RWA Lesotho: Feminist Agroecology 

It is said that since around 10 000 B.C women have contributed to technologies and processes when it comes to harvesting crops and transforming them into edible ingredients or usable materials. Women helped maintain the fields and crops since the 19th century. The 20th century arrived, farm women began trading goods at local markets. However women’s roles in agriculture evolved when they stepped into previously male dominated roles as farmers while men were fighting in wars and more in Lesotho when men had to go and work in the mines as migrant laborers in South Africa. Through the course of history, women have been called the silent contributors, invisible farmers, and the overseen cornerstones of agriculture.

Women have played a key role in biodiversity management and sustainable agriculture through ecological practices such as conserving traditional seeds, preparing natural fertilizer, and using diverse natural resources to meet daily household needs, this positively impacted on the health and nutritional status of their families. Now women live at the intersection of social, economic, and legal deprivations. This makes them most vulnerable to the devastating effects of climate change. This makes them amongst the most resilient, proactive responders to environmental crises, albeit out of necessity.

A feminist agro-ecology focuses on redressing unequal gender relations as well as other intersecting relations of marginalization such as race, class, caste, and ethnic identity. Agro ecology challenges the power dynamics in the current exploitative and oppressive agri-food regime. It centers producers and food sovereignty, refers to the right of food producers, and consumers to define the way their food systems function, and have access not only to sufficient food , but to food which is culturally appropriate and produced in an ecologically sustainable, non-exploitative manner. 

Feminist agro ecology is not only about lowering agrochemical inputs and increasing sustainability, it is also about self-determination and reclaiming control of one’s   own food, land, and body, a right that has been stripped from the majority of producers by a productionist and profit-driven industrial agricultural paradigm. It inherently encompasses a normative commitment to redressing unequal power dynamics in the food system. Women represent around 43% of the agricultural labor force, despite lacking equal access to the productive resources necessary for farming. 80% of the world\’s food is on small-scale family farms, where women play a key role in all stages of food production, from seed collection, land preparation, weeding, harvesting and storage, to food processing and conservation, livestock rearing and fisheries.

Patriarchal, feudal and capitalist relations of power, along with the “gender blind” agriculture policies that fail to support the intergenerational role of women in building resilient local food and nutrition systems and fostering healthy families and communities, are among the causes of gender inequalities, discrimination and marginalization of women, especially in the rural areas. Agro ecology is part of the struggle for the right to produce healthy food and to preserve natural resources.

The industrial seed monopoly and the growing use of exclusive intellectual property rights for seeds, marginalizes traditional and indigenous seed systems and threatens farmers rights to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seeds, all of which are the core of agro ecology. Without land, women do not have autonomy. Without title, female farmers have no access to credit, as much as it is evident that they play a vital role in our food system.

Leave a Reply