No women farming maize in Spain

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During the last years working on alternative food systems and food sovereignty, I have had the opportunity to conduct research on agri-food systems from a gender perspective. In more concrete terms, during recent years I became particularly interested in aspects such as the role of peasant women in advancing socio-political changes like agroecology and food sovereignty, the situation of small-scale food artisan women in Spain and the links between food, environment and gender in alternative food systems in Spain (some of this research was done with my colleague in the Agri/Cultures Project Amaranta Herrero).

Unfortunately, it has, however, been rather difficult to link this previous work with women in agriculture with the work we are currently conducting in the Agri/Cultures Project. Basically this is because we are dealing with different cultures of agriculture for cultivating maize in this project and this is a task performed almost exclusively by men in Spain. After more than 15 years interviewing farmers producing maize in Catalonia and Aragón, I only heard from one woman cultivating maize commercially (who Amaranta had the opportunity to interview some months ago). We can also find some exceptions in the case of peasant women who are producing maize in backyards or small plots for the consumption of animals raised at home, but not at a commercial scale.

This absence could respond, however, to some of the conclusions of my previous research. First, maize production at a large scale is an expensive activity in Spain, with important investment costs in terms of seeds, irrigation, fertilizers, etc and the few available statistics indicate that women are usually not the holders of the land on family farms (the most common land tenure form in Spain) and when they are, they hold the smallest farms. They also tend to be in charge of non-mechanised tasks on these farms. We have also observed that women are usually linked to small-scale agricultural projects that prioritize quality, diversity and local food production, which is a very distant model from the highly mechanized and super-specialized commercial maize production in Spain in which maize is essentially considered a commodity used for the production of feed (around 85% of the maize in Spain).

It may be interesting to compare this situation in Spain with what we see in South Africa, although also there we see indications that women are the primary people running the farming activities when they are on a small-scale for subsistence but as soon as it moves into large-scale commercial business, it becomes a mans business. Does anyone else have any information on these kinds of gender issues and dynamics within maize farming in their own context?

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