During the lean times of his Manila childhood, my partner M remembers meals of rice sprinkled with a little toyo for flavor. His mom shares her own childhood memories of rice with coconut milk for lunch and dinner. Our cousin Kuya Jun remembers meals of rice and cononut meat.
These were meals during times of hardship. Other families have tales of eating rice flavored only with salt or Maggi seasoning. But the bottom line? There was always a plate of rice. Rice is life.
The Philippines is now facing the frightening prospect of a rice shortage.
There have been other analyses looking at how globalization and export-oriented agricultural policies such as land conversion for industrial use and the conversion have set laid the foundations for this crisis. I’d like to explore further the gendered dimensions of the current rice crisis.
Women play a significant role in Philippine agriculture, even as, in many other parts of the world, their roles are often unpaid and invisible. But many of the crucial tasks of rice production, from selecting seedlings to weeding to post-harvest, have been the domain of Filipina peasants. Female peasants also engage in extra-agricultural activities such as taking in laundry and the cultivation of subsistence crops for their families. These activities allow male farmers to concentrate on the more profitable cash crops.
The Philippines signed the General Agreement for Tariff and Trade (GATT) in 1994 and acceded to the World Trade Organization (WTO) a year later. Both agreements, in concert with other World Bank-mandated economic strictures have had devastating consequences for peasants, especially the women. In the late 1990s, these trade agreements opened the floodgates for massive rice importation, making it difficult for peasant women—majority of women were in rice production—to compete with lowered rice prices. When commercial agrarian land was converted for use for export crops like tobacco, cut flowers, and bananas, peasant women were displaced to rockier, less fertile areas to plant rice. Many younger women from rural areas were also lured away to work as factory workers at the country’s Exploit Export Processing Zones (angry post about this to follow).
Indigenous peasants of the famed rice terraces are face further obstacles. For example, Vernie Yocogan-Diano of Innabuyog, an indigenous women’s organization in the Cordilleras, notes how the development of mining in the northern mountain regions and the resultant pollution had caused a 30 percent reduction in the yield in rice-producing communities. In addition, she notes that “indigenous peasant women. . .face displacement from their lands and communities that are covered by mining operations and applications.” The diversion of water for mining further taxes communities by restricting water for irrigation.
Peasant workers have been long organizing to call attention to the problems, even in the face of arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, torture, or worse. Peasant women have gone to jail for illegally occupying and planting crops in land slated for industrial conversion. Members of the Filipina peasant group AMIHAN have stood in front of bulldozers to block land conversion schemes. The current crisis cannot be divorced from globalization, peasant women around Asia are organizing to address issues of militarization, the war on terror, trade liberalization, and a myriad other factors neoliberal development strategies that have displaced women from their land. The Asian Rural Women’s Conference held last March is an important initiative, and their declaration is an important distillation of these interconnections.
The words of Innabuyog’s Vernie Yocogan-Diano provide a powerful reminder of how organized resistance is crucial, to avoid exacerbating the crises related to rice shortage and land. “This land is our life. This land is nurtured by the blood of our ancestors who resisted colonial, state and corporate exploitation and control of our resources and people. This land is what kept generations of our people alive. More and more women are now rising in the villages to resist their extinction.”