2nd Asian/African Conference of Women Farm Leaders of Agricultural Co-operatives: Tokyo (1997)

This document has been made available in electronic
Format by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
Dec., 1997
(Source: Co-op Dialogue, Vol.7, No.3, Sept-Dec.1997,

2nd Asian/African Conference of Women Farm Leaders
of  Agricultural Co-operatives : Tokyo
The 2nd Asian/African Conference of Women Farm Leaders of
Agricultural Co-operatives was held in Tokyo, Japan, from 5th to
9th November 1997. The conference was organised jointly by the
International Co-op Alliance Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
(ICA ROAP), Afro-Asian Rural Reconstruction Organisation (AARRO),
Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives of Japan (JA-Zenchu), and
the Institute for the Development of Agricultural Co-operation in Asia
Japan (IDACA).

The conference was attended by 43 participants representing 22 countries
and three international organisations.

The conference was organised with the following objectives in view :
* Take stock of the current situation of farm women in agricultural
sector in the Asian and African Regions;
* Identify problem areas facing farm women leaders in setting up
supporting organisations and making them operational in the
service of this group;
* Suggesting ways and means to develop leadership among farm
women through education, training and extension and by other
* Suggesting possible areas in which agricultural co-ops could
provide the needed services/support; and
* Identifying the role of national and international organisations in
promoting further the interests of such a group to enhance their
bargaining power.

The conference took note of some of the obvious and common facts,
i.e. women cannot be admitted to full membership of agricultural
co-operatives; they cannot hold land titles; low representation on boards
of directors or managing committees; high costs for procurement of
raw materials and problems of marketing of their products; high levels
of illiteracy among rural women; lack of access to funds, lower levels
of recognition; lack of awareness on family welfare programmes;
inadequate or weak organisations for women; higher levels of exploitation
and abuse of women; hard labour in farm activities; and higher strain -
social and economic - on them due to the menfolk migrating to cities
leaving women behind to attend to household chores and farm activities.

Agricultural co-operatives of some of the countries, especially those of
Japan, have provided the needed organisational support to rural women
through women's associations, which, through their programmes,
promote better-living activities. 

These associations have developed programmes which are aimed at
providing nutritional foods, care for the aged, grooming of young
brides and girls in the rural areas, generate savings, health care, recreation,
protection of environment, procurement of household supplies through
co-operative network, promoting a good family environment - social and
economic. Such associations are voluntary and operate as autonomous
organisations parallel to the formal structure of agricultural co-ops.
However, their activities are fully supported by the agricultural
co-operatives. Women who account for 60 per cent of the Japanese
farming population are an indispensable force for agricultural production.
Values of self-help, mutual responsibility, equality and equity are held
dear by the co-operative institutions and must, therefore, be held in
common by all co-operators - men and women. It is considered
necessary that all possible efforts are made and proper encouragement
is provided to enhance the skills, productive capacities, status and
dignity of women in all sectors, especially in rural areas. Efforts should
be made to bring them into the mainstream of decision-making process
at all levels, equal to men, in order to fortify further the co-operative

Women suffer due to the degradation of environment on account of
shortage of firewood, shortage of water, hard working conditions
because of smoke while cooking in some countries, and lack of pasture
lands for cattle. Women are also the great contributors to the protection
of environment through working on nurseries under farm forestry
programmes, etc. The conference noted that women can participate
effectively in not only growing more trees but also protecting them
thereby re-energising water resources and firewood. The conference
also took note of the FEEED (Food, Energy, Environment, Employment and Development) 
steps in which women can play an important role.
Women are recognised as major contributors to the process of
development provided they are organised, motivated and properly
led. The FEEED steps are the essential factors to ease poverty conditions
among rural women. The conference suggested that all these elements
are included in development strategies.

In addition to specially invited guest lecturers, the conference was
addressed by Mutsutami Harada, President, JA-Zenchu/IDACA.

Addressing the conference, he said: "Today an immeasurable number
of women farmers are active in regions of developing countries where
conditions are particularly rigorous; they take the duties of housekeeping
and child-rearing on their shoulders on one hand, while on the other they
fight dire poverty, environmental destruction and food shortages. These
people suffer from mental and physical hardships and economic
disadvantages as they are discriminated against simply because they
were born women."

Conclusions and Recommendations
Some of the recommendations made by the Asia-African Women
Farm Leaders Conference were:

1. Efforts be made by agricultural co-operatives and government
agencies to help farm women organise in groups/associations thereby
providing them with empowerment, collective bar-gaining power, and
opportunities to develop them-selves, enabling them by taking
participatory decisions and sharing responsibilities in operating their
own organisations.

2. Agricultural co-operatives and government agencies to install,
develop and expand literacy programmes for rural women through
appropriate education, training and extension programmes, enabling
them to read, write and manage their own family incomes/expenditures
and family business operations.

3. Appropriate steps be taken by agricultural co-operatives and
government agencies to provide rural women with leadership
development programme through co-operative education, extension
and development programme which are adequately supported by
relevant and simple teaching materials and visual aids on key issues
effecting women e.g., family welfare, child/mother care, sanitation,
environment, farm practices and inputs, local traditions, superstitions,
and so on.

4. Agricultural co-operatives and government agencies to develop
and expand vocational training and development facilities thereby
providing the rural women to generate additional income by producing
handicraft material, objects and souvenirs for tourism and other industry,
farming, household items of daily use and organise marketing channels
through retail outlets, exhibitions and showrooms in urban areas. Rural
women be encouraged to handle community-related services, like
midwifery, nursing, baby-sitting, repairs of common use household
equipment, raising of saplings in nurseries for social forestry
programmes including some professional jobs, enterprise and
business management skills, assertive training and public speaking.

5. In order to enhance participation of women in decision-making
process, agricultural co-operatives and government agencies to provide
for reserved positions on boards/managing committees as has been done
in some countries in the region.

Co-operative organisations and the government agencies are to impress
upon respective governments to review and revise their policies and
legislation to provide for the following:

- Review and revise co-operative policies, laws and co-operative
by-laws enabling more of rural women to become full members
of agricultural co-operative organisations;

-	Reservation of seats on elected boards/managing committees;

- Enable women to own land titles and assets, and in countries
where such laws exist their effective implementation is urgently

- Enable women to borrow money from financial institutions
on easy terms;

- Encourage more women to become members of agricultural

- Recognise the value of labour put in by women in farm
production, domestic and child-rearing responsibilities, and
quantify it in economic terms; and

-	Intensify gender sensitivity training and education programmes.

6. The conference made a strong plea to the participants to explore
fund-raising possibilities for their development projects with donor

The conference advised the participants to keep the ICA/AARRO/
JA-Zenchu and IDACA informed of the decisions of the Embassies
and JICA offices.

It was pointed out to the participants that the Government and the JICA
do offer assistance to grassroots Egos engaged in developmental work
for rural women.