Sustainable agriculture: No change without women

“Sometimes we simply don’t realize the dreadful impacts of our actions in other parts of the world,” says Maria Heubuch, a dairy farmer from Germany. Farmers all across the globe are connected by markets and production chains. And yet many of them face similar challenges: to prevail against industrialized farming.

Maria Heubuch is the chair of the farmers’ organization Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft (Association of Family Farmers) promoting sustainable farming. In January 2012, Maria spoke to over 23,000 protestors in Berlin, demanding better agricultural policies in Germany and Europe.

Agro-industry threatens small-scale farmers

Oxfam Germany also participated in the demonstration. We raised awareness for the GROW campaign and launched our new exhibition on the impacts of actions in the North causing hunger and poverty in the South. Together with Maria we campaign for just agricultural policies. Large-scale industrial farmers get immense subsidies in Europe, while small and environmentally friendly farms miss out. The subsidies promote the production of milk and other agricultural products far below producer prices. The effect: since 1992, half of the small and middle sized farms in the first 15 EU countries have had to close down.

The surplus is exported, often to poorer countries in the South. Farmers there cannot compete with dumping prices from Europe. In India 75% of dairy producers are small-scale farmers, many of them women who depend on the income they generate from milking their cows. If local markets are destroyed, thousands of people lose their income source and are drawn into poverty and hunger.

Women transforming farming practices

This needs to change. Women must play a central role in fixing the broken food system.

Maria promotes the transformation of farming practices towards more sustainability. She is especially concerned about the reduction of environmental impacts. Her own farm is a great example: it has a small biogas plant that processes the manure from her 40 cows. It produces four times as much energy as her farm needs. “I think all farmers should consider improving their energy balance by introducing green technology on their farm.”

Maria notes that it has not always been easy for a female farmer to convince others to change their practice. “For women it’s harder,” she says. “But once they have earned respect, they are listened to.” She believes it is crucial to involve women at all levels to advocate for agricultural change.

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International Women's Day 2012

Oxfam's GROW campaign

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