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Women sow seeds for Brazil's future

Flying the flag for GM-free farming swissinfo.ch

Swiss delegates attending the World Social Forum have been witnessing the fight against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Brazil.

This content was published on January 27, 2005 - 10:43

Local chapters of the Women Farmers Movement are locked in a struggle for agricultural practices that respect the environment and are GM-free.

Luciana Passinato Piovesan, a member of the movement’s national executive, doesn’t mince her words when asked to describe the situation facing women in her country.

“In a system as capitalist as it is macho, we are oppressed on two fronts: as women and as workers,” she says.

Like all her colleagues, this young mother of two believes that women are by nature “better suited to address fundamental questions, such as sustaining life and protecting nature”.

And she is not the only one with this view. The women who make up the various chapters of the Women Farmers Movement – active in 15 of Brazil’s 27 states – all describe themselves as feminists, farmers and ecologists.

Since its creation ten years ago, the movement has scored a number of notable successes, such as the introduction of maternity and retirement benefits for women.

Dense vegetation

To see what these women are trying to achieve, the Swiss delegates travelled 200 kilometres north of Porto Alegre to Três Cachoeiras.

This region is bordered to the east by a lagoon opening on to the Atlantic, and to the west by a chain of small hills covered in dense vegetation.

In ten villages, the movement has mobilised 30 groups of women, who are equally at ease with farming as they are with education and health, which is maintained in these parts by medicinal plants.

Gathered from the hills or from gardens, the plants are steeped in cachaça (sugar-cane alcohol) to make lotions and ointments.

This group of “little witches” – as they call themselves – take pride in their secret recipes, which they pass on by word of mouth.

Thanks to the movement’s community spirit, these remedies are not sold, but handed out freely to those who need them.

No GMOs

The Women Farmers Movement is politically active, opposing government plans to introduce GMOs.

The debate over GMOs has been raging in Brazil, to the point where the issue will be a central theme for floats during the upcoming carnival season.

The government of president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has given provisional authorisation for the planting of transgenic soya.

But critics say this has been going on for the past six years in the state of Porto Alegre, with seed imported secretly from Argentina.

The stakes are high: soya, which is in huge demand as fodder for cattle, represents 13 per cent of the country’s exports, bringing in $8 billion (SFr9.56 billion) a year.

It is estimated that a quarter of this amount is genetically modified.

Opposition

Opposition to GMOs is fierce. Even members of Lula’s own party have joined the Greens to fight the move.

For the women accompanying the Swiss delegation, one thing is clear: GMOs will not be grown on their land.

On their home turf, the women take pride in their 100 per cent organic banana plantations.

“It makes me happy to see that what they are doing here is exactly what we are fighting for in Switzerland,” says Green Party parliamentarian Ferdnand Cuche.

“This is a perfect example of how to think globally and act locally,” adds Rosemarie Bär of the Swiss coalition of development organisations.

swissinfo, Marc-André Miserez in Três Cachoeiras

In brief

The Women Farmers Movement is fighting for equality and better working conditions.

They want to promote agriculture that respects the environment, is GMO-free, produces healthy food and provides traditional remedies.

The movement is active in 15 of Brazil’s 27 states, and is establishing a presence in three more.

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