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Women at the Center – Philippines

This project has created a “food and health bank” for artisanal women producers of abaca fiber. “Women at the Center” has brought a traditional practice into the present. They have done this by establishing a barter scheme that allows for communal use of a processing machine and pays a higher price for processed fiber. Women gain a sustainable way to make a living, along with gaining more respect.

Fast facts:

  • 80 women involved in the project
  • Fiber purchased at rate of 42 instead of 28 pesos per kilogram
  • 221 abaca farmers benefited

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The problem

Manobo-Mamanwa indigenous communities in the Philippines are often remote, with little access to health and other services. During the rainy season, communities are cut off from the rest of the world due to frequent landslides. These rainy seasons that are likely to become more severe as climate change progresses. This leaves especially women among these populations vulnerable.

The solution

Food and health banks, or “yuha ta banwa” in the local language, have been established in five Manobo-Mamanwa communities to provide villagers with some security. Under the project’s barter scheme, cultivators of abaca – or “Manila hemp” – can receive food, get oil for processing fiber, and book time to use a fiber-stripping machine in advance for later exchange of their processed fiber. The bank “purchases” the fiber at a higher rate than outside traders do, then sells it to the nearest trading center for a small profit.

This allows the banks  to maintain funds for medical emergencies. Participants can get loans to cover transportation costs and immediate expenses if an accident or illness befalls them. The individual pays back the interest-free loan within three months.

Helping the planet

Artisanal abaca cultivation helps control erosion, while intercropping abaca can contribute to conserving biodiversity. Planting abaca addresses erosion and sedimentation problems in some areas. Abaca trees improve the capacity of the soil to hold water, while also helping prevent floods and landslides. In addition, Abaca waste materials can be used as organic fertilizer.

Helping people

The food and health banks have increased incomes for the mostly-female abaca producers. The scheme protects them from exploitation by middlemen, in addition to providing food and medical emergency assistance. Remote communities have gained a sense of security, while the project has empowered women in the community.

Spillover effect

The activity has already grown from originally one food and health bank to five. Now, the banks are being federated and trading is being consolidated. As an expansion of the project, eight women were trained as abaca fiber classifiers.

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