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COLOMBIA
Female farmers´ uphill battle
Susan Abad
11/12/2009
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Rural women face discrimination and marginalization, despite legislation aimed at improving their conditions.

In Usme, a rural sector of the Colombian capital, a small group of women are farming their way to a better life. What two years ago practically unheard of, small-scale organic farming is helping these women not only support their households, but to achieve the respect of their families.

The government-run National Learning Service started organic farming training in early 2007, says Chestin Cardona, the legal representative of Coproagrousme, a 21-member farming cooperative, with 15 female members.

The women had never participated "in anything aside from raising children, their animals, making food," she says. "That means, they´d never been paid for their work."

Usme is now known for its corn, bean, onion, cilantro, pears, peaches, cherries and papayas.

"A lot of these women make marmalade, dulce de leche and cheeses, which the cooperative sells and finds them a good price," adds Cardona. The sales total 2.5 million pesos (US$1,323) per month, or $185 per member. "There´s a change. It´s a slow one, but it´s a change."

The cooperative also sells the products from 50 campesina women who farm in independent gardens.

"It´s what we´ve always done, except now we´re getting paid for it," says Nelda María Zambrano, 66, who has produced three harvests this year.

Cardona says women working, earning for their labor, lifts their status, and makes the women farmers, a highly vulnerable sector, "visible" in the fields.

Abandonment and discrimination
But these women are the exception to the rule.

According to the 2005 census, campesina women who lacked health care, education and minimum living standard totaled 4.7 million women, or 10 percent of Colombia´s population.

"If campesinos [in Colombia] are living in miserable conditions, it´s worse for the women," said Aleyda Barrero, legal representative of the National Association of Campesina, Black and Indigenous Women. "She is the one who has to take care of the family. She has to feed and raise the children, even if her husband leaves her, or if he´s killed in the war. She is the one who always stands by her land and her home."

Government programs fall short
Juan David Castaño, who oversees the rural development department of the Agriculture Ministry, argues that a law passed in 2002 that aimed to help women access loans, receive preferential land subsidies and rural living subsidies is showing results.

Since the law went into effect, more than 3,000 rural women heads of household have received land subsidies totaling some $39 million, and more than 99,000 rural women have benefited from its housing program, said Castaño.

Between 2006 and 2009, a government-funded credit line for farming has been given to 103,319 women, for a total of $255.5 million.

But Barreto says these "relief programs" have their own problems. For example, she said, a requirement to receive a loan is to present a project, and these women don’t know at all how to do that, so they must pay up to 20 percent of the loan amount to someone to present the project.  Rural women are "not prepared" to become part of the banking system.

"It has to be some special non-bank credit," she says. "The solution is for the state to administrate it directly."

In October, following a hearing on the performance of this 2002 law, Sen. Griselda Janeth Restrepo said "it is clear" that policies tied to the legislation "have advanced very little, as there are still no clear directives and investment in this group has been very low."
—Latinamerica Press.


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Nelda María Zambrano (left) and Elena Dimate´s crops are sold at a fair price (Photo: Susan Abad)
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