Staking Claim in Agriculture: The Women Farmers of Zamboanga del Sur

In 2004, the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) revealed that in the Philippines’ total workforce, women comprised 27.3 percent of the 10.4 million workers employed in the agricultural, hunting and forestry sector. This was supported by the research done by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on women, agriculture and food production which shared that “women are active economic actors such as landless workers, traders of agricultural and fishery products, and engaged in micro-manufacturing enterprises… However, women’s actual contribution to food production and the rural economy remains undervalued if not invisible. As a result, women have less access to productive resources than men. Access to land, technology, extension services, capital, and infrastructure support tend to favor rural men.”

The need to magnify the equally important role and contribution of rural women in the agricultural production pushed women peasants (small owner cultivators, tenants, and farm workers) in the rural communities of Zamboanga del Sur to form an alliance called Kahugpungan sa mga Mag-uuma og Mamumuong Kababayen-an or KASAMMA KA. It was born in 1998 as an offshoot to organizing peasant women nationwide. At present, the organization has a total membership of more than a thousand individuals in 32 local barangay/village chapters and has spread out in at least 8 municipalities of Zamboanga del Sur including Pagadian City.

Currently, it plays a significant role in leading the Kilos Ka campaign for food sovereignty as it banners massive participation of rural women in promoting and practicing appropriate, sustainable and ecologically-responsive agricultural production. However, it was a long and challenging journey for KASAMMA KA to come to today’s successful sustainable farming venture.

Through the partnership with the Convergence of NGOs and POs in Zamboanga del Sur for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (CONZARRD) that provided necessary technical assistance to the women farmers, KASAMMA KA members were first introduced to sustainable agriculture in 2006. The orientation and skills in sustainable crops and livestock production reached out to 16 barangay chapters.

According to Agriculturist Gilbert Montales, the first year encountered many considerable problems rooting from ‘the hesitance of the women farmers to espouse the use of the organic method in their farming because of their years and years of experience using chemicals. Their lack of access to information on the effects of organic farming on their production before the project also added to this doubt.’ CONZARRD painstakingly accompanied the women farmers in this endeavor by providing the technical knowledge and skills in organic fertilizer and pesticide production; navigating them in traditional ways as well as new technologies in sustainable farming.

Gradually, the women farmers adopted and practiced these technologies which were deeply enhanced when the Organic Fertilizer Production Center was established in Begong, Tigbao, Zamboanga del Sur in 2008. The center has assisted in the intensification of fertilizer production through the use of vermi or African night worms as well as natural composting. Botanical pesticides and foliar fertilizer were also processed using raw materials from the backyard such as madre de cacao, tubli, panyawan, chili, tobacco and seaweed or guso. The indigenous microecology technology produces fermented plant juice, fermented fruit juice, calcium phosphate and indigenous micro-organisms that are found useful in removing bad odors from animal wastes, hastening composting and contributing to crops’ general health was also introduced.

In testing this know-how and skills, at least 10 women organic farming practitioners were allowed to develop their demonstration rice farms in 2008 by the Bureau of Soil and Water Management (BWSM) of the Philippine Department of Agriculture. The aforementioned department commended the endeavor so well that it extended its support for the women farmers by providing another 3 village-level organizations with organic vegetable production projects whose implementation is still on-going nowadays.

Promising harvests of rice, corn, and vegetables showed the advantages of organic farming. However, it was the high survivability of the crops in the sustainable farms against the extreme drought in 2010 that drove KASAMMA KA to massively and intensely campaign for organic farming through Kilos Ka and the Mindanao Task Force Food Sovereignty (TFFS).

Though sustainable and organic farming proved to be very challenging because of its laborious nature, the women farmers of KASAMMA KA continue to gain more knowledge and apply it to their agricultural production. To ease some of these manual labor-demanding activities, the Ministry of Development Cooperation, WEGA Aide Humanitaire, Lëtzebuergesch-Philippinesch Aktioun fir den Development A.s.b.l. (LPAD) provided support for renewable energy for the small machines used in organic fertilizer and pesticide production in 2012. Solar panels were installed at the Organic Fertilizer Production Center to provide clean, safe and cheap power for the machines and types of equipment needed to make organic fertilizer. Ten more solar panels were given to households of members of the Nagkahiusang Kababayen-an sa Begong (NAKABEG), a women organization in Begong where the center is located.

As of June 2012, there are more or less 100 KASAMMA KA women farmers who practice organic farming and yield an estimated 3,500 kilograms (70 sacks) of organic rice per hectare. Though the yield is high and inputs do not come expensively, the farmers find it difficult to build a sustainable market for their produce. The more organic farmers there are, the more sacks of rice produced consistently throughout the year. With the cheap and sustainable energy to fuel the production of organic fertilizer and pesticides, promising yields every harvest and constant marketing support from partner network and organizations, KASAMMA KA hope to encourage more farmers in the countryside regardless of gender to adopt the methods of sustainable agriculture.

Aside from this, they are also presently calling for the government especially the Department of Trade and Industry to standardize the price of organic produce. This would entail a special fixed price that is higher than the price of the chemically-grown products and one that will remain stable even if the price of rice decreases. This is seen as a potential means to encourage more farmers to engage in sustainable organic farming. 

Source: Tri-Peoples’ Journal Online

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