Rural women demand food sovereignty as the key to address growing food insecurity

Rural women demand food sovereignty as the key to address growing food insecurity

Statement on the 40th Session of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Committee on World Food Security, October 7-12 2013

 The Asian Rural Women’s Coalition (ARWC) asserts that food sovereignty, or the right of peoples to control and develop ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate food systems, is the key to achieving food security in the midst of a worsening global crisis. Rural women, especially, have the most to gain from a system of food and agriculture that is radically different from what we have today. The demand of rural women is for biodiversity-based ecological agriculture, instead of a corporate-led and driven agricultural system that marginalises them and pushes their families deeper into poverty, hunger and malnutrition.


Established in 2008, the ARWC is a growing movement of women peasants, agricultural women workers, indigenous and Dalit women, fisherfolk, migrants, and advocates calling for rural women’s rights, empowerment and liberation. It is composed of 700 women from grassroots organisations and support NGOs from 21 countries in Asia.


According to the UN Economic and Social Council, women make up a little over half of the world’s population, but they account for over 60 percent of the world’s hungry. Women play important roles in food and agriculture, as seed savers and land tillers, as community leaders and family managers. But these roles are continuously eroded by threats to livelihood and denial of access and control over natural and genetic resources. Aggressive land grabbing for monopoly production, use of TNC (transnational corporations)-owned hazardous technologies such as pesticides and genetically engineered (GE) crops, lack of government support for domestic food production, and lack of genuine land reform form the backbone of problems that face Asian rural women.


This was affirmed by the ARWC, together with Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific, in a recent initiative to collect the often undocumented and unheard ground experiences and aspirations of rural women. Through a journal that travelled across eight countries, women leaders from diverse rural communities wrote personal stories that also strongly articulated collective demands. The rural women are members of Amihan (National Federation of Peasant Women) in the Philippines, Eco-Women in China, SADIA (Sarawak Dayak Iban Association) in Malaysia, Seruni (Indonesian Women’s Organization) in Indonesia, CEDAC (Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture) in Cambodia, Tamil Nadu Women’s Forum in India, CGFED (Research Centre for Gender, Family and Environment in Development) in Vietnam, and Vikalpani in Sri Lanka. Borne out of various realities and struggles, these demands are worthy of the attention of national governments, international institutions, and other policy and opinion makers:


  1. Push for food sovereignty as a key to food security and the eradication of poverty. Communities should have the right to determine their patterns of food production and consumption, and prioritise food production for domestic consumption.


  1. Uphold women’s rights to land and natural and genetic resources. Rural women must be assured of the equal right to access, own, control and benefit from productive resources, including land, water, seeds, energy sources, livestock and fisheries, public subsidies and appropriate technologies. Genuine land reform must be carried out.


  1. Recognise women’s significant role in providing food security. Ensure the active and meaningful participation and leadership of women in all decision-making processes concerning food and agriculture policies.


  1. Promote and support smallholder agriculture that is built on local, indigenous and gender-based knowledge, employing biodiversity-based techniques with women at the core. Improve livelihoods through agro-ecological farming and connecting rural farmers with urban consumers.


  1. Stop the onslaught of corporate-led agriculture, which is at the helm of accelerated land and resource grabbing and destruction of biodiversity and ecology. Reject neo-liberal policies that force developing countries to adopt measures that favor large-scale agribusinesses over the interests of small food producers.


  1. No projects encroaching on agricultural and customary lands should push through without the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of communities. All forms of aggression and human rights violations in the name of “development” must stop.


  1. Eliminate the use and trade of highly hazardous pesticides and GE crops and products. Hold agrochemical TNCs accountable for harm inflicted by these technologies to the environment and human health, especially of women and children. Demand policies to encourage farmers to transition out of conventional chemical agriculture—which exacerbates food insecurity—towards biodiversity-based ecological agriculture.


  1. Promote climate change solutions in agriculture that aim at building community resilience to climate change impacts through ecological and sustainable agricultural practices.


As the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Committee on Food Security meets for its 40th Session in Rome, it is imperative that the voices of rural women not be drowned out by powerful institutions that dominate the discourse on food security towards strengthening the hold of corporate interests over food and agriculture. As agenda such as biofuels, “responsible agricultural investments,” and smallholder agriculture is put on the discussion table, it must always be remembered that as long as rural women, together with other small food producers, do not control or determine their own food systems, there can be no food security or gender justice.


Listening to the voices of ordinary but remarkable Asian rural women reveals many truths. It reveals how food and agricultural policies that support the ethos of monopoly capitalism wreak havoc on the lives of small food producers and increase food insecurity for all. It reveals how despite a worsening global crisis, rural women are asserting their rights, empowering and organising themselves and their communities in various struggles. Finally, listening to the voices of rural women reveals that food sovereignty and biodiversity-based ecological agriculture is at the heart of achieving food security and gender justice, towards eradicating poverty and world hunger.



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Rural women demand food sovereignty as the key to address growing food insecurity