Under the heat of the sun, women hoe weeds in a corn field in Datu Saudi Ampatuan. They do this to protect the corn plants from being destroyed and ensure that they get the much-needed water, sunlight, and nutrients. Every day, these women gather to perform their farm activities after a morning’s round of household tasks and tending to their children.
Weeding is a critical task in the production of healthy corn. Without anyone to do this, the farmland would have to depend on harmful chemicals to maintain the volume required to sell beyond subsistence.
But does it matter?
A corn farmer showing her corn crops in their 14-leaf growth stage.
The ASEAN Green Recovery through Equity and Empowerment (AGREE) project implemented by the PPSA and its research team in the Philippines aims to find the answer to this, and to some other questions that will help clarify the roles and participation of women in climate adaptation and mitigation. The goal of AGREE is to gather the necessary insights from relevant literature and on-ground experiences to promote and provide economic opportunities to marginalized women in corn-producing regions in the Philippines while highlighting their importance in pushing for more climate-positive practices.
"Maraming dahilan na kumonti ang harvest namin. Minsan peste, minsan bagyo, minsan tagtuyot. Minsan naman kulang na kami sa pambili ng abono. Mas maiintindihan namin ang aming karanasan sa pamamagitan ng research na ito." (There are many reasons behind the decrease in our harvests. Sometimes we can’t afford to buy fertilizers. Through this research, we get to better understand our experiences), a corn farmer said.
Field visits and focus group discussions (FGD) with men and women corn farmers in three municipalities in Mindanao were done to assess how climate change is affecting corn farming, and provide an opportunity for these farmers to share their experiences and differing perspectives on the effects of climate change in their lives. These conversations in the farming communities also gathered various anecdotes on the roles played by both men and women in the steps involved from producing to selling corn.
The AGREE team with local farmers of Datu Saudi Ampatuan.
UNCOVERING PROBLEMS AT HAND
Years back, the farmers could predict when the rains would fall. The rain trends give them hindsight and allow them to plan for their next cropping calendar. But with the weather becoming more and more unpredictable, the farmers struggle to produce the quantity they estimated when they started planting, given the effects of the prolonged rains in their areas. Plus, with their drainage system damaged by the flooding, their crops rot.
Apart from this, the farmers seem to show a thirst for more information and support in acquiring the skills they need to adapt to these unpredictable situations brought by climate change. “Who do we turn to?” they ask.
Women farmers illustrate their ideal life during the AGREE workshop.
Overall, the field interviews gathered a lot of insights on the challenges faced by the farmers and their stories provided us with a clearer understanding of their day-to-day routines. Some spoke of their challenges in accessing capital funds, which force them to resort to loans with high interest rates that are provided by trader-lenders known as “bodega”. They use this as capital for subsistence needs and input supplies while waiting for harvests. This situation is also made worse by the increasing price of inputs and their inability to affect the prices of their produce. Some also shared about the need for storage facilities and support in claiming ownership to their lands.
“I grew up in a poor family and had no money to finish college. Farming corn is my only source of income. The problem now is the rising prices of farm inputs and the price control by traders,” another corn farmer shared.
CARING FOR THEIR OWN
Without much help received from different organizations, some women initiated actions to support one another. Women farmers from Datu Sagay Ampatuan for instance have established community-led initiatives to minimize production losses in preparation for typhoons and other natural calamities and make their families self-sustaining through backyard gardening strategies.
One of the corn farms visited by the AGREE team.
As changes in farming practices, business knowledge, attitude, and skills are seen as strategic solutions to adapt to the growing challenges of climate change, the farmers shared that they started changing the planting cycle to ensure that their crops have grown enough to withstand the unfavorable weather conditions. Corn farmers also shifted to planting a variety of corn called “ukay-ukay” or the smallest corn seeds due to its high resistance to heat. They also explore other sources of livelihood during the four-month waiting period for harvest season. Some farmers plant cash crops while others, mostly women, have resorted to making and selling handicraft products.
MAKING EVERY FARMER COUNT
Through the results of the FGDs, the PPSA and the rest of the AGREE research team will continue probing existing practices and analyzing the feedback gathered from the farmers towards producing more informed recommendations and policies that will further engage women in transitioning to a more low-carbon farm practices.
Farmers present their illustrations.
“For the next steps, PPSA and the AGREE project team plan to encourage engagement activities and learning sessions with the rest of the PPSA network. We hope to encourage pilot testing among public and private sectors to adopt the recommendations gleaned from the AGREE project,” said PPSA Country Director Amy Melissa Chua.
AGREE is a research project funded by the International Development Research Centre and implemented by Grow Asia through its country chapters in the Philippines, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It aims to contribute a catalogue of what's working, what’s needed, and how to scale women's economic empowerment via low-carbon strategies—a gap identified by Grow Asia on effectively mainstreaming gender across its network.
PPSA acknowledges the contributions made by Carol Bello and her research team in the development and publication of this article.