On Saturday March 15, the World March of Women coordinated a workshop on feminism, food and agroecology. Several women activists from around the world interwove these concepts with concrete experiences of their lives and the communities they represented. Several important themes were covered in the presentations: problem of capitalism, land theft, land misuse, and nature tampering
Problematic of capitalism
The structure of the capitalist economy is responsible for many of the issues and tragedies people face on a daily basis. When profit is at the center of an exchange or a practice, there will always be one who exploits and one who is exploited. Throughout the world, nature is being privatized and commodified. The privatization of water and land increases the hardship women and girls play in families as they often have to travel longer distances for water and do more with less in terms of food.
One issue raised (that i am synthesizing with other stories i have heard in Rio) was the process whereby governments go into areas and lay claim to them, bulldoze people out of their homes (or force them out in other ways), take their land, and sell it to multinational corporations for export-oriented monocropping. Other processes of land theft include forcing people to pay to live on land that has been in the hands of their people for many generations. And to pay for these imposed rents, people are forced/coerced to work for the corporations that in the meantime have bought the land from the government.
The presenters spoke to several practices that i am considering as land misuse. They include monocropping, and the use of toxins (pesticides and fertilizers, for export. Monocropping is an environmentally destructive and unsustainable practice as it requires far more water than under different conditions would be needed; it requires that large tracts of land be cleared and planted; heavy applications of pesticides are needed to ward off infestations that are frequent with monocropping; and most of the crops cultivated on this stolen/appropriated land are designated for export. This means that local communities are prohibited access to the products. In some cases, agreements have been made with private land owners to keep land uncultivated.
Nature tampering and destruction of biodiversity
Genetically modified (GM) seeds are frequently pushed on people to use or, given the proximity of farming in areas where land grabs have taken place, forced to use as the seeds spread to their family farms. GM seeds require heavy applications of pesticide and fertilizer and are essentially ‘dead’ because they cannot produce viable seeds themselves. The heavy use of toxins leads to many health problems among the people who work the land and the communities whose water is contaminated by runof
Given the role women play in the nations represented by the speakers and those who asked questions – Uganda, Colombia, Philippines, Ecuador – these issues have a tremendous impact on women and girls. Lives are made much more difficult and stressful by having to work harder and travel further for basic access to food and water. Some men leave their families in search of work in other places, some of whom return and others not. The weight women carry is great and the solutions not as clear.
Several put forward policy-based solutions, arguing that the government intervene to set up systems that increase access to food, that prevent corporations from taking land so easily from them, that prohibit monocropping and other forms of land misuse, and so on. But while the need is great, the struggle is uphill as government leaders are in bed with corporations. The will of the women is strong, however and their communities will fight until the end.
by Ife Kilimanjaro, East Michigan Environmental Action Council