Women are integral to agricultural development in Southeast Asia. However, while women account for just over 40% of the agricultural labor force; they receive just 7% of agricultural investment in forestry, agriculture and fisheries.
Beyond embracing their roles in household management, they are unsung heroes on their smallholding farms. Often hidden innovators, as revealed by The AGREE project, they consistently surmount challenges and lead their communities towards embracing sustainable practices.
Tarcila "Tasing" Jurado Bunayog, a seasoned corn farmer and General Manager of the Salvacion Multi-Purpose Cooperative (SMPC) in Kadingilan, Bukidnon, Philippines, embodies the resilience and ingenuity of rural women. Balancing roles as a farmer leader, mother, wife, and grandmother, Tasing navigates through the complexities of corn farming, which is marred by fluctuating market prices, calamities, and pests, to sustain her family and particularly support her grandchild's education. Her journey is not just about growing corn; it's about cultivating hope, empowerment, and sustainable futures.
Despite the challenges, Tasing employs resourcefulness to ensure stability for her family and cooperative. From utilizing her 600 sqm backyard for fruits and vegetables, to renting out part of their home for additional income, she exemplifies an entrepreneurial spirit that goes beyond the cornfields.
“You have to be resourceful to cope with the demands of life. My mind is always on farming. I schedule my tasks and prepare meals for myself and my family. I also guide my laborers for a full day’s work at the farm.”*
Tasing is not just a farmer; she's a community leader, advocating for sustainable farming practices and the economic empowerment of women in her cooperative, which has grown to 295 members over 32 years. She believes in the potential of women to significantly contribute to the community and sees opportunities in diversifying agricultural practices, such as exploring livestock farming and utilizing damaged corn for additional income through silage.
“I appreciate the training that our cooperatives provide for women. This will help them learn not to depend on the support they are receiving but instead learn to expand them to create opportunities for themselves.”
However, Tasing’s path is not without its hurdles. The Philippines, a major corn producer, grapples with low yields. Fluctuating market prices, high farming costs, and natural adversities often put farmers like Tasing in a tight spot. But it's her entrepreneurial spirit, from diversifying crops to renting out spaces for businesses, that showcases the adaptability and resilience of women in agriculture.
Tasing also recognizes the sustainability issues in corn farming and expresses concern over farmers selling or renting their lands for immediate financial gain. She emphasizes the importance of land as a lasting resource that can continually address financial needs, contrasting it with the fleeting nature of a one-time financial windfall from selling or renting.
“I encourage them to think hard before renting or selling their land. They might think that it’s easier to earn a huge amount of money all at once, but that money will run out. Their land does not and it has the potential to solve their problems.”
In light of the challenges and opportunities in rural farming, the AGREE (ASEAN Green Recovery through Equity and Empowerment) project, funded by the International Development Research Centre, emerges as a pivotal initiative to enhance women's economic empowerment through low-carbon strategies, demonstrating a gender- and climate-responsive recovery from the impacts of COVID-19.
Tasing’s story underscores the importance of projects like AGREE, which seek to understand the role of women in agriculture, what's working, what’s needed, and how to scale women's economic empowerment via low-carbon strategies. The findings of AGREE underscore the untapped potential in empowering women farmers. By providing them with resources, training, and opportunities, we can not only boost agricultural yields but also foster communities that are resilient, sustainable, and forward-thinking.
“As a woman farmer and leader, I appreciate all the help that we are receiving from different agencies. We are grateful for their guidance, which nurtures us in farming.”
Tasing's story is a testament to the power of women in agriculture. Her leadership, vision, and tenacity inspire us to recognize and support the countless women who toil in fields across the world.
ASEAN Green Recovery through Equity and Empowerment (AGREE) is an initiative supported by the Canadian government (IDRC) in Cambodia, the Philippines, and Viet Nam. The project demonstrates how COVID-19 recovery can be both gender- and climate-responsive. It tests pilot interventions with corporate partners and informs policy-making to champion women as agents for climate action.
* Quotes have been translated from Tagalog.