Feeding the family

How women contribute to food security at grass roots level



Women’s relationship to market,either as consumers or producers, is inextricably linked to the  welfare of families.Women’s livelihood, such as tending animals or vegetable gardens, are mainly for subsistence, with the excess vended within the village itself. Women are responsible for food security – they make sure there is food to nourish the family.Women’s income is all spent on the family, depriving the producer  (woman)  of her  rightful  share  in it. Such is not  the  case with  male income. It is common for the producer (male) to claim his share of the surplus and give the remaining  to the family. Negotiations on the distribution of labour inputs, products, and surplus occur at various levels of society, including within the family unit.
In many poor places, there is an informal, unrecognized and undervalued market carved out of the non-monetized exchange  of services and  goods among poor women who try to help one another, particularly  in times of crises and  extreme deprivation arising from marked fluctuations in incomes. These women reciprocity networks, and relationships of cooperation and mutual help, enable women to carry out their social reproduction responsibilities and to keep food on the table. At the community level, a viable way to ensure food security is to support women’s activities.
   Export-oriented agricultural production that  is aimed at raising income levels, on the other hand, neither  leads to food security  nor does it always deliver the expected income increase. This approach is often translated into a production area strategy that promotes the cultivation of only one export crop. With this strategy, farmers who grow other crops are penalized by being denied subsidies and other domestic support. The farmers’ income has  also become  more  vulnerable  as  it is now dependent  on the  vagaries  of the  global market that  the small farmers are less able to influence. The global market  can  drastically  fluctuate  and financial  and  currency  markets  are  extremely volatile. For instance, international rice trading is an  area  where  there  may  be steep fluctuations adversely affecting exporting southern countries. We also experienced very recently how cash incomes were dramatically depressed by the Asian  financial and  economic crisis. At a  women’s roundtable discussion  on  the impact of the financial crisis, an Indonesian woman  described how when the devaluation was at its depths, poor rural women began to substitute foodstuff for some basic commodities that could no longer  be subsidized by their  bankrupt government.  She said that rural  women,  utilizing their traditional reciprocal networks, helped one another in identifying which crop to substitute  for what  food item. Or the story of some Indonesian women who walked together in groups, knocked on the doors  of the  middle class and  offered their labour for domestic work, in return for food for their hungry children.
   What we need is to shift economic  development framework  away  from ‘competition  and  growth’ toward ‘sufficiency and sustainability’. We can do this by locating social reproduction at the centre of an  alternative economic  development  paradigm that is both critical and feminist.

Author teaches at Department of Food Technology, IUST, Avantipora and specializes in food security issues. Reach him at tariqtech@gmail.com

Lastupdate on : Thu, 1 Nov 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Thu, 1 Nov 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Fri, 2 Nov 2012 00:00:00 IST

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