Rural Women Speak Out Against Food Input Subsidy Programme in the SADC Region

On the 17th of August 2017 rural women from nine SADC countries came together as the Rural Women’s Assembly to speak out against the Farmer Input Subsidy Programmes (FISPs) and the challenges they are creating for women farmers, at a time when SADC heads of state gather to discuss their plans for the future of our region without the involvement of those affected most by these plans.

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Rural woman gave testimony about how Farmer Input Subsidy Programmes (FISPs) are being used to impose GM seeds, fertilisers and pesticides onto farmers.  These FISPs are deepening the power of seed companies in the SADC region, which are taking away our autonomy over our indigenous seeds and forcing hybrid seeds and fertilisers on us, while companies profit from this. It is also promoting an ecologically destructive type of agriculture that destroys the land and undermines our own agricultural practices, our seeds, and our identities.

Because our governments do not consult to find out what rural women and small farmers need, they come with one size fits all policies that just dump GMOs, fertilisers and commercial seeds onto farmers. They use the input subsidy programmes to camouflage the interests and profits of multinational corporations whose products are distributed through the FISPs.

A key aspect of the FISPs is how they relate to land rights for women. Women still face unequal access to land and even where women are accessing land often they do not own or have control over that land. As one woman said in her testimony, ‘When the man dies, the wife is told to bugger off.’ When women do not have control over land they cannot access FISPs, and so inequality is increasing between men and women.

New seed legislation in countries like South Africa sets a dangerous precedent for the region. They are aimed at deepening corporate control over seed and undermining small farmer control of seeds. We call on rural women of SADC to mobilise to stop any potential plans by their own governments to develop similar laws.

We as Africans are rich, but we remain poor, because of models that continue to be developed based on export and the enrichment of a few, rather than building the lives of ordinary citizens.  Our governments do not think that we are worth listening to, but we know there are ways to build our communities, which are not based on the export of our minerals, our food and our wealth.

The Speak Out heard how contract farming is increasing in some SADC countries but only a very small number of farmers actually benefit, and hardly any of them are women. Small farmers get into these contracts because it seems to be a source of finance in a context where their own governments do not provide them with financial support. These farmers cannot afford to employ people and so they and their family members must work ever harder to produce the crops that the companies require. Contract farming can thus be seen as a form of modern slavery, where corporations get to benefit from free land and labour and exploitative prices are paid to farmers for their produce.

In some cases, FISP is leading to increasing indebtedness as farmers have to find ways to raise their match funding to benefit from FISP and when FISP locks them into a vicious cycle that requires them to purchase inputs every year in order to produce.

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It was noted in the speak out that women from Namibia reported some positive aspects of the FISP programme in their country. They said that their government is subsidising them with finance, seeds and fertilisers and so farmers have increased their production. in response, the government has provided them with markets for their produce. The RWA wishes to conduct an exchange visit to Namibia to find out more from this country’s programme and what lessons can be learned for other countries of the region.

We also had care workers who, in countries like Zimbabwe, are undertaking a huge amount of care work in our communities. They do it out of love for their people, but governments are taking advantage of this by not paying them and not providing sufficient doctors, nurses and healthcare facilities in communities. This is unpaid labour that subsidises the state. The exploitation of care workers must end.

We as rural women also interrogated the model that is driving the FISP programmes, which is the Green Revolution model that is all about getting farmers to use inputs produced by multinational corporations and growing their profits. Farmer input subsidy programmes are a conduit for increased use of fertiliser and pesticides, as governments are adopting these elements wholesale and impose them on farmers. What we need is a more flexible approach that is based on farmers’ particular contexts and needs.

We do not want the model of agriculture that is being imposed on us through FISPs. As rural women, we have our own alternatives. The speak out showed that women are reclaiming what is ours. We will not wait for the government to push these alternatives – we are already creating them, we just need the space and the support to take them further.

We, therefore, demand to the SADC Heads of States that they re-think and transform FISPS in the ways outlined below:

  • FISP must distribute indigenous varieties of seed that suit particular areas, nutritional needs and farmer preferences
  • Phase out the use of chemical fertilisers and encourage the use of alternative sources of fertilisation like animal manure
  • In the context of climate change, FISP should focus on building resilience, which rests on indigenous and diverse seed supplies.
  • As the majority of the population in Africa, rural women farmers must be consulted on all policies affecting them
  • Over and above handing out inputs governments should support value addition for agricultural products produced by small farmers.
  • Equivalent value should be given to indigenous seeds and small grains and should be as easily available for farmers to buy as hybrid seeds are.
  • Governments must invest in infrastructure and research for the farming of indigenous and small grain crops, just like they do for industrial farming
  • Governments must increase agricultural budgets to 10% of their national budgets as per the Maputo Declaration. They should use this increase to purchase agricultural equipment and improve infrastructure for farmers like irrigation, cleaning irrigation canals, and so on. That is, governments must invest in their own countries’ agriculture rather than trying to attract global corporations to invest in the agricultural sector, which just imposes the industrial model of agriculture and dispossess women of land and seed.
  • Input subsidies must stop feeding corporate profits and must be used to support seed multiplication, growth and distribution of locally grown crops for soil health, and diverse forms of agricultural practice that supports agroecology.
  • Rather than throwing chemical fertilisers and pesticides at farmers as solutions to all their challenges, extension policies and practice must be based on working democratically with farmers to understand and address their challenges in ways that also creates spaces for farmers to learn from each other.
  • Women still face unequal access to land and governments must address this by ensuring they have full rights to land and are fully able to access support for their farming practices
  • Rather than using the FISPS to promote the Green Revolution, governments must promote and support agroecology. This includes supporting the building of local seed banks for indigenous varieties. As rural women, we must have the same rights to produce our own seeds as those given to multinational seed corporations. We want to produce, to store and to multiply our seeds.
  • We demand the formalisation of care work now, the full employment of all care workers, and the provision of protective clothing to care workers.
  • Contract farming as a modern form of slavery must be ended and governments must instead provide farmers with the finance, support and access to markets that they need. Governments must, therefore, increase finance for agriculture in line with the Maputo Declaration, as it is the backbone of our economies.

The current system is violent as it dispossesses rural people and especially women, it makes our children hungry and it destroys the earth. The 15 heads of state that are meeting at the SADC meeting, deciding the fate of millions of rural women without our input, is violent. We reject this violent, undemocratic mode of governance and so-called development. We as rural women will continue to practice our alternatives in resistance to this violent system that exploits our natural resources, our bodies, our land, our labour and our seeds.

We say no to GMOs! We say no to chemical fertilisers! We as women can feed our nations!

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