While substantial steps to promote gender equality in our country have been taken with the enactment of the Magna Carta of Women in 2009, gender gaps remain in other industries like agriculture.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, 8.31 million men and 2.76 million ladies in 2016 were employed in agriculture. Men were also paid P17.45 higher than women. Yet these data are not enough to reflect the important roles that women play in agriculture.

“There are many undocumented labor practices. While women play major roles in food production, their contributions in the social and entrepreneurial aspects of agriculture are worth noting and must also be highlighted,” asserts Dr. Diadem G. Esmero, DA-PhilRice Gender and Development focal person.

She adds that women usually manage the budget for the farm, prepare meals for the family, market their produce, and largely consulted by their husbands in the decision-making for their farm activities.

Esmero also recognizes that DA-PhilRice has taken big strides in promoting gender and development (GAD) by providing capacity-enhancement initiatives to its GAD focal point persons and key officials. In 2018, the Institute achieved a Level 3 standing in the Gender Mainstreaming Evaluation Framework certifying that GAD is applied in its operations. Efforts on GAD mainstreaming were also integrated in DA-PhilRice’s 77 projects in 2019 and 2020.

“As we continue to strengthen our GAD Focal Point System, we envision our Institute to be fully gender-responsive in terms of capacity development, enabling mechanisms, policies, programs and projects to attain social inclusiveness,” Esmero explains.

As women continue to navigate the world of agriculture, some have found their space and we are highlighting their narratives in the hope that the sector will continue to recognize their invaluable contributions.

From farmer to manager

When Rosario “Rose” C. Clemente left her job in Metro Manila in 2002 to settle in her husband’s hometown in Oriental Mindoro, she found that her husband’s farm was being rented by a local for rice production.

Her curiosity in farming led her to become a business partner and was in-charge of the financial aspect. The former social worker calls herself a ‘late-bloomer’, but this did not stop her from becoming a farmer and manager of their farm.

“When one of my kids was about to go to college, I asked my business partner if I could manage our land solely. At first, I saw the farm as an investment until my work became my advocacy,” she shares. Rose would regularly monitor the farm and create a cropping schedule. She also enrolled herself in various training courses to improve her farming skills. One of her proudest moments was when she harvested 10t/ha.

“Before Youtube and Facebook, I didn’t have a mentor, so I had to learn everything on my own. Eventually, I was a constant figure in training courses and met some of the veteran farmers who guided me,” the 63-year-old farmer says.

The mother of four is also active on social media, citing DA-PhilRice’s Palaywakin ang Galing campaign as one of her sources of information on the PalayCheck System.

Soon enough, she learned that not all income could be derived from production alone. Her 8-ha farm caught the attention of seed growers who convinced her to join another training. She was one of the only three women farmers who participated.

“I decided to elevate myself and become a seed grower in 2019. First, it was for monetary considerations since seeds are expensive. Second, I also considered it as a personal achievement in my agricultural journey,” Rose shares.

By 2020, Rose also became a farm school owner and started training farmers under the RCEF Extension Program. She has trained 300 farmers thus far.

One of her children has also joined a training for seed growers. She knows that eventually, someone from their family will have to take over her work. For Rose, women’s known characteristics such as patience, organizational skills, and compassion are some of the strengths that they could use in carving their own path in agriculture. The sector has been financially rewarding for her, proving that yes, there’s money in agriculture. “I believe that there is a very big space for women in agriculture. All we need to do is find where we could fit in,” she advises.

Partners in prime

Frianina V. Resplandor and Viola Fern U. Sebastian abandoned the concrete ecosystem of Makati City in 2017 when they saw potential in developing a 10-ha farm owned by Sebastian’s family in Guimba, Nueva Ecija.

To say that it was challenging is an understatement given that career-wise, the long-time couple’s work was not directly related to agriculture. Fern was an interior designer while Nina was in the management consultancy business. Like any budding farmer, they also enrolled in various training courses to learn more about rice farming.

“Fern already had a vision of what we wanted for the farm so when we were attending all these training courses, we were also building it gradually and transforming it into a farm school,” Nina starts an exposé.

Fern and Nina, now in their fifties, also participated in the Rice Specialists’ Training Course (RSTC) under the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) Extension Program early this year. They describe it as ‘rigid’ but the ‘best training’ they ever had.

Myriad Farms was accredited by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) in 2020. At the start, the former urbanites had doubts if they could manage the trainings. After all, the farmers are way ahead of them as far as experience is concerned.

“I would always tell them not to look at me as a teacher but rather a friend so we can learn together,” Nina discloses.

Their approach was to cascade what they learned from their training at DA-PhilRice and enhance the knowledge of farmers without compromising what they already know.

“Surprisingly, the reception among the farmers was very good and they eagerly joined our hands-on and practical applications. They would even ask us to buy Leaf Color Chart, [a tool to assess the nitrogen status of the rice crop using a 4-colored “ruler” for leaf color comparison] and Minus-One-Element Technique kit [a soil nutrient diagnostic technology done through a pot experiment] from DA-PhilRice,” Nina goes on.

“I think one of the factors is they see that we practice what we teach. There’s this notion that because we’re owners of the farm, we can’t do the dirty work. We have inspired, especially our women participants, to do the work,” Fern recounts.

More than 400 farmers have graduated from the three batches of RCEF-Farmer Field School they had conducted at the farm. They’ve also noticed that more and more women are getting interested to venture in farming as they saw an increase of women-enrollees. In their latest batch of graduates for instance, half of the participants were women ranging from 20 to 30 years old.

“We have a lot of friends who are women-farmers and they take pride in their profession. I think we are more aggressive when it comes to decision-making and risk takers in entrepreneurial ventures,” Nina calculates.

Their advice to fellow women? “Learn! Continue to learn. Attend the training courses/programs. It’s free anyway!” Fern exclaims with conviction.

“Don’t wait for the retirement. If you want to venture in agriculture, now is the right time,” Nina wraps it up.

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Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) is a government corporate entity attached to the Department of Agriculture created through Executive Order 1061 on 5 November 1985 (as amended) to help develop high-yielding and cost-reducing technologies so farmers can produce enough rice for all Filipinos.

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Philippine Rice Research Institute