The Women at Terra Madre

The relationship between women, earth, and food can and must be seen in a clearer and more innovative light, as opposed to the common point of view that is often the result of a misogynous approach. But where are women really found in the food sector, and how many are present?

How can we bring forth a modern vision of women, not only with the idea of nourishing and caring, but a larger outlook, considering the preservation of traditions, a harmonious relationship with nature, and the rediscovery of cuisine and conviviality?

Alice Waters Terra MadreThis is the provocation that four exceptional women will bring to the public of Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, Turin, 20-24 September 2018. They are  cook and vice-president of Slow Food Alice Waters, a historical food activist and promoter of the network of school gardens in the United States,  Maria Canabal, founder and President of Parabere Forum dedicated to the women of the gastronomic world, the Italian actress Lella Costa, and  Roberta Mallet, an editorial consultant who has always been particularly attentive to the relationship between female literature and civic culture.

These women present at the conference Liberated Earth. A Dialogue on Women’s Relationship to the Earth and Food. A part of a series of events developed in collaboration with the Circolo dei Lettori.

If treated in a simplistic way, the relationship between women, earth, and food could lead to a misogynist vision,  a result of outdated schemes that fail to create a free, modern and innovative relationship. On the other hand, one wonders how to avoid falling into the extreme opposite, that is, the emancipation of the woman according to traditional male models, which push her to live holding dear to the values and needs of capitalism.

At Terra Madre Salone del Gusto Agriculture is Female

Women work and create jobs in agriculture and farming, work in the larger food production sector, support an entire rural community economy in the south of the world and, sadly in too many cases, are exploited in the fields as seasonal laborers and forced at times into real slavery.

Often this work remains unknown or is taken for granted, while the great chefs (often men) conquer the media. But at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto we know the role of millions of rural farmers, shepherds, cooks, as well as the architrave of small-scale agriculture and fundamental support to preserve traditions and hopes for the future.

Among the thousands of delegates arriving in Turin for the #FoodforChange event is the young Chilean Isabel Angelica Inayao Sepulveda. Together with 18 other women of the Agrupación Por la Biodiversity De Paillaco she founded  “Mujeres Rurales“, a local Slow Food network, that produces vegetables using agroecology, they also harvest herbs and wild fruits to sell each week in a local market. Their specialty is jams made from Murta, small red berries of a shrub from the south of Chile.

The young and indigenous delegate Akeisha Clarke, will participate for the first time in the most important agri-food event in the world representing the fishing community of Petite Martinique, a short distance from the island of Grenada, recently entered the Slow Food Caribe project. Akeisha works in small artisan fishing, a sector dominated by main men and where the role of the woman is not recognized.

Helen Nguya brings more than 35 years of experience in developing projects for Tanzania’s communities from food and sustainable agriculture. She was the author of the local organization Trmega (Training, Research, Monitoring, and Evaluation on Gender and Aids), a community reference point for vulnerable people such as widows, children, poor communities and those affected by HIV or AIDS. In 2004 she met Slow Food and today she is a great supporter of the Orti project in Africa, especially the project promoting the Melipona Bee Honey Presidium in Arusha and other Slow Food initiatives in Tanzania.

women terra madreFrom Italy comes Ilaria Minichiello of the food community of the olive growers Ravece of the hills of Ufita and Calore. Born in Ariano Irpino, in the province of Avellino, she is 24 years old and lives in Grottaminarda where she has just taken over her family’s olive oil company: 700 plants of secular olive groves and young plants of local cultivars. Her dream is to open a small agritourism “done as it should”, that is, cultivating and cooking the products of the agritourism, involving guests in stages of production and preparation in the kitchen.

From Friuli, arrive Annalisa and Jessica Celant that in the alpine farmhouse of Costa Cervera produce  Formadi Or Çuç di Mont both Slow Food Presidia. The two sisters are the last generation of the “malgari” community in Friuli of which we have the oldest attestation: We can go trace the tradition back to the great-great-grandfather in their 1800’s, the oldest patriarch of the Malgari of the region.

In the Terra Madre Forum program, there is no shortage of events dedicated to gender issues, from the role of indigenous women which looks at their resistance to climate change, to  “Queens of the Seas” from Slow Fish demonstrating how even in an area traditionally dominated by men-women can assert their knowledge and experience.

In addition to the voice of the many delegates, we can also listen to that of great guests who share the good, clean and fair philosophy.

Among the confirmed participants, there will be Indian environmentalist and activist Sunita Narain, nominated in 2016 by Time as one of the 100 most influential people in the world and interviewed by Leonardo Di Caprio for the documentary Before The Flood, and the chef Ana Roš, crowned the best cook in the world in 2017 according to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, who will share her incredible passion for cooking and dishes from her restaurant, Hiša Franko of Caporetto, found on the border with Friuli Venezia Giulia,.

And then there are the protagonists of La Fucina and of the Cocoa Camp, the two thematic areas that with laboratories and meetings deepen respectively the themes of the flour and leavened (bread, pizza, and pastry) and all things cacao.

The pizzaiola is Petra Antolini, who in Pescantina (Vr) runs Settimo Cielo and Casa Petra. Her pizza “is not gourmet, nor Neapolitan, nor Roman, it has a beautiful crust,  soft and crispy at the same time. I’m lucky because, having started working in the kitchen, I know the products. And then I live in Valpolicella, a beautiful place rich in biodiversity, although some ingredients come from the rest of Italy like the flower of Agerola, the Vesuvian tomato, the capers of the Slow Food Presidium”. Yet, despite everything, Petra is convinced that “pizza must be affordable for everyone and therefore prices should be reasonable.”

From Côte d’ivoire arrives Estelle Conan, the woman who helped found the  Scay Scoops cooperative: Here, where cacao production is massive and large-scale, 143 small-scale producers have decided to embrace entirely natural practices on their plantations by opposing widespread intensive productions. The fair compensation, guaranteed by organic certification, allows

the producers to improve the living conditions of their community and working techniques, thanks to which the cacao is preserved in the best way, and with it, all its rich aromas.

From the fields to the kitchens, what is a woman’s work worth

women terra madreAccording to FAO, if women had equal access to resources-land, credit, education, agricultural extension services- they could increase their agricultural output between 20% and 30% and bring 150 million of the 815 million people who are now suffering from hunger out of food insecurity.

The female contribution to the agricultural sector is roughly 43% of the workforce total (1). But the overall data tell us little about the impact it has on different areas of the world. From about 20%  in the Americas, it passes to almost 50% in Africa, where women are also responsible for 80% of the work associated with rural domestic activities, such as the harvesting of water and firewood, preparing and cooking meals, the processing and preservation of food and purchases.

In a large part of Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture remains the absolute most important source of employment for women, who work on average up to 13 hours more per week than men. Women and girls in the rural areas of developing countries spend almost an hour a day searching for water and the ingredients to prepare their meals, but in some communities, it can be up to four hours daily.

A study in Africa shows how, over the course of a year, a woman arrives to carry over 80 tonnes of fuel, water, and agricultural products, against a male average that stands on the 10 Tons (2). It is therefore not surprising that any change in the socio-sanitary conditions of the family (such as the presence of relatives needing medical assistance) or state of the surrounding environment has a different effect on male and female work: Deforestation, for example, forces women to cover wider distances to ensure the family’s livelihood.

If the role in family farming is unquestionable, especially in the most disadvantaged countries, it is much more difficult to estimate the contribution of women to the management of enterprises in agriculture: the data suggest that farms with a female head, represent a percentage of between 3% and 38% and produce between 2% and 17% of the value of food. It should be considered that in most situations it is not possible to establish with certainty what gender roles are in production, because food is often produced with the contribution of men and women in a collaborative process.

In general, however, it is fair to say that women are represented in jobs characterized by low wages, high insecurity, and mediocre standards. When they have limited decision-making skills within the family or poor access to resources and family income, they are also more inclined to accept lower wages. Although there is great heterogeneity in the different contexts, women are much more involved in unpaid, seasonal, and part-time work throughout the different levels of the food sector.

[1] Fao, The Role of Women in Agriculture
[2] Fao, Women, agriculture and food security

The situation in Italy

In Italy,  women managed agriculture contributes 27% to the workforce of the sector (against a European average of 21%) and makes up about 500 thousand businesses, 31% of the total. Of this 78 % have are holding less than 5 hectares, lower than the already very low average figure of the country (8.4 hectares in 2015) [1].

Even more impressive is the fact that almost half of the agricultural entrepreneurs (49%) exceeded 60 years old, while just 9% were less than 40 years old. In the world of young farmers, however, women represent 32% of employees.

A comparison between the last three censuses (1990, 2000, 2010) shows that female-led businesses have substantially held through the 1990s (1% decline) unlike companies led by men who during the same period recorded a decrease of 9%. In the first decade of the millennium, on the other hand, there was a parallel collapse in the number of companies (-37%): instead, the percentage of the drivers in the agricultural sector increased, from 26% in 1990 to 31% in 2010.

Another growing trend is that in recent years there has a steady increase of female manual labor in the labor market. This reality too often hides the exploitation of Italian and foreign workers, forced by caporalato  (an agricultural slavery) networks into underpaid jobs, absurd and threatening hours, and serious violence of a sexual nature.

[1] Nilde Iotti Foundation, Women in agriculture




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