|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Central Role of Women Producers in Maintaining Communities,
Coping with Severe Food Insecurity
Women grass-roots activists should be given more clout in forming policies at both the local and international levels, speakers said today at a Headquarters press conference on the role of women food producers and their coping strategies in times of severe food insecurity.
To cope with food insecurity, some women had begun pooling resources to create savings and credit groups, while others were acquiring new skills in crop management and storage, or collaborating to form seed banks, said Sri Sofjan of Malaysia’s Huairou Commission.
Discussing the findings of a survey of women grass-roots activists in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and the Philippines, she said those surveyed attributed their rising food insecurity to an erratic climate and the introduction of foreign foods. Their trade and commercial ventures suffered from a lack of access to favourable markets, as well as inability to compete with foreign foodstuffs. Rising food costs were leading people to skip meals or eat more junk food, which was cheaper but less nutritious, she noted, pointing out that some communities no longer consumed their favourite foods because the ingredients had become too costly, such as tea in India or potatoes in Nepal.
Grass-roots women recommended that policymakers make more use of indigenous knowledge, which was disappearing as people turned increasingly to imported food, she said. They also stressed the need to highlight such issues from high-level platforms, such as the World Trade Organization, and requested more resources to support their own initiatives, added Ms. Sofjan, who was accompanied by Marcella Villarreal, Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Gender, Equity and Rural Employment Division; Violet Shivutse of the Kenyan grass-roots organization “GROOTS”; and Ruth Serech of the Coordinación de Desarrollo Integral de Mujeres Mayas in Guatemala.
Ms. Shivutse, offering the view of grass-roots women activists in Africa, said the priority for many groups was feeding AIDS orphans, as well as the burgeoning number of women affected by HIV, the virus which caused the disease. Some groups were also involved in creating cereal banks to store food for consumption in times of drought, and in educating households on how to grow garden crops. Those groups asked to be recognized by policymakers and to be invited into the decision-making process, where they could provide sound investment advice.
Food insecurity was linked to the lack of rights, she said, stressing that women’s lack of control over and access to land hampered their ability to sustain feeding programmes and other food-related initiatives. She went on to say that, while new technology and materials such as fertilizers were welcome, indigenous knowledge also had its merits, and should be studied, tested and replicated in different surroundings.
Ms. Serech reinforced that point by emphasizing that Governments should support the use of organic fertilizers, long used by traditional communities, because fertilizers and chemicals used in modern farming damaged the land. For that to happen, women must be given a voice and enough space to bring their projects to fruition, she said.
Also touching on women’s lack of control over land, Ms. Villarreal cited an FAO gender and land rights database which showed that women held only one fifth of the world’s land titles. She also warned that rising food prices, coupled with reduced global investment in agriculture, raised the possibility that many countries would not meet Millennium Development Goal 1, on ending poverty and hunger.
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