The following quotations are taken from:
Silvia Federici, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle, pp. 124-148. PM Press 2012.
“Despite a systematic attempt by colonial powers to destroy female systems of farming, across the planet, women today constitute the bulk of agricultural workers and are in the forefront of the struggle for a noncapitalist use of natural resources (land, forests, waters). Defending subsistence agriculture, communal access to land, and opposing land expropriation, women internationally are building the way to a new nonexploitative society, one in which the threat of famines and ecological devastation will be dispelled.
How can we ever get out of poverty if we can’t get a piece of land to work? If we had land to plant, we wouldn’t need to get food sent to us all the way from the United States. No. We’d have our own. But as long as the government refuses to give us the land and other resources we need, we’ll continue to have foreigners running our country. –Elvia Alvarado” 126
“We should recognize that the persistence of subsistence farming is an astounding fact considering that capitalist development has been premised on the separation of agricultural producers, women in particular, from the land. It can only be explained on the basis of a tremendous struggle women have made to resist the commercialization of agriculture.
Evidence for this struggle is found throughout the history of colonization, from the Andes to Africa. In response to land expropriation by the Spaniards (assisted by local chiefs), women in Mexico and Peru in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries ran to the mountains, rallied the population to resist the foreign invaders, and became the staunchest defenders of the old cultures and religions, which were centered on the worship of nature-gods. Later, in the nineteenth century, in Africa and Asia, women defended the traditional female farming systems from the systematic attempts that the European colonialists made to dismantle them and to redefine agricultural work as a male job.” 128
“There were many similar struggles, in the 1940s and 1950s, throughout Africa, by women resisting the introduction of cash crops and the extra work it imposed on them, which took them away from their subsistence farming. The power of women’s subsistence farming, from the viewpoint of the survival of the colonized communities, can be seen from the contribution it made to the anticolonial struggle, in particular to the maintenance of liberation fighters in the bush (e.g. in Algeria, Kenya, and Mozambique). In the postindependence period as well, women fought against being recruited in agricultural development projects as unpaid ‘helpers’ of their husbands. The best example of this resistance is the intense struggle they made in the Senegambia against cooperation in the commercial cultivation of rice crops, which came at the expense of their subsistence food production.
It is because of these struggles—which are now recognized as the main reason for the filure of the agricultural development projets of the 1960s and 1970s—that a sizable subsistence sector has survived in many regions of the world, despite the commitment of pre- and postindependence governments to ‘economic development’ along capitalist lines.” 129-130
“What these different perspectives ignore is the strategic importance that access to land has had for women and their communities, despite the ability of companies and governments to use it at times for their own ends. An anaology can be made here with the situation that prevailed in some islands of the Caribbean (for example, Jamaica) during slavery, when plantation owners gave the slaves plots of land (‘provision grounds’) to cultivate for their own support. The owners took this measure to save on their food imports and reduce the cost of reproducing their workers. But this strategy had advantages for the slaves as well, giving them a higher degree of mobility and independence such that—according to some historians—even before emancipation, in some islands, a proto-peasantry had formed with a remarkable degree of freedom of movement, already deriving some income from the sale of its own products.
Extending this analogy to illustrate the postcolonial capitalist use of subsistence labor we can say that subsistence agriculture has been an important means of support for billions of workers, giving wage laborers the possibility to contract better conditions of work and survive labor strikes and political protests, so that in several countries the sage sector has acquired an importance disproportionate to its small numerical size.
The ‘village’—a metaphor for subsistence farming in a communal setting—has also been a crucial site for women’s struggle, providing a base from which to reclaim the wealth the state and capital was removing from it. It is a struggle that has taken many forms, often as much directed against men as against governments, but always strengthened by the fact that women had direct access to land and, in this way, they could support themselves and their children and gain some extra cash through the sale of their surplus product. Thus, even after they became urbanized, women continued to cultivate any patch of land they could gain access to, in order to feed their families and maintain a certain degree of autonomy from the market.” 131
“The World Bank has made the destruction of subsistence agriculture and the promotion of land commercialization the centerpiece of its ubiquitous structural adjustment programs. In the late 1980s and 1990s, not only has land been fenced off, but ‘cheap’ (i.e. subsidized) imported food from Europe and North America has flooded the now liberalized economies of Africa and Asia (which are not allowed to subsidize their farmers), further displacing women farmers from the local markets. Meanwhile, large tracts of once communal land have been taken over by agribusiness companies and devoted to cultivation for export. Finally, war and famine have terrorized millions into flight from their homeland.” 131-132
“Women have been the main buffer for the world proletariat against starvation under the World Bank’s neoliberal regime. They have been the main opponents of the neoliberal demand that ‘market prices’ determine who should live and who should die, and they are the ones who have provided a practical model for the reproduction of life in a noncommercial way.” 132
“The primary strategy women have adopted to defend their communities from the impact of economic adjustment and dependence on the global market has been the expansion of subsistence farming also in the urban centers.” 132
“To expand food production… women have had to expand their access to land, which the international agencies’ drives to create land markets have jeopardized. In order to have land to farm other women have preferred to remain in the rural area, while most men have migrated, with the result that there has been a ‘feminization of the villages,’ many now consisting of women farming alone or in women’s coops.” 133
“Women’s land struggles have included the defense of communities threatened by commercial housing projects constructed in the name of ‘urban development.’ ‘Housing’ has historically involved the loss of ‘land’ for food production. An example of resistance to this trend is the struggle of women in the Kawaala neighborhood fo Kampala (Uganda) where the World Bank, in conjunction with the Kampala City Council (KCC), in 1992-1993, sponsored a large housing project that would destroy much subsistence farmland around or near people’s homes.” 34
“Two more developments need to be mentioned in conjunction with women’s defense of subsistence production.. First, there has been the formation of regional systems of self-sufficiency aiming to guarantee ‘food security’ and maintain an economy based on solidarity and the refusal of competition.” 135
“Second, across the world, women have been leading the struggle to prevent commercial logging and save or rebuild forests, which are the foundation of people’s subsistence economies, providing nourishment as well as fuel, medicine, and communal relations. Forests, Vandana Shiva writes, echoing testimonies coming from every part of the planet, are ‘the highest expression of earth’s fertility and productivity.’ Thus, when forest come under assault it is a death sentence for the tribal people who live in them, especially the women. Therefore, women do everything to stop the loggers.” 135-136
“Women’s subsistence production counters the trend by agribusiness to reduce cropland—one of the main causes of high food prices and starvation—while also ensuring some control over the quality of the food produced and protecting consumers against the genetic manipulation of corps and poisoning by pesticides. Further, women subsistence production represents a safe way of farming, a crucial consideration at a time when the effects of pesticides on agricultural crops are causing high rates of mortality and disease among the peasants across the world, starting with women. Thus, subsistence farming gives women an essential means of control over their health and the health and lives of their families.
We can also see that subsistence production is contributing to a noncompetitive, solidarity-centered mode of life that is crucial for the building of a new society. It is the seed of what Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen and Maria Mies call the ‘other’ economy, which ‘puts life and everything necessary to produce and maintain life on this planet at the center of economic and social acitvity’ against ‘the never-ending accumulation of dead money.’” 137