In celebration of International Women’s Month this 2023, we are honored to feature Letty Bisco on our blog. Known to the GSSP Community as “Manang Letty”, she is currently the President of the Benguet Association of Seed Savers (BASS). Manang Letty was one of the students of the very first seed school ever conducted by Global Seed Savers Philippines (at the time, we were still known as Friends of ENCA). Along with her other classmates during the 2015 seed school, Manang Letty became a founding member of BASS. She has been instrumental in bringing seed-saving practices to several farms in the Cordilleras and is a beacon of hope for many who know her.
Continue on to the interview below to learn more about Letty’s experience as a woman farmer.
Why is farming any different for women? In your family, did women farm or are you a first-generation woman farmer?
Traditionally the woman’s role in the family is working at home, and managing household chores. But since no one is taking the farming role, I took the initiative to continue working at my family farm. There are some difficulties for women to work in farms given the difference in physical strength compared to men.
I had to hire help for the heavy tasks on the farm which adds to the cost of farming. Being the woman owner of the farm though, I had the financial freedom to spend my own money. I also have the freedom and control over the farm and I don’t have to answer to a boss since I am the sole owner.
I realized this sense of financial freedom when I assumed responsibility as the sole breadwinner in the family due to the passing of my husband. I continued farming even in his absence.
Back in the early days of parenthood, I remember merely working in the household doing domestic chores. I was confined at home. It was a liberating experience when I did farming because I could choose to go out of the house anytime, and that I also have control over my earnings. I’m not a first generation farmer since my mother was a farmer too. These days, however, I am the only woman farmer in the family. I am also the only farmer since we don’t have any men farmers either. We all received education, which influenced my siblings to pursue other things other than farming. I thought, such a waste of our land if I don’t take on continuing farming.
What do you consider a successful year at your farm?
When the climate is stable, the harvest is good. When there are no calamities, the yield is optimal. I recall 2015 when the climate was favorable. There was rain all year-round and not a single major typhoon struck my farm. Because of that, production was high, and my farm sales were also high during that year.
What, for you, is the next step for women farmers?
Women farmers have to be open minded with agricultural innovations. They have to maintain their commitment to farming. Farming is not simple, you need to learn how to forecast what are best crops to plant, and when to plant particular crops. This is tedious and scientific which requires patience. I say it is scientific because you do trial and error. You need to experience and learn for you to get better results.
If you could share one piece of advice with the future generation of women in agriculture, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid of taking risks in experimenting and experiencing new things, because only in this way will you explore what are the best methods in farming. For future generations of women farmers, take hold of that concern and love for your family as this will guide you in your farming; this will translate into you finding ways to practice healthy and safe food production.
While agriculture is a male-dominated industry, the reality is that women produce 60 to 80 percent of the food in most developing countries. Women also manage water, sources of fuel, and food, as well as forests and agricultural terrains in most communities. This highlights an important fact: food sovereignty cannot be achieved without the voices and perspectives of women.
The crucial links between women and the environment are well-ensconced in various international agreements. For example, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) addresses a number of environmental issues that affect women. Meanwhile, the Beijing Platform for Action, an outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women includes an entire chapter on women and the environment, and the need to actively involve women in environmental policy- and decision-making.
Ecofeminism brings the discussion of the critical connection between women and the environment to a deeper level. It asserts that the oppression of women and the exploitation of the environment are interconnected.
Both the oppression of marginalized groups and the exploitation of nature are connected by the same cause: patriarchal dominance exacerbated by capitalism. Ecofeminism understands that the same mindset that treats women as objects to be dominated and controlled is the same mindset that treats the earth as a resource to be exploited and plundered.
We must replace our culture of domination and oppression with an ethic of care, an approach to morality that is grounded in the feminine characteristics of caring and nurturing. It underscores equitable decision-making that prioritizes care for others.
All forms of oppression are unacceptable and interconnected. True environmentalism is all-encompassing. It offers solutions that consider the differing needs of people from different races, genders, and socio-economic backgrounds. Only by understanding these connections can equitable change happen. If an environmental solution further marginalizes any class of people, then it is not an acceptable solution.
The people most affected by environmental destruction, women, particularly indigenous women and other women of color, must be the ones to lead the movement. Ecofeminists, such as Katherine Wilkinson of Project Drawdown believe: “If what we’re talking about is the transformation of our economy and society, it’s going to take transformational leadership to get us there. And that looks like leadership that’s more characteristically feminine”.
In a biodiverse country like the Philippines, ecofeminism provides a unique perspective for promoting sustainable and equitable development. Here are some of the ways that ecofeminism has manifested in the Philippines:
Women-led conservation efforts: Women in the Philippines have been at the forefront of conservation efforts, particularly in protecting forests and marine ecosystems. For example, theInnabuyog, an alliance of indigenous women’s organizations in the Cordilleras has been leading initiatives to protect land, life, and rights. Aside from protecting forests and biodiversity through community-led conservation and sustainable livelihoods, the women of Innabuyog aims to “[reclaim] the indigenous women’s historical and significant role in defending ancestral land, life, resources, and dignity”.
Gender-responsive climate policies: Ecofeminism recognizes that climate change disproportionately affects women and marginalized communities. In the Philippines, the government has started to integrate gender perspectives into its climate policies. The Gender and Development (GAD) Focal Point System which is being employed by all government institutions for example, ensures that climate change adaptation and mitigation measures are gender-responsive and take into account the different needs and roles of women and men in the community. The government has also recently updated the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Plan which provides for the “participation of women in local councils including agriculture-related organizations or associations for their voices and experiences to be considered in local development”.
Regenerative agriculture and food sovereignty: Women in many cultures have been the custodians of traditional seed varieties and agricultural practices for generations, making them important players in promoting sustainable agriculture and biodiversity conservation. This reality is evident in Global Seed Savers’ work with farming communities in the Philippines, where a majority of our partner farmers and seed savers are women.
Ecofeminism recognizes that the root causes of environmental degradation and social injustice are structural. It also acknowledges the reality women are disproportionately affected by environmental issues such as climate change, pollution, biodiversity loss, etc. Ecofeminism seeks to challenge dominant power structures that prevent us from creating a just and sustainable world.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it is important to recognize the critical role that women play in addressing environmental and social issues. By integrating feminist and environmental principles, ecofeminism provides a framework for addressing these complex and interconnected issues.
In January 2023, Global Seed Savers Philippines (GSSP, as represented by Harry Paulino, our Cebu Seed Production Coordinator) and our Cebu partner farmers gathered together to discuss the vital role of organic seed production within our communities. Farmers from all around Cebu Island came to this gathering. We had participant farmers from Argao, Sibonga, Car-Car, San Fernando, Naga, Aloguinsan, Catmon, San Remegio, Bogo, and Metro Cebu.
Of the many crucial discussions we had, the most important were that of farmers expressing their deep understanding of their essential roles in food sovereignty and reaffirming their commitment to this work through seed saving.
Meet the old and new faces of Cebu Seed Savers!
During this event, twenty-eight farmers signed the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with GSSP and agreed to dedicate a portion of their lot (with a minimum of 20 sqm) specifically for seed production.
This MOA will ensure that our partner farmers will have sufficient sources of organically produced seeds that are locally adapted for their farm and communities. It will also support Global Seed Savers’ Community Seed Libraries which will enable other farmers in the region to have access to these high-quality, organic, open-pollinated seeds.
We are so grateful for our partner NGO, Communities for Alternative Food Ecosystems Initiatives (CAFEi) for joining us at this event as witnesses to this milestone for our Cebu Program. It is a first towards Food and Seed Sovereignty, and will surely be a catalyst for more collaboration between GSSP and other farming communities in Cebu Province.
This gathering has enabled us to appreciate how far our programs on Food and Seed Sovereignty has come. It has also allowed us to revisit the reason for our work, as well as a re-appreciation of the integral role that farmers play in these goals! Our farmer partners are the backbone of our communities – they are the stewards of our lands and seeds!
February of this year, Dr. Ernie Amaranto, one of Global Seed Saver’s most loyal supporters, came to Baguio City to visit Farmer Anita’s farm in Tublay, Benguet. During Dr. Amaranto’s visit, himself and our BASS partner farmers gathered together for a luncheon on February 11, 2023 at the Baguio County Club.
The luncheon was attended by more than 40 of our partner farmers and other GSS community members, many of whom are farmers from BASS and Tublay, two were officials from the Benguet Provincial Government, an individual from another NGO, several of our supporters, and our Former Executive Director Karen Hizola also paid a visit.
During the event, Dr. Amaranto, also fondly known in the GSSP community as “Gangster Tatay” as a heartwarming nickname, showed us a plaque for the Preserve Planet Earth which was awarded to the Mead Rotary Club. He attributes this award to the work of Global Seed Savers in the Philippines, which part of was funded by the Rotary District.
Some of the more notable events during the luncheon included a pivotal conversation with Atty. Reuben Paoad (who is the former mayor of Tublay and is currently working at the Benguet Provincial Capitol), Board Member of the Lone District of Benguet, and Chair of the Agriculture Committee. Atty. Paoad talked about how fewer edible plants there are presently in Benguet, and that we must now act to prevent this from getting worse. His words elicited a lot of questions from the audience, but we agreed to have a follow-up conversation to determine how we can collaborate in the future through a project related to food sovereignty.
More than anything, this event was an opportunity to reconnect with our partner farmers and supporters. It was a reminder of the huge work that lies ahead, and a testament of the great deed we can accomplish together as one community dedicated to seed and food sovereignty.
Harry Paulino (GSSP Cebu Seed Production Coordinator), two of our Cebu Seed Savers partner farmers, Reinario Cabico and Dito Jancinal, and 20 other participants joined together at Alhibe Farm, Carmen Cebu, Philippines for a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) from February 2-11, 2023. This course was facilitated by Bert Peeters, former President of Philippine Permaculture Association (PPA) and Joel Lee of Car-Car, Cebu, who is also one of the first permaculturists in the Philippines. The PDC was a collaboration between PPA and Alhibe Farm.
During the 10-day activity, participants learned permaculture principles. They also learned a variety of fundamental practices in permaculture, for example, applying permaculture practices from scratch, and creating permaculture designs in different terrains. The participants also had a first-hand experience of bamboo modeling of structures as part of the design exercises. They also learned how to use nature as inspiration for the permaculture design process, as well as discover how to apply the Permaculture Assessment Approach.
We are thrilled that our staff and Cebu partner farmers got the opportunity to learn more about permaculture farm design and apply these practices within their own farm!
Here are two of the most important quotes and reflections shared by Harry:
1. Plan, Plan, Plan, and Plant.
2. Permaculture for me serves as the backbone of regenerative, sustainable agriculture tools and systems. It is beyond systems thinking, farm designing, implementation, etc. It requires a conscious daily activity of reflecting about how our actions affect nature and ecosystems. It is about re-aligning and re-designing our choices and lifestyle so that they are harmony with what nature generously gives and provides to us.
As permaculture systems are inherently about developing sustainable and self-sufficient agricultural eco-systems. Our hope is that by learning permaculture, our farmers will gain a deeper appreciation for the symbiotic relationship between humans and nature. We also hope that by learning to design spaces according to nature’s patterns, our farmers will be able to develop farms that are resilient to climate change and disasters.
We believe that permaculture practices will help us achieve our vision of “hunger-free and healthy communities with access to sustainable, farmer-produced seeds and food”. We also believe that the path towards food sovereignty must include farming practices that work coincide with the earth in the most sustainable and holistic way.
See more photos taken during the Permaculture Design Course