Posts Tagged ‘Women’

Mar11

Argan Oil: Too Much of a Good Thing?

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By Carol Dreibelbis

Most people have heard of the health benefits of using olive oil instead of butter or other saturated animal fats. The monounsaturated fats in olive oil have been shown to reduce levels of harmful cholesterol, and as a result nutrition experts have touted it and other aspects of the Mediterranean Diet as heart healthy.

Photo Credit: Jane Alexander

But olive oil isn’t the only celebrated oil from that region of the world. In Morocco, argan oil has been consumed by the Berber people for centuries. Berbers add the deep yellow, toasty-flavored oil to couscous, serve it alongside bread, or eat it on its own. Argan oil has been shown to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, and recent research by France’s Institut Pasteur, Morocco’s Lipoproteins and Atherosclerosis Research Laboratory, and others suggests that it might contribute to the prevention of various cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes.

Beyond the health benefits of consuming argan oil, there are also important environmental benefits associated with its production. The same deep root systems that make argan trees well adapted to heat and frequent drought in southwestern Morocco also protect the land against soil erosion and desertification. Meanwhile, argan trees provide shade and protection for crops or pastureland, presenting opportunities for agroforestry.

Arguably, however, the most noteworthy impact of argan oil production is social. This rare oil has captivated a global audience, primarily because of its use in cosmetics. As a result, market prices have been on the rise (making it the most expensive edible oil in the world), and argan oil producers—largely local Moroccan women—have been reaping the benefits.

Because the process of extracting argan oil is extremely labor intensive (it can take 50 kilograms of seeds to produce just half a liter of oil), the women who produce it by hand are frequently part of production co-operatives, such as the UCFA (Union des Cooperatives des Femmes de l’Arganeraie). Founded in 1999, this innovative co-operative produces and markets argan oil and is supported by the Moroccan government as both a conservation and development strategy. Today, the UCFA unites 22 smaller women’s co-operatives. The women who make up these groups gain status, a steady income, and, in some cases, an education through their work.

Yet the argan oil boom has been a double-edged sword. Argan trees and the area in which they grow are threatened by overuse and deforestation. A study by the University of California, Davis finds that “the boom has predictably made households vigilant guardians of fruit on the tree, but it has not incited investments in longer term tree and forest health.” While the development of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Morocco is a step in the right direction, it will be both economically and environmentally critical for the same non-governmental groups, development agencies, and government offices that supported argan oil production in the first place to keep sustainability in mind.

Carol Dreibelbis is a research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet Project.

 

Jan22

An Interview with Ela R. Bhatt, Founder of the Self Employed Women’s Association in India

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In September 2012, Nourishing the Planet’s Carol Dreibelbis spoke with Ela R. Bhatt, founder of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India. SEWA is a national trade union that helps women working in informal sectors, like agriculture or childcare, gain the same rights, securities, and self-reliance as those who are formally employed. Ms. Bhatt, a Gandhian practitioner of non-violence and self-reliance, has dedicated her life to improving the lives of India’s poorest and most oppressed women workers.

Ela R. Bhatt (Photo credit: Mihir Bhatt)

In addition to founding SEWA, Ms. Bhatt is the founder of India’s first women’s bank, the Cooperative Bank of SEWA, and one of the founders of Women’s World Banking, a global microfinance organization that works to economically empower women. She served in the Indian Parliament from 1986 to 1989, and is a member of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders who work together for peace and human rights, among many other roles.

You gave a speech to the United Nations Development Programme in 2011 on your “100 Mile Principle”; since then, you completed field testing on the Principle. Can you explain what it is? 

The 100 Mile Principle urges us to meet life’s basic needs with goods and services that are produced no more than 100 miles from where we live. This includes food, shelter, clothing, primary education, primary health care, and primary banking.

The 100 Mile Principle ties decentralization, locality, size, and scale to livelihood, suggesting that the materials, energy, and knowledge that one needs to live should come from areas around us. Seed, soil, and water are forms of knowledge that need to be retained locally. Security stems from local innovations, not distant imports. Essentially, the link between humans and nature has to be restored; the link between production and consumption has to be recovered.

The Principle also focuses on the ideas of community and citizenship. I think citizenship has two levels: it is both membership in your community and membership in your nation-state. The social space defined by national citizenship is inadequate, and the nation-state alone can be alienating and coercive without membership in a community. Take food as an example: food has to be grown locally and made locally. When food is exported, the producers have no access to the fruits of their labor.

A community is autonomous when it controls food, clothing, and shelter. Communities lose control when they go beyond the local. When food is exported, when technology is centralized, when shelter depends on some remote housing policy, we lose our freedom as a community. So the 100 Mile Principle guarantees that citizens retain control, inventiveness, and diversity.

Why did you choose a distance of 100 miles?

One simple reason is that you can travel 100 miles and return home by dinner time. But 100 miles does not need to be taken literally—it represents the distance that can provide essential goods and services for a district or state. It could be 200 miles in a desert or hilly region, 50 miles in a dense, produce-rich location, or 10 miles near a town. The distance may also vary for different goods and services: food may come from within a 10-mile radius, but specialized healthcare may require 100 miles or more.

The distance of 100 miles is a starting point for thinking in local terms. Whenever we have used the term “100 miles,” people from all walks of life—students, rural women, economists, academics—have understood the focus on local goods and services.

How did you field test the 100 Mile Principle, and what were some of the most important results?

The field study involved over 100 households in 10 rural villages from Surendranagar and Anand/Kheda districts in Gujarat, a state in Western India. We spoke with households about how they meet their basic needs and how far they would need to travel for primary education, health care, and banking.

The study revealed that rural populations have some amount of control over their food through a combination of growing their own, bartering, community and caste practices, and the Public Distribution System. A great deal of local food production and consumption is already occurring. In the case of clothing, though, most prefer cheaper, easier-to-maintain synthetics and ready-made garments from outside of 100 miles. The study showed that many desire “city-type” homes: this could be achieved with use of local material and local manpower, meeting the 100 Mile Principle and maintaining freedom of choice.

Primary education is available in all of the villages, but there is limited capacity for technical or skill-related education. Very few of the villages have a local trained doctor, meaning residents must travel to the nearest town for health care. Home herbal remedies are still used but are now less favored than medicinal tablets from the village grocer.

How can the 100 Mile Principle help communities deal with some of the most pressing issues they face, such as food security?

Food security cannot be guaranteed by foreign imports. Instead, we encourage local seed banks, owned and run by small and marginal farmers. Local, small-scale warehousing would largely overcome the problem of food scarcity, as well as rampant waste of edible food products due to lack of storage. The possibility of setting up smaller grain storage units owned by and managed by a group of small-scale farmers needs to be explored. There should also be local tool banks so that farmers can borrow these when required.

We also suggest that every primary school at the rural level develop an agricultural training center. Here, young people can learn improved farming techniques, farm-related IT skills, food processing, and on-farm processing. Prompt actions should also be taken to release the mortgaged land of small and marginal farmers. Land is their only source of livelihood.

Many small and marginal farmers can grow enough food for their own needs as well as some surplus to sell. But, for a number of reasons—including increasing cultivation of cash crops instead of food crops, animal pest management problems, and the rapid sale of land for industry—the situation is changing.

To combat hunger and to achieve food security for all, we have to protect ways of life and livelihoods of the farming communities. This is the fundamental policy point. Growing food grains should be a viable and profitable occupation for the farming community. But, broadly speaking, the producer currently gets about 60-70 percent of the price paid in the market, and the balance goes to the middleman or the enterprise that sells the products. Therefore, middlemen should be removed where possible. It is also important to bring down the input costs, including the costs of irrigation, seeds, and fertilizers.

As the founder of the Self Employed Women’s Association, you work to organize women for full employment and self-reliance. What role does the 100 Mile Principle play in women’s success?

After field testing the 100 Mile Principle, I am convinced more than ever that without the active participation of women farmers, hunger cannot be reduced. When the 100 Mile Principle is put into action, productive work opportunities and income will increase, the health of women and girls will increase, infant and maternal mortality will decrease, and housing will improve. In addition, there will be a decline in compulsive migration of youth from villages to cities, increasing local assets. Local farmers will take active interest in crop planning and learning new agricultural skills. Farmers, artisans, and village officials will strengthen their community.

What criticisms has the 100 Mile Principle faced?

We have received a variety of criticisms. Some people consider the Principle to be too theoretical, or irrelevant to urban areas. Others feel that it is inhibiting progress in this era of globalization. And others have suggested that it goes against the ideas of freedom of choice and the power of market forces—particularly competitive advantage.

Despite this criticism, we know through SEWA experience that ideas can be translated into a measurable influence on the lives of people. At the same time, I want to make clear that the Principle is a guide or a philosophy rather than something to be forced on anyone.

What are your plans to continue refining and spreading the 100 Mile Principle?

At some point I would like to carry out fieldwork in other parts of India to gain more data on the Principle. In the meantime, my major aim is to propagate this idea, especially among young people and urban consumers. Some of the findings also have implications for public policy, especially measures that help small-scale farmers and family farms.

There are some policies and government schemes already in place for health care and nutrition, but there is a large communication gap that prevents these policies from being as effective as possible. Control and implementation of these schemes need to be in the hands of local people who are aware of the realities on the ground. I am in the process of putting the field study results in the form of a book.

Now it’s your turn: How important do you think it is to keep basic goods and services on a local scale? Please let us know in the comments below. 

Carol Dreibelbis is a former research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Food and Agriculture Program.

Sep13

The Chase Campaign: Vote Now!

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Help Worldwatch celebrate its women and children month by voting for us to win $10,000—or more!—to empower the women and youth around the world that are helping usher in a sustainable future. CLICK HERE TO VOTE NOW. Voting is only open September 6–19, so be sure to vote today. Please consider using your extra vote to help out our partner organization, Earth Day Network. You can also earn a bonus vote by liking, sharing, or tweeting the website address provided after you vote!

Sep11

Chase Campaign: Empowering Women

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By Devon Ericksen  

As the Worldwatch Institute celebrates women and youth in September, Nourishing the Planet highlights the many ways that women contribute to agriculture all over the world. Women play a crucial role in creating a just and sustainable future, but still face significant barriers around the world. They are underpaid, typically earning about 17 percent less than men, and undereducated, comprising two-thirds of the world’s 776 million illiterate adults. And although women make up over 40 percent of the world’s agricultural workforce, they own less than 15 percent of the world’s farmland. Because women make up such a large part of the agricultural workforce, and yet have significantly less access than men to resources such as education and technology, women’s empowerment must be an important part of future agricultural development policy.

Although women make up over 40 percent of the world’s agricultural workforce, they own less than 15 percent of the world’s farmland (Photo Credit: UNEP)

Our post, “Six Innovations Lifting the World’s Agricultural Workers out of Poverty,” shows that although women often lack access to the same educational and technological opportunities as men, they are just as innovative when it comes to solving problems, such as inventing safer and more efficient technologies that help female farmers.

In August we posted an article by Carolyn Raffensperger, Executive Director of the Science and Information Health Network, previewing the Women’s Congress for Future Generations to be held in September in Moab, Utah. Raffensperger and the Women’s Congress focus on the idea that women have an important role in restoring the ecology of the Earth, and that their voices must be heard in order to do so. From political discourse in the United States to the farms of developing countries, Raffensperger and the Women’s Congress call for a new civil rights movement where women’s voices can speak on behalf of future generations.

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Aug25

A Women’s Congress for Future Generations: Women’s Voices as an Ecological Matter

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By Carolyn Raffensperger, Executive Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network

This blog was originally posted on the Science and Environmental Health Network. Click here to read the original post. 

In almost every field of influence in the United States men hold more positions of power and often by significant percentage points. Women’s voices are silenced in most political spheres. The question is what difference does that make? On occasion I have been told that I should take a back seat to my male counterparts because they are more credible spokespeople on the environment than I am as a woman. If so, then my stepping back is a service to the Earth and future generations. On the other hand, what if I and other women have something to be said that is different than men and what if that voice is necessary in some way for the protection of the Earth?

The Women’s Congress for Future Generations is intended to help restore the ecology of the Earth and culture by restoring women’s voices (Photo Credit: WCFFG)

The emerging field of acoustic ecology has shown that a healthy ecology has a full and complete symphony of sound. A damaged ecosystem has holes and gaps in the vast sonogram. From coral reefs to prairies to forests, healthy ecosystems are full of sound that varies by time of day and season.

Imagine that the health of the political ecology is also be measured by sound. If that is true, we know what is missing: women’s voices. By any indicator women’s voices are missing in media,higher education, science and the environmental movement.

Most of the time the absence of women’s voices is described in political terms like patriarchy, feminism, inequality. But it is also an ecological matter. A woman’s voice in those higher octaves has a different place and function in the cultural landscape. The lullabies, warnings, songs, joys, are different than those of our beloved male friends, family and allies.

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Aug23

Register for the Women’s Congress for Future Generations!

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By Ioulia Fenton

The Women’s Congress for Future Generations (WCFFG) will convene in Moab, Utah on September 27 to 30, 2012. The objective: to make a united stand for future generations. “We seek solidarity with those working for environmental justice, for Climate Justice, for indigenous sovereignty, for the health of women and children, and with those living on the frontlines of the struggle against industrial pollution and climate change,” according to the WCFFG.

The Women’s Congress for Future Generations will convene in Moab, Utah September 27-30, 2012 (Photo Credit: WCFFG)

The Congress is actively seeking women participants of all ages, cultures, colors, and backgrounds. While recognizing the centrality of women as life givers and caretakers to the environmental movement, the congress is also pursuing the input and guidance of men. “Men too have great responsibilities in this journey of protecting the Earth and we invite them to partner with us at this Congress in an unusual way, as Sacred Witnesses. With men acting as sacred partners and observers, they will have a rare opportunity to serve the common good by bearing witness to women fulfilling their responsibilities to Future Generations,” say the organizers.

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Aug23

Innovation of the Week: Scaling up Nutrition

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By Isaac Hopkins

Scale Up Nutrition (SUN), a program of the United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition, is part of a broader effort to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing poverty by 50 percent by 2015. SUN helps various organizations coordinate efforts to combat malnutrition in women and children—particularly malnutrition in children under two years old—by helping to maximize efficiency.

SUN helps various organizations combat malnutrition in women and children (Photo Credit: Martine Perret)

SUN emphasizes two approaches to solving hunger. The first involves immediate, direct intervention for malnourished pregnant women and children via food aid and nutritional supplements—intervention that could be provided by agencies from a local to a national scale. The second approach is broader, and emphasizes food security, access to health care, and other “support structures” such as information distribution and microfinance. The second approach is intended to promote long-term solutions, which are essential to the success of the MDGs.

More than 100 organizations, including Bread for the World and Save the Children, have endorsed SUN since 2010, when the Road Map for Scaling Up Nutrition was released. In the last two years, these organizations have actively worked with governments and organizations, and achieved measurable, long-term reductions in malnutrition. 1,000 Days, a SUN partner organization that launched in 2010, has focused on targeting malnutrition during a critical period of childhood: conception to two years of age. The organization works to inform women and policy makers at every level about the vital importance of appropriate nutrition early in life, and to encourage them to take immediate and appropriate action.

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Aug10

Sowing the Seeds of Knowledge: An Interview with Linda Borghi and Olatunde Johnson

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By Ronica Lu

Organization Info: Friends of the Earth Sierra Leone (FOESL) is an NGO founded in 1988 committed to the preservation and rational use of environmental resources. The ‘Seeds of Knowledge’ farm on the premise hosts a range of agricultural activities. The farm is part of the Appropriate Technology Centre in Freetown, Sierra Leone, which focuses on helping women and girls learn vocational and technical skills to help increase their incomes, independence, and knowledge base. The Small-Plot Intensive (SPIN) farming system was first implemented on the FOESL farm in early 2011. FOESL and the farm are funded through membership fees, subscriptions, and fundraising activities.

Small plot intensive farming in action (Photo Credit: Wally Satzewich)

Name, Affiliation, and Bio: Olatunde Johnson is the Executive Director of FOESL and Lead Educator at its Seeds of Knowledge Farm. He is a leading environmentalist in West Africa. In addition to leading the agricultural program for the center he campaigns for water, food sovereignty, forests, climate and energy justice, gender, children, and waste management projects at the local, national, and international levels.

Linda Borghi is lead consultant for SPIN farming operations at FOESL. She is a farmer who has dedicated her life to SPIN-farming and biodynamics. She began farming in 1988, establishing Abundant Life Farm in New York. In 2009, Linda spoke at the United Nations conference entitled, “Food, Famine and the Future of Food Technology.”  She currently gives talks and workshops on Biodynamic SPIN-Farming and with groups in Uganda, Nigeria, and Guatemala, in addition to Sierra Leone, to implement SPIN farming.

What is the approximate acreage or area you get to work with at the farm?

Olatunde: The area that we have dedicated to the farm is a total of 26 acres of land located in Samuel Town, Waterloo, just outside Freetown.

Linda: The farm is brand new and just six months old. We have almost a total of 400 people working on the farm during different days and times throughout the year, and our on-site compost pile has just started as well.

Can you explain SPIN farming and what types of plants and foods do you grow out of SPIN farming on the premises?

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Jun27

Nourishing the Planet TV: Looking to Women to Chart a New Course for Environmental Conservation

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In this week’s episode, Nourishing the Planet discusses how New Course is connecting on-the-ground conservation efforts with funders to ensure women farmers are involved in environmental conservation.

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIGs1bG103k

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

Jun22

Rio+20 and the Role of Nigerian Women in Sustainable Development

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Today, Daily Times Nigeria published an op-ed co-written by Jill Sheffield, president of Women Deliver, and Danielle Nierenberg, director of the Nourishing the Planet project at the Worldwatch Institute.

The article focuses on women in Nigeria and their role in sustainable development. The piece highlights the need for women’s rights to be a core issue at Rio+20, a conference marking the twentieth anniversary of the first Earth Summit in Rio. In Nigeria, one-third of women have an unmet need for contraception, and nearly 80 percent of Nigerian farmers are women. Recognizing the important role of women as food producers, business owners, care givers, and mothers is key to creating a sustainable future for all.

Click here to read the full article.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one-minute book trailer, click HERE.