Travelling journal’ of Asian rural women to bring marginalised voices into food and agriculture policy debate

The first entry in a one-of-a-kind travelling journal is waiting to be written.

Amid much excitement, Our Stories, One Journey: Empowering Rural Women in Asia was launched in the Philippines today as part of a global campaign to achieve food security through a more equitable and sustainable system of growing food. The travelling journal is an initiative by the Asian Rural Women’s Coalition (ARWC), Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP), and Oxfam’s GROW Campaign, together with partner women and rural organisations in eight countries.

“Our Stories, One Journey will feature journal entries written by rural women who grow our food. It will show how women remain resilient and strong in the face of different kinds of threats to their land and way of life. Their stories are a powerful medium by which rural women can show their invaluable contributions to feed their families, communities and the nation, which remain largely invisible to the world,” said Sarojeni Rengam, PAN AP Executive Director and ARWC member.

“Every day, rural women face the mounting challenges caused by an increasingly broken system marked by high food prices and low income, land grabbing, climate change, and decreasing control over seeds. It is crucial for their voices to be heard by those who shape national and international policies,” said Norly Mercado, East Asia GROW Campaign Coordinator.

According to Oxfam, nearly a billion people face hunger every day, many of which are rural women who do not have access to farming resources. It also estimated that three big agricultural multinational companies control nearly 90% of the grain trade. The international prices of basic food commodities are also expected to more than double by 2030, without benefitting small food producers.

The journal will travel through the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Sri Lanka and India for a period of seven months. A rural woman from each country will write in the journal her experiences and insights on daily life and struggles, within their families and communities. The journal will also contain songs, poems, drawings, and other mementos through which the women can express themselves.

On occasion of the International Women’s Day, Amihan (National Federation of Peasant Women in the Philippines), also a member of the ARWC, launched the travelling journal at the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountain range in Montalban, Rizal, where 61 year-old farmer Margarita Tagapan manages the Amihan cooperative grain store. Margie, as she is fondly called, is the first rural woman writer of the journal. A simple breakfast of dried fish, egg, boiled rice and coffee marked the historic turnover ceremony of the journal.

“Women rice farmers in the country are facing hardships from the rising costs of inputs and landlessness, and now their role as seed savers are being threatened by the entry of genetically engineered rice. We hope that this campaign will make policy makers see the effects of this unsustainable model of agriculture on women and their families,” said Lita Mariano, president of Amihan.

Based on the stories written on the journal by the eight women from participating countries, a statement outlining the demands of rural women across Asia will be drawn up and submitted to the FAO Committee on World Food Security (CFS) and national policymakers in October, on the occasion of the World Rural Women’s Day and World Food Day.

The stories will also be collected and shared among partners and their communities, CSOs working on food and agriculture issues, the media and policymakers. This sharing is an opportunity for rural women to learn from the experiences and struggles of others, and is meant to encourage the leadership role of women in rural people’s movements. It also aims to help the general public appreciate the contributions and challenges that rural women face in growing food through powerful, personal stories and images.

“Together with other rural women organisations, we are excited to contribute to Our Stories, One Journey. We expect it to be an amazing journey not only for the women who will write in such a journal for the first time in their lives, but more so for the potential thousands of readers who will be given an intimate look at what it’s really like to grow food under a system that does not provide for our growing societies,” said Mariano.