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Women and the Food Crisis

August 2008

Since I started my internship with Grassroots International in May, I have come to realize the true magnitude of the food crisis. The way that the economic system produces and distributes food is leaving far too many people hungry and jobless. Throughout my research, I studied the effect that the crisis has had on women, and I believe that their role, though historically overlooked, is crucial to finding a sustainable solution.  I believe, along with everyone at Grassroots International, that women’s economic and land rights are not just rights that they deserve as people, but steps that must be taken in order to bring the world out of the food crisis.

The severity of the current food crisis has shocked people all over the world and called into question the effectiveness of a free-market economy that allows so many to starve. The privatization of resources necessary to farm and the increasing price of farming supplies is forcing small farmers to abandon their work. Big agribusinesses are making huge profits as prices rise, but family farmers don’t benefit from the increased costs. Fertilizer, land, and water sources are bought up by big companies, and land formerly used to grow food is often switched to produce only corn and grain meant to make more lucrative ethanol, taking food out of the mouths of the hungry.

Though the victims of this broken economic system are many, female peasants have suffered enormous losses. Representing the majority of the working poor, women work on land they do not own, and live under a market system in which they cannot fully participate. Long denied the same level of access to the means of production as men, the rising costs of supplies now makes it nearly impossible for women to support themselves. When they can no longer afford to grow their own food, women are often compelled to take a job on a plantation, where they are favored because owners consider them easier to manipulate than men – they pay them lower wages and use them for tedious activities that require great attention and careful handling, though these tasks are often dangerous. The current economy has long assigned no real value to the labor of women, and despite their exclusion, its collapse is ironically their downfall as well.

Grassroots International believes that helping women gain autonomy is crucial to fixing some of the damage caused by the food crisis. Women, since they have long farmed the fields they cannot own, have retained the knowledge of how best to farm the land, in a way that they have been preserving for centuries. If one was to give these rural women better access to land, water, and the resources needed to effectively farm, they would be able to regain the ability to feed themselves and their families, breaking the cycle of hunger and dependency. Here at Grassroots International we are working hard to fight the destructive effects of the food crisis, and we believe that helping peasant women is essential not only just to improve their situation, but also to give communities the strength they need, through the skills of these strong women.

Blair Rapalyea, an intern from Smith College, worked with Grassroots International’s Latin America Program.

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