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AS the recovery from COVID-19 in the Pacific gains momentum, agriculture and food systems are central to its success.
The organic movement in Fiji and region-wide has continued to grow, even during this still lingering calamity.
Now is the time to support organics in agriculture, and the movement cannot play a strong role in COVID recovery without recognising one of its central driving forces – women.
Agriculture grows when it provides equitable opportunities to women, and the organic movement has the potential to further these opportunities by advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment in Pacific countries and territories.
Organic can build an alternative model to conventional agricultural systems while also using traditional practices and knowledge.
How organic empowers women
Growing evidence shows that organic provides opportunities for women’s empowerment in a way that industrial agriculture has not. The organic sector’s holistic fundamentals often create more equitable gender distribution of labour, benefits and power that challenge unequal traditional agricultural systems. Women’s involvement and gender equality in organic systems is promoted through advancement of smaller scale family farms that have fewer mechanical processes and a decrease in reliance on commercial inputs. The emphasis in the organic sector on traditional skills and knowledge, local markets and value addition products also speaks to women’s agricultural backgrounds. Organics additionally increase the focus on crop diversity, food security and quality nutrition. There is stronger emphasis on health, wellbeing and social implications, as well as fair trade working conditions. The resultant greater space for innovative ideas, coupled with environmental sustainability principles, provides woman an entry point into the sector. The organic farming movement has therefore significantly lowered entry barriers by creating a better environment for women farmer participation. As women farmers generally have fewer capital resources than their male counterparts, this gender “gap” can be closed through the higher value of, and therefore greater incentive to grow, organic foods. Organic farming also helps to reassess where farming can take place, bringing farm models closer to urban and suburban locations and therefore increasing accessibility to a wider population that include women, whose mobility can be challenging.
Women’s participation grows the organic movement
Organic opens up opportunities to unlock women’s potential for involvement in the sector – from farming to entrepreneurship. While profit is important to all farmers, women often closely interlink profit to sustainability. Health and safety, social and environmental justice, and community development and responsibility are key considerations that drive women’s choices, attitudes and decisions as producers, entrepreneurs and consumers. The organic movement creates space for a deeper dialogue and recognition of women’s contribution to agriculture and community through a deeper emphasis on the holistic approach and spiritual interconnection among the elements of nature.
An equitable organic future
In Fiji and communities throughout the Pacific all women and men all have individual roles and perspectives that make different but equally valuable contributions to agriculture. Sharing a spirit of balance from all genders is essential to find post-COVID sustainable solutions that address our shared social inequalities, food insecurity and critical environmental challenges. Organic communities need to make strong commitments to preserve and further develop organic farming, not only as
an alternative agricultural movement, but also as a social movement that addresses gender equality. The Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom) has taken strong steps toward this inclusive people-centred approach to harness the traditional knowledge and voices of women to address alternatives to industrial agriculture and the current state of unequal gender opportunity. The POETCom project Building prosperity for women producers, processors, and women owned businesses through organic value chains has already made great strides in Palau and the Marshall Islands on increasing women farmer financial independence and ensuring women participate in organic decision-making and both women and men benefit from organic trade to increase food security. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, POETCom and its members are carrying
forward this commitment to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of Pacifi c region women. The organic movement has sown the seeds. It is up to us to cultivate this opportunity so that agricultural recovery post- COVID is inclusive, robust and resilient for generations of Pacific women and men to come.
- Jamie Kemsey is the information, communications and knowledge management adviser for SPC’s Land Resources Division. POETCom is part of the Division. The views expressed here are his and not of this newspaper
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