are mouths to feed, and landlords to pay. The weight and burden of subsistence falls on the shoulders of the one in charge of the home: women.
In olden times, men go out to hunt, and they have their fierce tattoos and muscles to show for it. Women, on the other hand, are gatherers of food by the forest and river. In an anthropology class, I learned that big women are much more appealing to men than skinny ones. (This is an obvious irony of today’s generation where slim girls are worshipped leading to intentional starvation, bulimia, anorexia, insecurity, and depression to many growing teenagers. I would like to expound, but this is a topic I want to discuss in another article.)
Why? Big girls are perceived to be healthy and rich because they have the resources and capability to feed themselves. Strong women are also an asset in the field when labor is needed.
According to the United Nations, on average, women make up about 43% of the agricultural labor force in developing countries. Female farmers are 8% of the world’s population, men are 11%. Women make up 20% of the agricultural labor force in Latin America and nearly 50% in East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Evidence indicates that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30%, raising total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4%. In turn, this would reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17%.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, female farmers are just as efficient as male farmers but they produce less because they control less land, use fewer inputs and have less access to important services such as health and education.
Despite the role women play in agriculture, women often lack representation and the authority to make decisions in land management and governance. One of the key measures to assess gender equality in land management is a progressive legislation on women’s land rights and access to education and health services. These rights must exist independently from men and other social relationships.
One woman farmer from Penablanca, Cagayan tries to turn the tide and break gender roles.
She is the 2015 Outstanding Woman Rice Farmer Awardee. Juana Guitering is a mother of four, and farmer of over six hectares of crops. She has started farming at the age of six, and at 60 years old, she refuses to quit, and instead carries on in improving the quality of women farmers in Cagayan.
Over the years, Cagayan has been hit with severe drought. In 2015 alone, the Regional Agriculture Department says crop damages caused by severe El Nino reached up to 725,000 metric tons or P825,323 worth of loss.
Despite the setbacks, the Cagayan Valley Region remains to be the top producer of rice and corn in the country. Nanay Juana tells us her secret: immediate response to climate change. Times are changing, and with the dry spell becoming longer, we must learn not only to mitigate the effects of global warming, but to adapt to the present challenges.
In 2012, Nanay Juana has started using organic fertilizer for her vegetable garden. She has built a compost pit beside her house. At the backyard, she set up a fishpond and cultures her own breed of algae to feed the tilapia and ducks.
Nanay Juana has been married to Erineo, another farmer. From being a partner-at-farm, she emerges as one of the women leaders in the community by providing training on climate change resilience.
“Hindi naman kaya lahat ng asawa ko ang trabaho sa bukid kaya tumutulong ako. Masaya ako kapag nakakapagturo sa ibang magsasaka,” Juana said. (My husband cannot do all the work in the field that’s why I’m helping. I’m happy when I get to teach other farmers). Irrigation is the key in drought-stricken areas. Luckily, a steady supply of water flowing from a nearby river is present in Juana’s farm.
Other women farmers are not as lucky.
Maritess Tullao, 34, works on a hectare of land for corn production. Her husband owns the farm but she takes lead in management. With a land so barren and dry, Maritess’s best chance at making the soil productive is if God will heed her prayer: “Sana umulan.” (I hope it rains).
“Instead na October kami magtanim, umaabot pa kaming December, dahil naghihintay pa kami ng ulan. Talagang lugi. Minsan nagungutang muna kami,” Maritess said. (Instead of farming in October, we sometimes reach up to December while waiting for the rain. Our capital is usually lost. Sometimes we would just borrow money).
Without rain, there would be no corn to harvest, and without a harvest, her family will go hungry. For the most part of the year, she relies on selling organic fertilizer to co-farmers. She also handles all the transactions in the farm, from borrowing money from cooperatives, to hiring labor during the planting and harvest season.
In Cagayan, up to 40 percent of the total irrigable land does not have irrigation. The numbers also tally at the national level where almost 43 percent or over million hectares of land needs to develop an irrigation system.
Women farmers like Juana and Maritess prove that women are an important labor force in the agricultural sector. The FAO can attest to the increasing number of women joining the labor force in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Given the right opportunities, they can be brilliant contributors to land management. They are multi-taskers, assigned to physical roles such as planting, weeding, irrigation, harvesting and packaging.
Even after a long day at the farm, work never stops. At home, women farmers are transformed into mothers and sisters assigned to domestic roles such as cooking, child-rearing, water collection, and household maintenance.
The responsibility of women in agriculture increases as the world faces threats on food security and land sustainability. But do the chances at education, training and equal labor rights increase as well? Is there fair treatment and opportunities in land ownership and management? How far are we in closing the gender gap between male and female farmers?
Women — they’re tough nuts to crack. But even nuts need the right environment to grow.
[Entry 130, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Hon Sophia Balod is a storyteller. She is currently a News Producer of special reports and features for Balitanghali, Saksi, and State of the Nation with Jessica Soho. She is also a media fellow of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism for Basic and Advanced Investigative Reporting. Journalism 2010, UP Diliman. Read more of her articles here.