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September 3, 2008

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Hunger Now Worse for Cordillera Women

Prepared by Innabuyog Gabriela on its Regional Council Meeting last August 14-15, 2008

"How are we going to feed our children?" This is the question raised by any ordinary mother in the Cordillera region.

In the latest Innabuyog Regional Council Meeting on August 15-16, 2088, hunger was seen looming for ordinary Cordillera women. Done annually, the Regional Council meeting of Innabuyog gathers its leaders from the different provinces and sectors of the Cordillera. They come for updates, analysis and action planning to respond to the violence that hunger brings to ordinary indigenous women in the region.

The urgent issue that the Regional Council discussed is hunger and poverty. Over the years, Cordillera women played a big role in the food assurance of their families and communities - from ensuring the traditional seeds to the planting and harvesting and finding remedies along with their husbands, to ensure food on their family's table and other basic needs like education and health. With hunger and poverty intensified not just in rural but in urban areas, Cordillera women are reaping harder times of searching for food resources. The subsistence agricultural production which used to be sustainable and self-sufficient is taken over by cash economy. Families have to produce the cash needed for commodities and other needs like education and health.

But with the concoction of the economic crisis, imperialist plunder, militarization and even climate change, food and livelihood are becoming scarce in the region. The Cordillera indigenous women are now faced with a greater problem of having to search for alternative ways to provide their families' needs.

Rice cropping and vegetable farming both entail high inputs. Expensive fertilizers and pesticides, high rent of equipment and land, and even an expensive transport of their products leave the Cordilleran peasantry with almost no produce. More over, the flooding of imported vegetables and rice displaced local producers in the region.

Manang Appol explained that rice harvest in her community in Mompolia, Hingyon in Ifugao province used to suffice them for a whole season. But now, what they would keep for their own consumption, they now sell in the market to have the much needed cash. They would sell the nutritious native rice from P50 a kilo or a bit higher (depending on the quality) for NFA rice which they buy for P25.00 a kilo. Supply is limited to 3-5 kilos and a family has to spend almost a day to join the queue. It is a common observation that even professionals are seen joining the long queues in the town centers for the cheaper NFA rice. Commercial rice is sold from P37.00 up.
With the dire need for cash and to be able to cope with the economic crisis, traditional food resources are now grown and gathered for the market.

It is also evident that with today's economic inflation affecting the prices of commodities and services, the Cordillerans are now faced with the challenge to earn even more than what was supposed to be enough. The rising prices of basic commodities and services even push food as the people's lesser priority. In 2007, Cordillera was noted as having one of the highest malnutrition rates in the nation. All over Cordillera, children are noted to lack the necessary nutritional support. Worse, efforts from the government such as feeding and medical programs to the Cordilleran children have proven to be inefficient, unsustainable and only serve as showcase for the government's hunger mitigation program. A common experience of children benefitting from the DEPEDs feeding program is that parents have to shelve an amount to contribute for milk or Milo that will make the vita-meal palatable for the children.

The Innabuyog RC meeting also showed that mining and militarization in areas like Abra, Kalinga and Apayao also contribute to the hunger of Cordillera women and children. The Lepanto mines continue to poison aricultural and food resources in Mankayan, Benguet, Ilocos and Abra. Land and river poisonong, siltation and erosion are seen to happen in areas where mining exploration is being conducted like Baay-Licuan in Abra, in Kalinga and Apayao.

Initially, Innabuyog leaders view the seed and fertilizer subsidy as benefitting more the seed and ferlilizer traders more than the ordinary or poor farmer. Discount coupons are not available to all poor farmers and so far the Department of Agriculture has indicated a limit on the supply that is discounted. The leaders believe that the market-driven support will hardly be sustained by the poor farmers. It will also be a source of corruption in government. Ultimately, the winner will be the agricultural supply business.

The trend of militarization in areas applied for mining projects often results to the residents' economic dislocation and even out- migration.

Unemployment strikes women and unemployed graduates even resort to working in pubs and bars in the town centers. Innabuyog through support institutions like the Cordillera Women's Education Action Research Center (CWEARC) will monitor and hold action research discussions on the prevailing hunger and povery of indigenous women in the Cordillera.

The indigenous women leaders expressed the current status of their already degenerating livelihood. Fortunately, even with the worsening crisis, Innabuyog provides the Cordillera women not just the sisterhood, but the drive for these women to struggle. As the crisis worsens, more indigenous women gather together in hopes of finding solutions to these problems and confronting the large companies and the state which victimized them and reduced them to this state. More and more women organizations from the local communities of Cordillera join Innabuyog. From mothers to daughters and elders to the women youth, these women organizations will unite. The support of Innabuyog-GABRIELA to these organizations and vice versa will continue to strengthen for the assertion of the indigenous women's rights to land, life and food sovereignity. #

Published with financial contribution from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation
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