“Farmers are unable or unwilling to focus on environmental or health issues so long as they are experiencing poverty. They are less willing to experiment, because they are afraid of risking yield,” said woman farmer Khonsawan from Nongno Village in Laos.
But the story of Khonsawan and other women farmers also show that change in behaviour can be inspired even by just one positive experience or example that farmers can witness for themselves.
As techniques and environmental health improve, so does the quality and quantity of their produce. These stories show that the advance of ecological agriculture practices are always accompanied with increase in income, as women begin to enjoy savings from not buying chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
Khonsawan’s story and of other women farmers are compiled in the booklet “Stories from the field: Women working towards a non-toxic environment”. This booklet contains a collection of stories of 25 women from five countries who are involved in an inspiring, ongoing campaign to eliminate use of chemical pesticides and promote agroecology in the Mekong Region. It was launched today by the Towards a Non-Toxic Southeast Asia programme as it joins the commemoration of the International Women’s Day.
Towards a Non-Toxic Southeast Asia programme aims to reduce health and environmental risks from chemicals by monitoring, regulating and managing agricultural, industrial and consumer chemicals. It is an initiative of the Swedish Chemicals Agency (KemI), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP), and The Field Alliance (TFA).
The impact of the programme and experiences of the partners are captured and summarized in 25 stories contained in the booklet. “The booklet provides positive examples that women and men, communities and organizations across the region can learn from, be inspired by and hopefully develop further” – Jenny Ronngren, Adviser/ Programme manager of International Unit, Swedish Chemicals Agency.
On average, women in Asia represent 40 to 50% of the world’s agricultural labour force. Their role in food production exposes them to pesticides. “Women are exposed as pesticide applicator and in other ways, including while working in the sprayed fields, during cleaning the spray tanks or when laundering clothes used during pesticide application. Unfortunately, women farmers and workers are discriminated and often do not have equal access to resources, education, training or information.” – Sarojeni Rengam, Executive Director of PAN Asia Pacific.
This inequality has created gaps on how women understand the impact of pesticides on their health and their communities’ health as well as on the environment. They are also rarely involved in training and lack information on pesticide risk reduction initiatives or on safer pest management methods that includes ecological agriculture.
Thus, the programme throughout its implementation has introduced various tools and interventions consisting of Farmer Field Schools (FFS) – Integrated Pest Management (IPM)/Pesticide Risk Reduction (PRR) trainings, Community-based Pesticide Action Monitoring (CPAM), Rural Ecology and Agricultural Livelihoods (REAL) programs, policy advocacy, research and outreach, among others to actively address this gender gap.
The equal and meaningful participation of women in all activities conducted by partner organisations was ensured. This is in recognition of women’s marginalisation and double burden, made even more acute by the effects of uncontrolled use of toxic chemicals on their livelihood, health, environment, family and community.
It also fuelled most of their drive to inform other community members, including their husbands, on the harmful effects of pesticides. Significantly, these stories resonate with how pesticides use is most successfully reduced or even eliminated when accompanied with trainings and educational campaigns that introduce ecological agriculture practices, such as Farmer Field Schools-IPM and System of Rice Intensification. – Johannes Ketelaar, Chief Technical Advisor, FAO Regional Pesticide Risk Reduction Programme, FAO Regional Office for Asia and Pacific
Furthermore, organic produce are able to fetch higher prices at the market. In Peak District, Laos, SAEDA (Sustainable Agriculture & Environment Development Association) held trainings that led to the creation of the Organic Farmers Association, which now helps women market their produce. Additionally, the initiative contributed to increased consumer awareness and support for agro-biodiversity.
“Women farmers found most useful trainings that teach them how to make botanical pesticides and natural fertilizers, do composting, crop rotation, red-worm farming, and other techniques that reduce, if not totally rid them of dependence on chemical pesticides and fertilizers. In transitioning from chemical-intensive to IPM or even organic production, farmers in the beginning tended to be discouraged by the results. But as the women practiced and improved upon these techniques, the results only became better and more impressive, attracting the interest of more members of the community” Marut Jatiket, Director of The Field Alliance.
Government or institutional support is seen as crucial by women farmers, especially in the areas of access to water supply and market access for organic produce. Many women have also recognised that in order for alternative pest management to be successful and viable, it has to be applied in large-scale.
As Nguyet from the Hai Phu Commune in Vietnam said, “If I do not apply pesticides for my field while all other neighbours’ fields are sprayed with pesticides, there is no use at all.”
Still, even with the lack of strong government or institutional support, women who have been trained are determined to spread the knowledge and sustain initiatives through community organisations.
“It is very important to become a practitioner yourself, because authority and the power to persuade can only come from actually doing what one preaches,” said Tran Thi Len from the Hai Son Commune in Vietnam.
They gain empowerment not just among their community but also inside their homes. Not a few women told of how their husbands were initially obstructive of their newfound leadership roles, but eventually became highly supportive, especially when their health improved and their family income increased.
On the whole, these stories reflect the happier, healthier, and more enriching lives women lead once unshackled from dependence on pesticides and empowered with knowledge, experience and options with regards to managing their lands and livelihoods. They show the great ability of women in mobilising their families and communities towards a toxic-free environment. ###
Stories from the Field can be downloaded here: https://panap.net/2016/10/stories-field-women-working-towards-non-toxic-environment/
For more information please contact:-
Jenny Ronngren (KemI) – Jenny.Ronngren@kemi.se
Johannes Ketelaar (FAO Asia Pacific) – Johannes.Ketelaar@fao.org
Deeppa Ravindran (PANAP) – firstname.lastname@example.org
Marut Jatiket (TFA) – email@example.com