Women in Agriculture in Fiji

Farmers, a suburb of Nadi, Fiji

(Read in Japanese)

It is a common understanding that official statistics on women in agriculture do not reflect the reality on the ground across countries. Government statistics count ‘registered’ ones under certain criteria, which usually represented by men in patriarchal societies. While it shows smaller number of women appearing at official level, it is blind to women engaging in smaller scale agriculture and women’s multiple roles played in on and off farm practices.

Official statistics indicate that 96 percent of farmers are men, based on the official definition, which refers to farms of at least 50 square meters in size. While women comprise only 4 percent of farmers, they make up 19 percent of paid farm labourers and 29 percent of unpaid farm labourers.

This was mentioned in the ‘Post-Disaster Needs Assessment Tropical Cyclone Evan, 17 December 2012 (Government of Fiji, March 2013)’. Agriculture sector was the hardest hit among other industries.

‘19 percent of paid farm labourers and 29 percent of unpaid farm labourers’ still sounds underestimating what women actually do in agriculture.

The Government of Fiji recognised women’s roles and contributions to agriculture in its periodic report to CEDAW submitted in 2012:

Rural women are the major subsistence and semi subsistence agricultural producers. They grow food crops for the market where they sell their surplus produce. A survey conducted in the Sigatoka valley for the Fourth Fiji Islands Road Upgrading project found that Fijian women do more routine agricultural work than men; their workloads included subsistence cultivation and market gardening.

This is some snapshots of women engaging in agriculture in Fiji.

Groups of women engaging in agriculture

I met groups of women engaging in agriculture in rural and the suburbs in Fiji. Some of them have been producing various kinds of root crops and vegetables and others just started their farming venture in their villages.

Suburbs of Nadi Town

We are farmers. We will continue farming. If cyclones destroy our crops, we clear the land and plant again.

The tropical cyclone Evan hit Fiji in December in 2012. Western part of Fiji was hardest hit. Crops were devastated. Not only the crops but also houses had to be repaired. I visited the women’s groups at their farms in the suburbs of Nadi in April 2013, around four month later the cyclone. They have been working to recover the farms since right after. Corns, eggplants, chilies, taros and more were growing on their farms. Those are sold at the local and Nadi market. Some groups till the land of their communities, others lease the land from other villages.

Picture1

Yasawa Island

Village women’s groups in Yasawa Island decided to venture growing vegetables. It is a new attempt for them.

Nursery

Nursery

Women’s groups from different villages participated in a workshop held in one of the villages and learnt about land and nursery management from the staff of the Ministry of Agriculture. Before the workshop, women cleared the land for demonstration of good practice provided by the trainers from the Ministry during the workshop. They built a nursery, tilled the land and planted seeds of tomato, eggplant and other vegetables.

“People used to think that agriculture is men’s job. We are now challenged to show that women can farm, too.”

Their vegetables will feed their communities and the market. It is expected that food and savings from their farming will create a buffer in case of emergency in cyclone season.

Picture3

Qoma Island

The village on Qoma Island produces fish and other sea foods as well as crops both for the market and their consumption. Women are active in fishing.

“Women do go fishing by boat with male family members.” Some women in Qoma Island start fishing when they are as young as the age of ten and continue until older age. Children can feed their family with fish they catch. Grand mothers go to the sea with their sons. They use nets and spires.

The village grows cassava, taro, maze and other crops on the slopes of the island. “Agriculture is more men’s job”, a woman said.

making a mat with pandanus leaves (left), drying pandanus leaves (right)

making a mat with pandanus leaves (left), drying pandanus leaves (right)

Playing roles and making decisions

Women play a very important role in the development and progress of their respective communities and the nation as a whole. They are at the forefront of raising funds for various community needs ranging from educational (for their children) to church activities and other livelihood projects. (Fiji Government report to CEDAW in 2012)

While women do play an important role in agriculture and their contributions to their livelihoods and industry are becoming more recognised, making their voices heard in decision making remains a challenge.

Women in rural areas are further disadvantaged when it comes to representation in decision making bodies. … In all ethnic groups, men are the leaders and they are the decision makers. This is reflected in the membership of these development councils (local government bodies – added) throughout Fiji. (Fiji Government report to CEDAW in 2012)

Some said village women’s groups are more active in economic activities for supporting their livelihoods.  It is difficult for women in to talk about women’s rights and challenge the traditional gender role because patriarchal culture is strong in the villages.

Women’s groups are formed within the village system. Women who actively participated in the workshop on farming are pushing the boundary of traditional gender role.

In Qoma island, too, the women’s group is one of the voluntary groups in which almost all villagers are involved. The groups are represented by their members  at the village meetings. They present their agendas to the village leader who is usually a male member. They discuss how the village addresses their needs and the leader makes decisions.

w farmers group

Endeavoring in new areas, such as agriculture, which used to be dominated by men, will make a change in traditional gender roles. Women’s new ideas, actions even small ones, even it may not directly advocate for women’s rights, will make a change towards equal status of women in society – the seeds women planted are growing!

Preparing for a breakfast, Yasawa Island

Preparing for a breakfast, Yasawa Island

Map of Fiji (Nadi, Yasawa Island and Qoma Island)

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