Eighty per cent of the world’s food is grown by smallholders. The considerable but often little focused on role that women play in this area was highlighted in a panel debate in the context of the World's leading trade fair for organic food, the “BioFach”, in Nuremberg/Germany in mid-February. The event was run by the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Small Fair Trade Producers (CLAC), founded in 2006. The producer associations organised in the network have developed a certification system of their own; with the Small Producer Symbol (SPP), they distinguish their products from those within the fair trade system that come from plantations.
Much work that is little appreciated
Women play an important role in the network. Not only do they keep the smallholder families together, but as mothers, family members, labour providers and tradeswomen, they bring together traditional knowledge from a variety of areas. Nevertheless, they were not paid for this “invisible work”, criticised Rosa Guamán, SPP Chair and head of the medicinal plant co-operative Jambi Kiwa in Ecuador. At the meeting, she and her fellow campaigners championing the recognition of women’s work in their co-operatives presented their products and above all showed what they intend to do about climate change while maintaining an ecological and sustainable approach in agriculture. For example, the women in the Jambi Kiwa co-operative inform other smallholders about the damage that burning harvest remains in the fields does, help with afforestation using local trees and shrubs and teach each other sensible ways to use compost as a fertiliser. In order to counter erosion, the women try out various terracing methods on slopes. They see to it that biodiversity is maintained with their extensive collection of wild plants as well as by developing a seed bank for the various species.
Climate change putting pressure on coffee Producers
Silvia Roblero Torres of the Cesmach coffee co-operative in Mexico reported on coffee growing in the Sierra Madre, in Mexico’s Federal State of Chiapas. The co-operative has been working in a region with four cities and 35 small communities in an area of 2,460 hectares for 22 years. The Mexican government declared the region a biosphere reserve in 1990, and it was officially awarded the status by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO three years later. However, it remains to be seen how long coffee-growing can go on. Torrential rain and ever longer rainy seasons are making the regions that are favourable for cultivating the Arabica varieties shrink throughout Central and South America. Increasing humidity promotes the infestation of coffee plants with fungi. Hemileia vastatrix, also known as coffee rust, is the most dreaded fungus for the smallholders. It settles on the leaves, which the plants then shed. If mass infestation develops, it can destroy entire crops. Cesmach is experimenting with its own spraying agents to combat coffee rust and is on the lookout in the plantations for coffee plants that are resistant to the fungus in order to then cultivate them. To reduce dependence on coffee-growing, the women can generate additional income with honey production.
Joselinda Manueles, from the Comsa coffee co-operative in Honduras, reports on similar experiences there. What used to be four distinct seasons have now become more and more similar, and more and more frequently, the plants are getting infested with coffee rust. For the 2015/2016 growing season, Cosma has already estimated losses totalling four million US dollars. Instead of using fungicides, the women apply a mixture of 500 grams of salt in 18 litres of water to combat the coffee rust. With vegetable growing for regional markets, they have diversified the sources of income for the smallholders.
Author: Roland Krieg, journalist, Berlin/Germany