The power of agroecology: Women harvest autonomy in the fight for their rights

March 3, 2022
Ismenia is a woman leader with the AMOY organization. She has been an activist for nearly 25 years. Credit: María Camila Chaparro/Pact

Ismenia is a woman leader who fights for  environmental sustainability through the promotion of agroecological practices that help households achieve food sovereignty and women build economic autonomy. She is a member of the Association of Organized Women of Yolombó, or AMOY, where she has been an activist for nearly 25 years. What prompted her to join the association was her constant search for freedom and independence, and her concern for her family’s nutrition.

"Growing your own food not only gives you economic autonomy, it gives you everything in life because when you plant you have freedom. That's what agroecology did for us.”

Ismenia, along with the other members of AMOY, has managed to consolidate since 1992 a network of women who care for the environment, grow their own food and have increased their bargaining power in their households. Ismenia dreams of continuing to teach what she knows to others and to gather all her knowledge and the knowldege of her partners in the association in a agroecology practical guide for women’s economic autonomy.

For this reason, the Vamos Tejiendo project, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor and implemented by Pact, has joined AMOY as an ally so that, for the first time in 30 years, this women's organization can materialize its knowledge in a pedagogical guide that will be part of the training program that Vamos Tejiendo uses to engage women who are in the panela value chain in the municipalities of Yolombó and San Roque.

"The idea is that these women can learn things other than planting panela – skills that can be useful for their personal and family life,” Ismenia says.

AMOY members in front of the organization's office. Credit: María Camila Chaparro/Pact

Through AMOY, Vamos Tejiendo expects to train close to 100 women in agroecological practices, environmental protection and improvement of their families' nutrition.

In this way, Vamos Tejiendo helps the women of AMOY to become “multiplier” partners, with their knowledge enabling more women and families to create conditions in which the environment is protected, women's livelihoods are strengthened and, above all, women's economic autonomy is promoted as a guarantee of their rights.

From agroecology to household bargaining power

The municipality of Yolombó is located in the northeast of the Department of Antioquia and is known for its production of sugarcane and coffee. For this reason, the homes of most residents have only monocultures of these products, and the land is owned by men.

The women of AMOY saw potential for change in this practice, motivated by their search for autonomy and freedom.

"At the beginning it was very difficult, because usually the men told us what we should plant,” says Sofía Arroyave, a member of AMOY. “We had to go to town to buy something that we could plant in the gardens, such as tomatoes or onions. We had to negotiate with our husbands so they would let us plant the land."

The women now have multiple vegetable crops such as tomatoes, onions, paprika, lettuce and cabbage, and fruits such as lulo, oranges and pineapple, and aromatic plants such as mint, laurel and oregano. The planting of some species of trees on their farms has made it possible to recover water sources and improve the quality of soils that had been affected by the monoculture of sugarcane and coffee. This diversity of crops has allowed pollinating animals, birds and other species to return to the municipality.

Ismenia has more than 30 species of fruit trees and vegetable crops in her orchard. Credit: María Camila Chaparro/Pact

"My orchard used to be a space where the garbage of the municipality was deposited,” Ismenia says. “I decided to recover it, and thanks to this reforestation, we have squirrels, armadillos and about 120 species of birds that pass through.”

The women of AMOY also raise hens, chickens, pigs, rabbits and more. They use these mainly for their families' consumption and to diversify their household diets. They exchange the surplus with other women in the organization or transform it into value-added products such as curry, pesto, sauces, wine and oils that they can sell in farmers' markets.

Of the money they collect, part is for their family expenses and the other part is for financing the organization. This has allowed them to have autonomy on two levels: at home and with their spouses because they can now make an economic contribution, and socially because they do not receive funding from political parties or religious institutions. This gives them freedom and decision-making power in two realms that have historically been led by men.

Vamos Tejiendo is a project funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, under cooperative agreement number IL-33989-19-75-K. 100% of the total cost of the Project is funded with federal resources totaling $5,000,000. The contents of this material do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Labor. Mention of trade, product, or organizational names does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.