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A year has passed since Hurricane Maria first made landfall in Puerto Rico, destroying homes, roads and vehicles in its path—and taking thousands of lives. The island languished for months as an insufficient emergency response campaign attempted to restore basic services like water and power. After a recent independent study, the official death toll was raised from the initial 64 to 2,975; analysis done by The New York Times, citing malnutrition and other food-based ailments as possible culprits for surging mortality in the storm's aftermath, estimated that number could be more than 4,000.
Reporting by Saulo Araujo
Houses without roofs and trees without leaves is all the eyes could see in the week following the devastation that Hurricane Maria wrought. The Category 5 storm with 150+ miles per hour winds was the strongest to hit the island in over a century, leaving the entire population without water and power. Weeks later 3 million people are still without electricity.
Up in the mountains, small-scale farmers lost their crops, and their ability to feed their families was abruptly leveled. La Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica (Boricuá) a grassroots organization of more than 100 families made up of small-scale farmers, farmworkers and organizers across Puerto Rico and the islands of Vieques & Culebra, continues working to communicate with their members in rural areas and to assess the damages. Boricua has made great progress in the last three decades to organize and support farmers, facilitate farmer-to-farmer trainings, and build solidarity nationally and globally. They are helping to fuel agroecology on the island, bringing locally grown, nutritious food to their communities and to market.
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International Women's Day is celebrated each year around the world on March 8. That inaugural date is linked to a women's anti-war protest in Russia known as "Bread and Peace" in the early 1900's. It was quickly replicated around Europe in the following year as women took to the streets, embracing the indisputable connection between hunger and war, expressing solidarity with women's peace movements around the world and advocating for their countries' governments to end armed conflict.
Early on rallies and protests by women were firmly established as a mechanism for building international solidarity around a feminist agenda. And the echoes of that mechanism are still reverberating today, as millions of people around the world took to the streets in January of this year (notably the largest protest in U.S. history) to remind world leaders, especially the newly elected U.S. president, that women's rights are still human rights.
Magha Garcia is an eco-farmer and environmental activist. She is a member of the Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica, USA.
Today, International Women's Day is recognized and celebrated in nearly every country—from villages to cities, from the Global South to the Global North—and has taken on a variety of hues and is realized in a variety of ways—protests, song and dance, conferences, shared meals and conversation and volunteer work.
This March 8, in honor of International Women's Day, women organizers from around the world are amplifying their voices in resistance to the structural forms of violence against the Earth, all forms of life and especially women, as a result of the unmitigated growth of industrial agriculture and international agribusiness.
Industrial agriculture is the dominant form of food production in the U.S and, increasingly, around the world. The impacts of industrial agriculture on our health and our living environment are well-documented: pesticide toxicity, water pollution, processed food, antibiotic resistance, worker injustice.
Women, who are arguably the most responsible for food moving from field to table, have the most at stake. Women are responsible for 60 to 80 percent of food production in the Global South. And the share of U.S. farms operated by women has tripled in the past three decades. Official reports tell us that there are nearly 1 million women farmers in the U.S.—a vast underreporting when small-scale, subsistence and urban farms are added to that pool. We also know that women represent more than 43 percent of the agricultural workforce in the Global South and that 50 percent of food chain workers in the U.S. are women. And, according to the United Nations, women and girls around the world disproportionately suffer from hunger and food insecurity. Conservative estimates indicate that 60 percent of chronically hungry people are women and girls.
The statistics are important in understanding the vast impacts of industrial agriculture on women and their families, as well as the role women play in resisting those impacts. But it's the stories that women tell—their words and images—that bring to life the ways in which industrial agriculture and international agribusiness are structural forms of violence against the Earth, all peoples and especially women. It's not only the contamination of their bodies by agrochemicals—it's also the forced displacement, the division of families and the loss of loved ones that results from migration and land conflicts. It is the denial of the right to food—food that is accessible, both economically and physically, adequate in nutrition, affordable and sustainable in both production and consumption. It is the denial of the right to healthy soil and clean water for food production. It is the denial of the right to sustain one's family with dignity.
It is imperative; therefore, that women's voices are at the center of the debate about how to dismantle the current food regime and replace it with food sovereignty and agroecology. Though not yet mainstream concepts or practices, the work of grassroots organizations is beginning to result in a scaling out of agroecology in both rural and urban areas. And the leadership of women has played a significant role in making that possible.
In honor of International Women's Day, WhyHunger launched a new publication, Through Her Eyes: The Struggle for Food Sovereignty, which offers excerpts of interviews and dialogue with women organizers and food producers from the U.S. and globally in response to the question, "What are the impacts of industrial food and farming on women and how are women organizing to build an alternative?" This publication amplifies the voices of women who are on the frontlines in the ongoing struggle for land, water, localized economies and a world free of violence and hunger. It emerges in a moment when arguably a new world order is beginning to take shape.
In the face of economic and social systems in crisis and deepening inequality the world over, the struggle for food sovereignty, agroecology and climate justice is a struggle for more than just the right to food. It is a struggle for a new world order that centers the rights of women to live freely and safely and to lead in envisioning and crafting a world void of hunger and violence. This International Women's Day, join WhyHunger by standing in solidarity with women whose lived experiences are forging the path to food sovereignty.
"World governments spend $486 billion a year to subsidize an industrial food and farming model that the United Nations estimates, contributes 43-57 percent of total man-made greenhouse gas emissions," said Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Organic Consumers Association.
"It's time to stop subsidizing agricultural practices that contribute to global warming, and start subsidizing food, farming and land-use practices that restore the soil's capacity to draw down and re-sequester excess carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil."
"Our best hope to avert a climate disaster, restore public health and revitalize rural economies must include a plan that not only achieves zero emissions, but also draws down the billions of tons of excess carbon already in the atmosphere."
Speaking to a panel hosted by the Social Innovation and Global Ethics Forum in conjunction with the COP22 Climate Summit, Cummins told participants that "Climate-Smart Agriculture," is a clever term used to describe a limited approach to adapting to climate change and to addressing global food insecurity through agricultural practices that fail to meet the standard of regeneration.
"Scientists tell us that even if we achieve zero emissions tomorrow, the planet would continue to heat up for another thousand years," Cummins said. "Our best hope to avert a climate disaster, restore public health and revitalize rural economies must include a plan that not only achieves zero emissions, but also draws down the billions of tons of excess carbon already in the atmosphere. That plan exists. It's call regenerative agriculture or agroecology."
The Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank coined the term "Climate-Smart Agriculture" at the 2010 Hague Conference on Food Security, Agriculture and Climate Change. The Food and Agriculture Organization floated the concept as a "triple win" for a type of agriculture that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, help crops adapt to changing climate conditions and increase yields.
Last year, more than 350 national and international civil society groups, including the Organic Consumers Association and Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association, signed a letter urging decision-makers to reject what the groups called the "growing influence and agenda of so-called 'Climate-Smart Agriculture' and the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture." The groups criticized the lack of criteria for deciding what can or cannot be called "Climate Smart" and pointed to the potential for agribusiness corporations that promote synthetic fertilizers, industrial meat production and large-scale industrial agriculture—big contributors to global warming—to co-opt the term.
In the U.S., fossil-fuel-intensive agribusiness corporations like Monsanto, who are members of the North American chapter of the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, claim to be practitioners of "Climate-Smart Agriculture."