From The Field To Our Hands: The Road To Food Sovereignty

Illustration: Katt Aguirre

For people fighting for food sovereignty, distribution is a challenge that promotes networking and articulation and an opportunity to market in a fair trade framework, without the intermediation of the agro-industrial system. How do women and LGBTIQ+ people intervene?

The routine of Solbei Villamizar (Venezuela, thirty-nine years old) and her fourteen-year-old son is the same every Saturday. She starts the motorcycle before 7:00 a.m., mounts two baskets on the two-wheeled vehicle, arranges bags, bags, bags in her hands, between her and her son, in the free spaces, where they fit, and they start riding.

She travels two and a half kilometers on her motorcycle, the distance between her house and the market, to sell the crops she grows at home. Sometimes she makes one trip, sometimes two, and every eight days she collects between ten and eight dollars, which represents an extra income that helps his family.

Solbei is not only an agro-producer – in her house she has her own land where she grows beans and cilantro, among others – but she is also a marketer of her work, in charge of distributing her harvest. With her motorcycle, her son and her baskets, she takes care of this fundamental link in the production chain that, in other corners of the region and even in her country, is done in different ways.

Solbei’s challenges in Venezuela are similar to those faced by the four agroecological projects we interviewed for this research. In Mexico, Ecuador, Peru and Argentina, there are particular challenges according to the characteristics of their organizations.

In Ecuador, Eduardo Flor is the administrative coordinator of the company AgroAzuay, which produces and markets agroecological legumes, vegetables and fruits. He is in charge of marketing what is offered by the producers he works with. He does it with a large truck that has its own music. To the rhythm of «neighbor, neighbor, I come to offer you these products of Azuay», he sells baskets of vegetables, vegetables, trout, milk and bread.

In Peru, Rodrigo Montañez, entrepreneur of Paccha Natural, a family business of honey and carob; has a virtual distribution system, through Instagram and Whatsapp, where he coordinates with his buyer the delivery. The same system had been used by Aremi Chan Jiménez, a Mexican agroproducer, and Daniela Mussali, one of the managers of «Cultiva: Alternativas de Regeneración», until they decided to collaborate with a marketing platform to increase their sales.

In Argentina, the Unión de Trabajadores de la Tierra (UTT) has its own marketing company that works with trucks contracted to people outside the association to deliver the products to the delivery points distributed throughout the country. These trucks are usually run informally, without papers and with macho codes from the past, as they believe that women are not capable of doing physical labor or driving vehicles.

The role of women in distribution

One thing that the people interviewed in each country agree on is that distribution work is largely masculinized. The logistics and distribution of merchandise in the production chain is in the hands of men and does not involve women or people from the LGBTIQ+ community.

This is not to say that they have no role in the commercialization process. They also participate in the process and are, in fact, an important force in getting the products to their destination.

-We know of a woman who already wants to leave that house and wants to take her children with her, but she cannot because she has no land, no money… So we want to make it possible for them, if they want to, to have the independence to obtain their own income and not depend on their children or husbands. That is what we are pursuing as the economic objective of a women’s community business, explains Daniela Mussali.

Women are the ones in charge of agricultural activities, says Alessandra Silva, Peruvian agronomist and spokesperson for the Observatory of Water, Agroecology and Food Sovereignty Qawarisun, for this research:

-The fact that families, especially women, and even the LGBTIQ+ population can be empowered is important. Those who stay in the field are women, so there is a very interesting process that is happening.

According to the Cuadernillo para la formación de promotoras y promotores de la alimentación sana de Argentina, written by Gloria Sammartino for the Universidad Autónoma de Buenos Aires, in 2021, «women are the protagonists of food resistance and are part of the mobilization or activism around food as a right», but it is also women who are, for example, in direct sales points.

-Those who are on the floor unloading, assembling the bags and delivering the orders at the collection centers are women,» says Silvia Dibiau.

She also adds that in Argentina there are people from the LGBTIQ+ community working in the Union of Land Workers, especially after the transvestite-trans labor quota law. Perhaps this opens a panorama in the future for women and people of sexual diversity to be incorporated in distribution activities and not only in agricultural activities.

Challenges faced during the distribution process

Some of the biggest challenges for the commercialization of agroecological products are access to telecommunications, the weather factor and centralization in each country. According to the roadmap of Peru’s Ministry of Agrarian Development and Irrigation (MIDAGRI), prepared in September 2021 in the framework of the Food Systems Summit, (local markets) «face a weak infrastructure for transportation, storage and cold chains».

Because not only do they have to compete with the large food processing industry, but also, being local products, they need to be distributed quickly so that they retain their freshness and nutritional properties. Without a solid storage and transportation infrastructure, the task becomes more difficult.

The booklet for the training of promoters of healthy food agrees: «that the food is moved from the place where it was produced to the consumer, without intermediaries, lowers prices and enhances food sovereignty, but for that it is necessary to have time, transportation and adequate roads». However, this is something that not all producers have.

The economic and political context of each region determines the problems of infrastructure and resources. In Venezuela, an important factor is the increase in the price of products due to a fuel crisis. The president of the Venezuelan Confederation of Agricultural Producers’ Associations (FEDEAGRO), Celso Fantinel, reported to the Venezuelan Observatory of Food Security and Nutrition that «the value of products is considerably affected during the distribution chain due to gasoline and diesel oil failures, because producers must buy them on the black market from 1 dollar per liter».

Very rarely do people stop to think about all the elements involved in getting an agro-ecological product from the field into our hands. Therefore, it is urgent to recognize that the process does not end the moment a vegetable sprouts, but becomes more complex with all the aspects involved in transporting it and keeping it fresh.

Alliances that support commercialization

The lack of financing, support from government institutions and technical assistance is also a serious problem. There are programs of various agencies that, at the same time, have to attend to other problems of public interest, which prevents a real focus on food security and sovereignty in each country.

In Mexico, during the six-year term of President José López Portillo (1976-1982), one of the most serious attempts was made to guarantee decent food for the population. According to the analysis Las políticas alimentarias de México, written by López Salazar and Gallardo García in 2015, «during that administration the Mexican Food System (SAM) was established with the purpose of promoting food self-sufficiency».

In Ecuador, despite the fact that the Organic Law of the Food Sovereignty Regime establishes that «it will implement a special program for the reactivation of agriculture focused on territorial jurisdictions with lower human development indexes; it will progressively encourage investment in productive infrastructure: product collection and transformation centers, local roads», this is little or not at all fulfilled.

This is why the farmers have diversified the ways to market the product and, in addition, create alliances that favor them for the distribution process.

Traspatio Maya, in Mexico, is a market access brand for agrodiverse producers that focuses on 72 locations in the three states of the Peninsula: Yucatán, Campeche and Quintana Roo. Mariana Poo Mayo, General Director of the project, tells us that they have a program that directly links clients with producers.

Ask for #PideTuHuacal consists of obtaining a membership in the program so that every Monday, for twenty continuous weeks, the producer groups supply the huacales or crates with fresh seasonal food. The producers secure an income and once again see agriculture as sustainable. But consumers also receive good quality products, without industrial processes.

These joint actions seek to make visible what is behind a sustainable product and defend a consistent and social model of agriculture that, through the community, confronts the neoliberal system and results in a whole chain that impacts the world we live in.

A municipality of agro-producers

In Colonia Tovar, Aragua State, Venezuela, people live from farming. There are more than twenty thousand people dedicated to agricultural activity and its economic activation is generated from the distribution of the same.

Keren Romero, a distributor and seller of agricultural crops, started her business during the sanitary crisis due to COVID-19 in 2020. Twice a week, she takes her crops in her car and with her 4-month-old baby, she travels approximately sixty kilometers to Caracas.

At first, she distributed vegetables and fruits from the family garden, but little by little, and with effort, it has become a formal business. Now she is in charge of carrying not only her own products, but also those of neighbors and relatives.

Like Keren, other farmers in Tovar load their produce into vehicles and, like them, farmers in Latin America face daily challenges ranging from the weather, bad roads and rising gasoline prices.

Distribution is the path that peasants and farmers are building towards the fundamental transformation of our food system. It is the resistance to decades of corporate control and free market fundamentalism.

It is the way to demonstrate that it is possible to feed the world through solidarity, cooperation and the defense of peoples, land, territories, seeds and biodiversity.

Reporting & Writing: Laura Rodríguez & Flavia Fiorio  •  Reporting & Transcription: Génesis Indriago Maya & Diandra García  •  Reporting & Curating: Karla Crespo & Vinicio Yunga  •  Editing: Yobaín Vázquez Bailón  •  Coordinator: Nicole Martin

Los rostros de la soberanía alimentaria

En la comunidad de Pinao, en Perú, existen familias que generan ingresos a través de la agricultura, su principal actividad económica. Cultivan maíz, papa, trigo, cebada y otros, que son llevados a ferias y mercados para ser vendidos o hacer trueque.

cooperativa puntos verdes

Cooperativa Puntos Verdes: Agencia de desarrollo humano local

Ubicada en el municipio de Tixméhuac en Yucatán, México, la cooperativa Puntos Verdes tiene como objetivo impulsar una red de comercialización, consumo y producción locales para crear una alianza e intercambio entre los diferentes municipios y comisarías del estado.

This investigation was funded by the Howard G. Buffett Fund for Women Journalists of the International Women’s Media Foundation.

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