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Support the input of women

...for food security, green environment
Sunday, June 10, 2012

This is the third in a series of columns on the national gender policy. In this column, I focus on two distinct but related aspects of the national gender policy: agriculture and food security, and climate change and natural resource management. I wish to thank Gillian Goddard and Rajkumar Maharaj for their critical thinking and practice reflected here.


Devaki Jain, feminist economist, states that “the (global economic) meltdown of 2008-2009…has exacerbated the challenges of feeding the world, obtaining clean water, having sufficient energy, and global warming and ecological disasters.”
While these realities may seem very distant, they serve to remind us of the connections between our national context and international developments.


Gia Gaspard Taylor of the Network of Rural Women Producers of Trinidad and Tobago looks forward to the national gender policy. She points out that unpredictable weather patterns and increased flooding affect vulnerable sectors such as food crop and livestock production, fisheries and forestry. She recommends that rural agricultural communities need action in four key areas: educational awareness, mitigation, monitoring and adaptation.


If women are not viewed as active participants, there is little hope of success. Since women are principally responsible for child-rearing, their actions have far reaching effects on the belief systems, attitudes and behaviours of children. They have a wealth of information on water usage and household waste, and witness the impacts of environmental damage on their families and communities.


However, heavy marketing is steering women away from backyard gardening and towards unsustainable “choices” such as imported and packaged food products in supermarkets, plastic disposable diapers, environmentally unfriendly cleaning products, etc.


The “green economy” is here to stay, and future approaches to economic development need to include green principles. Women are already producers of green products, eg, as subsistence farmers; processors of home-grown fruits and vegetables into jams, jellies and chutneys; and producers of crafts from natural materials.


They introduce less harmful chemical inputs into subsistence agriculture, even when not labelled “organic.” And they have smaller and locally rooted businesses, and thus a lower carbon footprint, eg, they incur fewer food miles as users of local crops.


Gender-aware policy measures and actions
Agricultural policy-makers need to understand the different and complementary roles played by men and women, and encourage their involvement at all levels. Men and women require increased access to agricultural support systems including land, amenities, credit, training, technology, extension and marketing services, etc. Women have particular needs such as water for the household and sanitation, childcare and labour support to enable greater agricultural productivity and earnings.


Ministries of agriculture, the environment, community and small enterprise development and local government could co-operate to design holistic approaches at the local level. For example: support local production of resources, eg, planting containers, soil, seeds and tools. Establish centres for composting garden and household waste, and production and distribution.


Hold community training programmes on plants and planting methods by agriculturists and practitioners, and on small business and co-operative development related to food processing, packaging and design, storage, financing, marketing, etc.


Encourage local businesses to sell garden produce and downstream products. Support the scaling up of production for sale in the market, and to shops and restaurants. Identify products for craft, jewelry, clothing and other businesses.
Convene community rap sessions to help dismantle emotional and attitudinal barriers to agriculture and food production.


Climate change and natural resource management
Global warming and the climate change have emerged as major issues. Changing the picture requires us to support the co-existence of the human and non-human environment. Key questions are: who is thriving and who is under stress? And how is the stress from the human system crossing into the non-human environment, and vice versa?


People don’t feel connected enough to the natural environment to treat it properly. If children from central Trinidad were to visit Williams Bay in Chaguaramas, they would see a huge accumulation of plastic bottles and begin to understand the impact of throwing garbage into local rivers which ultimately flow into the sea. Despite the fact that the components of the green economy all have gender dimensions, ie, renewable energy, green buildings, clean transportation, water management, waste management, and land management, women are relatively absent from policy-making and planning on these issues.


Girls are not encouraged to study agriculture or the natural sciences or become inventors. And while many young women and men are developing an interest in the environment based largely on foreign media programmes, they don’t have a hands-on understanding of the transformative role they could play, eg, in designing green enterprises. Courses in environmental management, human geography, etc, are excellent entry points for innovation.


There is need for the Government, private sector, NGOs and community-based organisations to support and strengthen natural resource management by men and women. According to Gia Gaspard Taylor, educational awareness within rural agricultural communities is constrained by geographical remoteness, difficult transportation, social marginalisation, low literacy levels, etc. Women could be trained in the use of ICTs to monitor changes in local conditions, eg rain levels, length of growing season, which can contribute understanding local climate change and measures to adapt to new conditions.


The area of renewable energy would benefit from the introduction of simple technologies that respond to women’s responsibility for housework, eg solar ovens and simple wind turbines, with the gradual movement to more complex products and technologies based on the same principles, eg solar panels and larger wind-collection systems.


With regard to water use, poor rural women are under great stress, collecting rainwater for household cleaning and washing using archaic systems, eg rusting oil drums that attract mosquitoes, toting buckets of water from the standpipe, etc. Community programmes could train women and men on roof water-collection systems, sustainable irrigation systems, and so on.


The policy would promote the strengthening of gender dimensions of curriculum and training programmes in agriculture and food production, climate change, natural resource management and related fields at ECIAF, UTT and UWI. Sustainable development will be an elusive goal unless men’s and women’s contribution to environmental protection, preservation and management are recognised and supported. The gender policy recognises the need for holistic, multidisciplinary and inter-sectoral approaches to conserving, managing and developing natural resources and safeguarding the environment.


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