Chapter 04: Markets - Field Stories
Related Countries:
Women Protesting Against the World Food Crisis

On 30 April 2008, more than 1,000 women gathered outside Peru's Congress in Lima, banging empty pots and pans, demanding accountability and action from their government to mitigate the food crisis. The same crisis led Haiti's poorest women to make biscuits out of mud, salt and vegetable shortening.

From the beginning of 2008, in over 34 countries around the globe, there were protests over food prices that were spiralling out of reach even for people with average incomes. This represents a long-term shift in food production patterns in developing countries. In 1960, developing countries had an overall agricultural trade surplus of almost $7 billion per year; by 2001, the surplus had been transformed into a deficit of more than $11 billion. The World Food Programme (WFP) calls this the worst crisis in 45 years, and has flagged countries in which more than 50 per cent of a household's income is spent on food as being especially vulnerable to growing food insecurity. This has had a severe effect on women, who not only assume primary responsibility for feeding their families but also contribute significantly to the world's food production processes. In sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, women contribute 60 to 80 per cent of the labour required for agricultural work, while in Asia they contribute at least 50 per cent. Commercialised agriculture – whether in Canada, Mexico or Nigeria – also depends on women's work.

However, while women's involvement in the agricultural sector is critical, their control over the means of agricultural production is weakening with globalization of the food industry. A recent study by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) points out that the lack of women's ownership over the land they farm may well lead to a massive eviction of female subsistence farmers from areas turning to commercial crops. Food security will not be achieved without accountability of all the major actors in agriculture markets to the poor in general and to women in particular.