Food is a universal requirement for humankind. This makes Agriculture an important source of livelihood for a majority of people worldwide as well as a sector related to the fundamental right to food and nutrition. The food chain as a whole is gendered. From preserving the seed, planting of crops to producing and processing food, women have always had a major role throughout history. But with the advent of Globalization, these processes have been transformed into the hands of few in the corporate world. Food has become a commodity where profitability is prioritized. If food grains make more money as cattle feed or as biofuel, it is then used for such purposes rather than for feeding humans.
The industrialization of agriculture has adverse effects, especially on women. It had been women who had been controlling agriculture since the beginning of humanity. But in capitalistic agriculture, not only women’s livelihood but also their health and dignity are destroyed. While rural women are displaced from their work, urban women are denied nutritious food habits due to changing lifestyles.
These problems can be tackled by re-feminizing agriculture. By recognizing and empowering women in this field good food practices can be ensured worldwide. Such a measure would promote polyculture and thus help in preserving bio-diversity and conserving the ecology of the Earth.
Importance of Women’s Role in Food Chain:
Since the beginning of humanity, it has been women who had played a major role in agriculture. Production, Processing, and Provision of food have been women’s domains in the social division of labor. Only since the recent decades has this been handled by a specific group of men. It has been proved that women produced food that has maximum nutrition per acre than industry produced food.
Agriculture by women has an important feature of polyculture. This helps in preserving the biodiversity of the Earth. By enabling the existence and growth of different plant and animal species in a given space, women achieve subsistence. The exchange of nutrients among the species occurs in a healthy way thus discounting the need for artificial fertilizers.
Composting is also an integral part of feminine agriculture. This ensures maximum waste reduction and also helps in maintaining the health of the crops. Natural manure has various well-known advantages when compared to chemical fertilizers. On contrary to the adverse effects on the crops, cattle, soil and the consumers of the chemically fertilized food, natural fertilizers conserve the natural wealth of the Earth.
Women-led agriculture has also been important in conserving the genetic information of plants throughout history. In most cases, it is women who preserve the seeds. Thus, for several generations, the genes have been stored without it being changed.
All these factors have enabled feminine agriculture to achieve the maximum amount of food security. The number of people fed as well as the nutrition condition is high in women-led agriculture.
Effects of globalization and industrial agriculture:
The process of globalization has made food also a commodity in the world market. Thus, achieving high profitability and maximum efficiency becomes important. Agriculture is industrialized. Monoculture and mass production is involved in industry-led agriculture. This has aggravated several problems such as malnutrition and hunger in the world. Excess waste production and exploitation of natural resources are also characteristics of industrial agriculture.
In today’s globalized world malnutrition is twofold. While about a billion people go hungry, another 2 billion suffer from obesity and related diseases due to the consumption of industrial food. In both cases, it is girls and women who suffer the most. For example, Anaemia is one health problem that is primarily caused by poor diet and food habits that majorly affects females. In addition, poverty and hunger are also internationalized and globalized.
Polyculture practiced by women is the best solution for this problem. They ensure food security by producing more food as well as by conserving more nutrition inside the food. It has been proved by many scientific types of research that women-run farms produce more than industrial, chemical farms. In spite of this, corporate agriculture prevails to be dominant through advertisements of false claims on industrialized monoculture.
The idea of monoculture being more beneficial has been established by scientists and researchers. This had led to the destruction of biodiversity in the world. This assumption is untrue because monocultures control rather than produce more. Also, it is the best suitable pattern of agriculture for corporates.
Destruction of biodiversity (8 crops feed 75% population). Contrarily, women-controlled home gardens tend to hold much more diversity. For example, in Guatemala home gardens of less than 0.1 half acre have more than ten trees and crop species. In India, more than 100 weed species having economic significance to farmers were found in rice fields. In Mexico, more than 400 wild plant and animal species are used including for edible purposes.
Pseudo surplus and Real Scarcity:
It is a myth that industrial agriculture produces more. In reality, it produces more scarcity than a surplus. The large areas occupied by industry-led agriculture practices naturally increase production. But when compared to the traditional practices, the produced nutrition per acre is actually low. Also, when food grains are profitable as fuels or for animal feed, they are used for such purposes rather than for feeding humans. This increases scarcity.
Effects of Green Revolution:
Green revolution through which the use of several fertilizers, insecticides and the use of genetic engineering in agriculture had been promoted is a part and parcel of industrialized agriculture. Businesses found this as a great opportunity to increase demands and consequently profit. A new sector in itself has been created with high potentials for sales of seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, agriculture-related machinery, etc.
The revolution which claims to have the noble idea of increasing food production in order to reduce hunger is actually based on ‘Terminator Technology’. By reducing the reusability of the products and reinforcing excessive usage new demands are created and the created demands are made to increase. No longer are the genetically modified seeds be preserved. A farmer has to buy new seeds every time the crops are sown. This accounts for farmers’ costs and becomes an economic barrier to them.
Also, the excessive use of chemicals is promoted with the view that it would reduce harm to the crops and would help in keeping them healthy. This has adverse effects on soil, water, and the crops in itself. In fact, the names of several herbicides are metaphors of violence.
In addition, the corporates use the Intellectual Property Right to obtain a monopoly and ultimate control over a few methods and techniques or even certain species of plants. At times, traditional agricultural practices are stolen from primitive people and they themselves are denied to practice it further due to IPR lawfully obtained by corporates. Thus, the knowledge and rights of people are plundered.
Undermining women’s knowledge of nature and agriculture has proved to cause great damage to the ecology of Earth and the economy of the poor. Feministic agriculture has its foundations on food security and crop diversity. Capitalistic systems of the economy along with the advancements in science and technology have posed models that are against diversity. With these ideologies occupying dominant positions in the world, women’s role in food production, preservation, processing, and distribution are threatened. The performance of multiple tasks of women at households and farms are rendered invisible under modern economics’ definition of work.
Farming by women involves work both inside and outside the house. There is a conceptual inability by statisticians and researchers to define this due to the lack of recognition of what is and is not ‘labor’ amongst the several chores carried out by women. In addition, too many women are involved in these activities that it poses a problem in data collection. The dual power of this invisibility of work and domination of industrial agriculture has posed a serious threat to the utilization of women’s potential in this field.
Also, food has become a commodity under the capitalistic patriarchal agriculture system. Thus, the values of humanity previously attached to it are no longer present in the same sense. Agriculture has more or less become a military industrialized sector. Large-scaled and monopolized control over Agri-lands has led to the exploitation of natural resources to a great extent.
To combat all these problems that have arisen out of large-scale agriculture, it is important to empower and recognize women in agriculture. By promoting polyculture, maximum bio-diversity and food security could be also be achieved.