Cuba: More Women in the Fields

Patricia Grogg

I don’t regret having changed my job, now I work more, but I feel better on the farm, says Sara Gutiérrez. Jorge Luis Baños - IPS

HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 14 (IPS) — When Sara Gutierrez began working her land, she knew a lot about hairdressing, her first profession, but nothing about agricultural techniques. “The first crops were really bad, until I learned how to get good yields even in difficult conditions,” she said.

In an interview with IPS, Gutierrez recounted proudly how she was one of the first women in Guantánamo, more than 900 kilometers east of Havana, to use Decree-law 259 of 2008 for the distribution of idle state land to people willing to make it produce, as part of the structural and conceptual changes promised by President Raul Castro.

Gutierrez was one of more than 100 Cuban women and about 20 delegates from Nicaragua, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Spain who met for three days to share experiences and discuss their situations at a conference that ended Thursday in Havana, organized to boost the inclusion of a gender approach in rural environments.

The former hairdresser obtained a little more than two-and-a-half hectares of land in the Guantánamo municipality of El Salvador. After her initial failures, she realized that she had to help the land, “which had been very ill-treated,” with organic material. She also learned how to make her own natural fertilizers, and techniques to prevent water from draining and retain humidity.

Later came the courses provided by the Credit and Service Cooperatives (CCS), which every new farmer joins, according to Decree-law 259.

She learned about the secrets of the soil, environmentally-friendly practices and the essence of cooperativism, “which is mutual aid,” she commented ahead of World Food Day, celebrated Oct. 16.

“I and the other cooperative members (104, of which 34 are women) plan to increase the production of fruit trees, because PALMA (Program of Local Support for the Modernization of Agriculture in Cuba) is going to help us set up a micro-industry for processing the fruit,” Gutierrez said.

That program, which receives significant international cooperation, covers five Cuban provinces and 37 municipalities and is aimed at helping to replace imports, increase local food production, improve agricultural management and boost training.

Training and access to resources are decisive for women, who in Cuba now comprise 19.2 percent of all agricultural workers, it was reported during a session to exchange “wisdom and experience” among rural women, organized by the Cuban Association of Animal Production (ACPA).

Gutierrez said she had started with “almost nothing.” Later, one of her children contributed money saved up during his several year stay in Germany, which saved the day.

“We bought a tractor, which we soon sold to acquire what we really needed: a cow, a team of oxen, a plough, a rake, a water tank, a set of machetes, a file and other tools,” she said.

She works on her farm with her husband and her son, who is making use of his agronomy studies, which he never managed to complete. “But I am the owner. We make our decisions together, but I’m in charge,” she said. Recently, she applied for a bank loan to buy other supplies she needed.

She doesn’t regret in the least her change in profession. “Now I work more, that is true. But I feel better in the fields, and besides, we have our food assured and the harvests are good,” she said. Her aspirations are now focused on home improvements and having a good irrigation system, for the dry season.

In order to help increase these types of experiences, Trinidad Sierra, a specialist in human development and coordinator of collaboration projects in Granma, 744 kilometers east of Havana, designed a project for her province for which she hopes to obtain foreign cooperation.

“We need to ensure that women feel like the leaders and the persons responsible for the entire production process, with an ecological approach. If they are not reinforced with knowledge and resources, they will not be able to advance,” she told IPS during a recess at the event, which included lectures and workshops.

In Granma, a province that is described as basically agricultural, 1,039 women applied for land, but not all have received it yet. According to the decree-law, the land is given with usufruct rights for 10 years, which can then be renewed for another 10 years. As of June, 143,000 of 171,000 land applications had been approved.

Sierra noted that more than a few women apply for land that is then managed by their husbands. “That happens when they remain limited to their domestic roles, and when they receive the land there is no follow-up and a lack of the training and resources needed for them to know what they are going to produce, how they will do it, and with what,” she explained.

According to data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) available at the event that ended Thursday, 43 percent of the world’s farmers are women, although they are 20 or 30 percent less productive than men.

FAO reports that the main reason for that difference in yields lies in the fact that men have access to resources that are rarely available to women, such as land, financing and technology, among other factors.

Moreover, women do not benefit equally from advantages such as training, information and knowledge.