More than 200 women attended the inaugural forum for Samoa’s women farmers, flower growers and agri-business entrepreneurs on Thursday and Friday this week.
The two-day event at Orator Hotel was organized by Samoa Farmers Association (S.F.A.) with the support of the Pacific Island Farmers Organizations Network (P.I.F.O.N.).
It was part of P.I.F.O.N’s region wide programme to highlight and support the role of women in agriculture development in the Pacific.
It is also part of a series of activities by farmer organizations that will lead on to the start of the “Decade for Family Farming” in 2019. “Empowering women for a more vibrant agriculture sector in Samoa” was the forum’s guiding light or theme.
In conjunction with the Pacific Week of Agriculture in Port Villa Vanuatu last year, the farmer organizations of the Pacific Island Farmer Organizations Network (P.I.F.O.N.) conducted an inaugural forum for Pacific Island women farmers and women agricultural entrepreneurs.
More than 50 women farmer groups’ representatives attended the week-long event and among other things agreed on the content of a Pacific Women in Agriculture Declaration which set out the leading issues on the contribution of Pacific women to agriculture development in the region, and more importantly, how the proven potential of that contribution may be unleashed for development.
The Declaration starts off with the reminder “that women farmers and women entrepreneurs are the backbone of the rural economy in most Pacific countries.
That women and the work they do are an example of the complex links between agriculture, food, energy, health and nutrition, and water and sanitation. Also that it is work that is poorly recognized, under-valued, with women’s voices hardly ever heard in the decision making process both at national and regional levels.
Women plant trees and cultivate crops. They raise animals and process farm produce for food both for their families and for markets.
They manage the family unit and the health of its members through the maintenance of its water resources and through healthful living and nutrition. They give birth to new babies and are the first educators, and the first doctors and nurses.
And for all these reasons and many more, meeting women farmers’ needs and finding solutions to the challenges they face in performing these tasks is a development imperative.
Accordingly, the Declaration calls on Pacific governments, on donor organizations and agencies and on all stakeholders with an interest in development and in poverty eradication to in the first instance place value on the role of women farmers and women entrepreneurs in national development, and secondly to put in place the enabling environment for women to realize their full potential.
Just as in industry and commerce, the private sector operators are the drivers of growth, so it is in the primary sector also. It is the individual farmers and individual entrepreneurs and their associations and groups that are the producers of wealth and who put into action government’s plans for development.
Agriculture everywhere is largely affected and influence by environmental factors such as climate and weather and soils and water. And in the best of conditions, these elements still pose challenges in the form of too much rain or not enough rain, too much sun or not enough sun, which in turn influence soil conditions and soil health not to mention the severity of pests and diseases that are part and parcel of the natural environment.
New technology, knowledge and expertise are essential today to overcome the limitations of depending only on the normal regenerative and restorative cycles of nature to deal with these issues. They are also necessities if production is to rise substantially above mere subsistence levels. Climate change is also real in spite of the few crack pots that believe otherwise. It has added to an already challenging situation for farmers.
Yet, farmers’ capacities to deal with these issues are severely limited. It only stands to reason that they must depend in large measure on governments and their development partners to resolve these issues and create more congenial enabling environment.
The same applies to many other missing essential elements in making Pacific farming more competitive such access to finance, availability of supportive infrastructure, accessible and reliable marketing systems, and pro-agriculture government policies on prices, import duties, and local processing.
The forum this week provided the first such opportunity for Samoa’s women farmers and women entrepreneurs to among other things discuss and go over these issues as a group. And they will have drawn strength and encouragement already from the support provided by the attendance at the forum of government leaders and members of the donor community and other stakeholders.
The event was officially opened by Prime Minister Tuilaepa L.S Malielegaoi and attended by several Cabinet ministers including Faimalotoa K Stowers of the M.W.C.S.D., and Lopaoo T Mua of M.A.F.
The Australian High Commissioner, Sara Moriarty also spoke about the role of women in agriculture in Australia. Members of Parliament Gatoloaifaaana A Gidlow, Aliimalemanu Alofa Tuuau and Faaulusau Losa also lent support to the women’s effort as did a number of government ministries including the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Samoa Tourism Authority.
At the wish of the participants, the event will now become a regular feature of the national agenda for empowering women farmers and other primary producers in Samoa.