The women of Baruya: Invisible food producers

Fritzie Rodriguez

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Filipino women in agriculture, like those in Baruya, refuse to remain invisible and undervalued as they continue to feed their families and the country
WOMEN IN AGRICULTURE. Women contribute greatly to both national and household food security, and yet their efforts are left 'invisible and undervalued,' says the FAO. All photos by Fritzie Rodriguez/ MANILA, Philippines – The road was unpaved and the sun was unforgiving; it was almost impossible to hear your own thoughts drowning in the sound of a struggling motor engine. The tricycle took its time crossing the rocky path. At the end of the road were the women of Baruya in Pampanga. A woman named “Fe” was clad in sweater, sweatpants, and a shirt wrapped around her face. With minimal pauses, Fe bent under the sun, her feet dipped in water, and her hands tied to the land. This is home, this is work, this has been her life for almost 30 years. Fe does not have her own land; she plants rice in other people’s lands. Sometimes there is work, sometimes none. She started farming at 20. She then tried working in factories, but missed life in the field. When she returned, she never stopped. Today, Fe, together with her teenage son, had to plant over 3,000 square meters of land. Most women in Baruya engage in agricultural work, but majority are landless, faceless, and buried in debt. Such is the life for most Filipino women in agriculture. Food producers The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) recognized women as “key to food security.” IFPRI argued that women supply all 3 pillars of food security:
  • Food availability: Women contribute to agricultural outputs, family food security, environmental maintenance
  • Economic access to food: Women spend most of their income on food, child healthcare
  • Nutrition security: Women invest more time in providing care and nutrition
Women are “more likely than men to be responsible for subsistence crops” or the family’s daily meals, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB).  Women are in the frontlines of fighting hunger, not only within households and rural communities, but also collectively play crucial roles in feeding the entire nation. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) emphasized women’s contributions to poverty reduction, food production, preparation and distribution. Most women are also in charge of budgeting and managing farms. (READ: Women, the sea, food security) And yet women and farmers are among the country’s poorest basic sectors, according to the National Statistical Coordination Board.  Angelita Serrano – a 55-year-old widow, mother of 4, and grandmother of 3 – was born to farm workers; she has tilled lands and planted crops since her youth. Her day begins at 2 am, selling vegetables. At 5 am, she returns home to cater to her children’s needs. Once they are off to school, Angelita goes out to sell fish. By 8 am, she attends to farm work; and in the afternoon, she does household chores. The evening provides her little rest before repeating the same cycle before dawn. “Pagod pero kailangan,” Angelita whispered at the end of each day. (Tired, but necessary.) Angelita often skips meals, but never lets her family go hungry. She feeds them fish and vegetables she planted herself. “Basta masipag, ‘di magugutom anak mo.” (As long as you’re industrious, your children won’t go hungry) (READ: Hunger 101) “Rain or shine, nagtatrabaho kami.” (Rain or shine, we work.) Women agricultural workers divide their time among farm, household, and family tasks – shouldering the need to provide income, food, and care. (READ: Why many of the hungry are women) Most rural women only work part-time because of their multiple obligations, hence earning less. But in total, women work more hours than men, considering the time they invest in unpaid reproductive work, the UN said. (READ: Rural women’s wishlist)

Average Weekly Work Hours in Agriculture (2012)





Average Daily Nominal Wage Rates of Farm Workers









Source: Department of Labor and Employment Since most farmworkers do not own lands, part of their earnings go to landlords. (READ: Landless farmers) Invisible In spite of Filipino women’s contributions to food security and the rural economy, FAO said their efforts are “undervalued and invisible,” resulting in less access to resources, opportunities, and information on farming techniques and markets. The Philippine agriculture, hunting and forestry sector is dominated by men who constitute 72.2% of workers, based on the latest statistics from the Department of Labor and Employment.

Employment in Agriculture









ADB observed that large plantations tend to hire men over women, although the latter’s unpaid work supports men’s paid work. Women are deemed weak, hence unfit for agricultural jobs. Statistics, however, show that the agriculture industry employs the 2nd most number of women in the Philippines. A 2013 ADB study reported that despite the Philippines’ ongoing agrarian reform, women still own less land. In short, women have less ability to purchase land. In the Philippines, women represent only around 11% of landholders and only 33% of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) beneficiaries, FAO reported.
Source: Percentage of women landholders among all land holders, FAO 2012
Land ownership enables women to earn their own income. The lack of land affects their ability to access financial credit. 68-year-old Francisca Castro has been fighting for Baruya people’s land rights for nearly 30 years. She criticized the Department of Agrarian Reform’s (DAR) slow efforts. Philippine policies – such as the Philippine Plan for Gender-Responsive Development 1995–2025, the Magna Carta of Women, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform, the Women in Development and Nation Building Act, and DAR programs – demand equality for women in agriculture, however, ADB said that “these do not adequately focus on goals and targets to achieve real outcomes for women.” Although the Philippines wants to empower women through gender-conscious guidelines, the problem is weak implementation. ADB encouraged the government to focus on policies supporting women to move from subsistence agriculture to sustainable commercial agriculture. Neglected Irrigation is another problem experienced by farmers nationwide. The women of Baruya manually operate water pumps. Irrigation systems have not reached their area, resulting in poor harvests. “Kung hindi tuyo, baha kami,” Serrano said. (If not dry, our lands are flooded.) On average, a farmer spends around P50,000/year on  planting rice – seeds, equipment, water, supplies – these funds are mostly borrowed. They harvest twice a year, totaling around 70 sacks of rice. Most of their income, however, is spent on paying off loans. (READ: Why PH agriculture is important) When calamities hit, their losses are greater than their capital and earnings combined, losing up to P100,000. (READ: How climate change threatens food security) During off-season, the women find other sources of income like sewing and raising livestock. Farmers also compete with business moguls for land – many agricultural lands are converted into commercial or residential areas – threatening livelihoods and homes. In the Philippines, it is common to see rice harvests and fish being dried on the roadsides. This is because most farmers lack access to post-harvest and storage facilities. Some farmers skip post-harvest procedures and sell their harvest for a cheaper price. “Imbes na P13/kilo benta, P9 lang,” Castro explained. (Instead of P13/kilo, we settle for P9.) The women also expressed dismay over the lack of farm-to-market roads (FMRs). Aside from lost food and income, poor FMRs disrupt access to hospitals and schools. “May namatay nang buntis, in labor, sobrang tagtag ng daan,” a woman narrated. (A pregnant woman died in labor, the road was too bumpy.) (READ: The future of PH rural roads) ‘Just’ a woman FARMER'S RIGHTS. The women of Baruya are not afraid to voice out their opinions and share their stories of struggle. Until today, many families still favor sons over daughters – land titles are usually given to male heirs. “’’Di raw marunong magsaka ang babae,” a woman said. (They think women can’t farm.) Elvie Fadriquelan of the National Rural Women Coalition – a farmer and community organizer – demanded that Filipinos look at women in agriculture more positively. “’Wag maliitin ang magsasaka, kung wala kami, wala tayong kakainin.” (Don’t belittle farmers, without us, we can’t eat.) “Ang babae, ‘di lang nakahilata sa bahay,” she added. (Women are not just lying around at home.) Fadriquelan said she wants government to educate farmers so that they can better defend and claim their rights. “Karamihan ‘di marunong magbasa’t magsulat. Maloloko sila sa papeles,” (Most are illiterate, they can be deceived in land titles.) Because many of them have been working as children, they were unable to study.  The women of Baruya hope government can help improve Philippine agriculture, so that the youth will be encouraged to join and support the sector. – Do you have stories to share or issues you want to raise? You can send your articles, thoughts, research and video materials to Be part of the #HungerProject.

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