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Women Who Dig

Distinguished alumni Trina Moyles discusses female farmers and feminism around the world

As part of their Sustainability Speaker Series, the MacEwan Office of Sustainability hosted distinguished alumni Trina Moyles, author of Canadian bestseller Women Who Dig: Farming, Feminism, and the Fight to Feed the World, on the evening of Oct. 18.

Moyles’ is an extremely progressive, anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist voice in the fight for gender equality in farming. In her speech, she addressed many topics relevant to women and their struggles for fairness in the field. While conducting research for her book, Moyles interviewed 143 women farmers in seven different countries including Uganda, Guatemala, Cuba, Nicaragua, India, the United States, and Canada.

Although she travelled through seven different countries, Moyles found a number of commonalities between the stories of her interviewees. Many of the women farmers had adopted no-waste agricultural systems, in which they farmed smaller plots of land and made sure to leave no waste by using fertilizer produced by their animals to fertilize the crops. The crops grown were grown for cultural reasons. Many of the women were worried that tractors may displace them from the land, which would lead to a lack of work for them. Their food stayed local and they celebrated their success on their cultural terms, such as to buy a goat, or send their families  to school. Most notably, the women shared a love for their land and celebrated their culture through their farming.

Moyles spent a total of seven years in four different continents living and working with women farmers. Most notably, she spent three years in Uganda with a Nakivale Indigenous tribe, whose name translates to “people of the soil,” where the women are not referred to as “farmers,” but, rather, as “women who dig.” Although they were originally from the Congo, they had been displaced and now live in Uganda, where the soil conditions differ greatly. All of their farming was done by hand, and the crops were used to feed the tribe. In fact, Moyles claimed that over 50 per cent of farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa are women. While men also farmed in Uganda, their farming was mostly for cash crops such as coffee, and they owned machinery to do the work, or paid others to harvest their crops.

In Cuba, Moyles spent time with women who hosted sessions and taught their neighbours the benefits of organic farming and composting, while women farmers in Guatemala focused on reforestation, seed-saving, and making more fuel-efficient stoves.

Moyles spoke about how many women farmers in Canada had taken to organic farming for ethical reasons, and how many had travelled and brought knowledge from elsewhere home to use on their own farms. They employed vertical growing and geothermal energy technology. They had also employed a no middle-man beef operation.

Moyles also spoke about what farming in the #MeToo era means for women farmers. Many farms in the United States depend on migrant farm workers, and without legal citizenship, the farmers are unable to speak out against abuse suffered at the hands of their bosses without risking deportation.

When asked why she wanted to write her book, Moyles noted a Marriage and Divorce Bill in Uganda that had been shot down for the fifth time, which would give a woman some property rights after a divorce. An unnamed Ugandan woman had signed her name on her husband’s property without his consent, after which, he had returned home and killed her.

In order to support women farmers, Moyles encouraged her audience to support local agriculture such as farmer’s markets rather than large chains. She also encouraged the audience to support stronger action on carbon emissions to fight climate change. She also stressed the importance of listening to women’s stories and be an ally in the #MeToo era, and, of course, to encourage Indigenous efforts instead of colonialism.

The next installment of the Sustainability Speaker Series will host Kevin Taft on Nov. 20 at 6  p.m., and the Office of Sustainability will release registration through Eventbrite approximately two weeks in advance.