Feeding the family
How women contribute to food security at grass roots level
TARIQ AHMAD SAFAPURI
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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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