Women Farmers at the Frontline of Boosting Local Economies in Davao

October 3, 2023

by MASIPAG National Office

MASIPAG recently held its three-day National NGO Conference with the theme “Cultivating Synergy: Strengthening Farmers’ Organizations and Their Communities for Genuine Rural Development” in the University of the Philippines Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines. MASIPAG owes its success and continuous strength in further forwarding the network’s vision and mission to its partner NGOs, working hand-in-hand with its member farmers and scientists. With farmers already equipped with knowledge and experience in agriculture and scientists with their academic experimentation and research skills, MASIPAG partner NGOs in return further elevate it through their expertise in organizing skills–becoming united to collectively and holistically confront the challenges of the failure of the Green Revolution and its lasting impact which hinders farmer empowerment up until today.

The conference was attended by 17 member and partner non-government organizations of MASIPAG from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, where one of which, namely the METSA Foundation, shared about the experience of empowerment of small women farmers through sustainable market linkages in Davao City, Mindanao. Anita  “Nay Nena” Morales, a long-time women leader  and currently member of MASIPAG in the Mindanao Regional Management Team, presented the history, highlights and lessons learned by the Kababaihang Nagtataglay ng Bihirang Lakas (Women with Unique Strength) or KNBL working with METSA Foundation since the 1990s.

In 1992, the Los Amigos Women Farmers Organization was established through the programs of the local office of the Department of Agriculture. It was eventually reclaimed and led by local women farmers. The organization started its operations by establishing three sari-sari stores, a neighborhood sundry store or a local convenience store which sells a variety of products, where women sell a variety of vegetables, fruits and soap. It was in 1995 when the organization was given an orientation and started implementing its sustainable agriculture program. Eventually, the women farmer members initiated linkaging and networking among community members to broaden the scope of its implementation. METSA Foundation was established to facilitate and guide members of the organization on the program. Women farmers saw the importance of community organizing to increase the number of organic practitioners in the area and further develop their organizations.

In 2004, a physical market was established in Calinan, Davao City. It was seen as an opportunity to promote the products of MASIPAG farmers and, later on, paved the way for the development of MASIPAG’s processing and marketing program. In 2009 as the organic movement in davao grew, (driven by the expanding number of organic farmers, church and advocates), KNBL, METSA, and its allies, lobbied for an organic agriculture ordinance in their city including the call to halt the aerial spraying of chemical inputs in nearby plantations. The ordinance signed by the city government was the first organic agriculture ordinance in the country which led to the crafting of a national law on organic agriculture in 2010.

Also in the early 2000s, GO Organic Davao City (GODC) was formed and helped introduce in 2014 the Participatory Guarantee System, a certification mechanism for and by small farmers, in Davao City. Today, 16 non-government organizations are now focusing on sustainable agriculture in Davao City and as of 2019, KNBL has already recorded 27 certified organic farms. KNBL, with other formations such as the PGS Davao, lobbied for improvements in their organic agriculture ordinance. Women farmers are also present in local markets, such as in the Rizal park and schools, promoting and selling local organic produce. Nay Nena shared their practice in establishing an online market during the pandemic.

Nay Nena highlighted the valuable contributions and role of women farmers in the success of KNBL and the entirety of the organic movement in Davao City. According to Nay Nena, women are seed mothers leading the collection, identification and conservation of seeds, especially traditional seeds. Women are also at the frontlines in promoting and practicing diversified and integrated farming systems which place indigenous knowledge and practices at the center of their production. Lasly, women are also entrepreneurs and organizational leaders spearheading advocacy campaigns for organic agriculture and resistance against the corporate onslaught of local food and agricultural systems, strengthening the linkages of farmers and consumers in their communities, and most importantly, the development of their organizations.