163 years have passed since that fire in a New York shirt factory where 146 textile workers were burned for demanding basic labor rights. It is a long, exhausting and painful history of the feminist and working women's movements that, little by little, were conquering the rights that we have today.
But even so, in 2020, and with so much to achieve, the invisibility of the female workforce is what sustains this unequal, exclusionary, extractivist and patriarchal system. The land workers bear the immense weight of this social, cultural and economic debt. They produce food for the world but not a small part of the planet's surface to work the soil belongs to them.
Agribusiness and the pharmaceutical industry have appropriated ancestral knowledge to patent it in laboratories and "enhance" it with chemicals that provide immediate satisfaction, productivity and relief, but that in the long term leave lands and bodies devastated and dependent.
The Union of Land Workers has different spaces that are related to each other within the organization, such as Gender, Health and Agroecology. The knowledge about the use of medicinal plants links all areas in terms of the revaluation of the role and knowledge of women, health promotion, self-determination, feminist self-care, food sovereignty and resistance to large pharmaceutical and food corporations. directly linked agribusiness.
Maritsa Puma is one of the main references of the women of the UTT. His mother worked the land in Bolivia, but as the family migrated to Argentina, the agrochemical packages were uprooting peasant farming practices, generating economic dependence and health problems. Maritsa's incorporation to UTT caused a 360-degree turn in the family production. With the move to agroecology they were recovering roots and knowledge.
Interview with Maritsa Puma from UTT
-Why is the relationship of women with natural assets and the use and care of plants different?
- The relationship of women with natural resources I think is different because when caring for a plant from a young age, from sowing it, the woman understands perfectly that it is a living being and just like a child needs care, needs to feed and when observing that flourishes relates to the care of children. And this comes since the culture of mutual help between the couple and the family began to lose in the countryside, when men and women began to be given roles. In the area of the fifths where fruit and vegetables are produced, the woman is the one who takes care of the food, education and health of the boys and thus spends more time working than the man himself. Because they both work on the farm when planting and carping the harvest. At the same time they do the same work, but when the woman returns home, she has to cook again, take care of the children, and continue working, while the man may be doing anything else. With the weekends it usually happens that men usually go out to play soccer or to get together with friends and for women the weekend is always to clean the house, wash clothes and spend time with the children. And it is also because of the way of producing that we now find ourselves in the fifths whereby the male is the one who negotiates the price with the truckers, because almost rarely do you see a woman negotiating the prices with the truckers or asking to be paid more, because there is also the idea that truck drivers are men and they are jealous when a woman goes out to talk to another person and even worse if it is a man. Also the one who buys the agrochemicals is usually the male and the one who also applies. There are a lot of differences. When the man does these things, he also feels that he cannot do anything else, which would be to dedicate time for the family, for the children. That is why I said that it is more natural for women to take care of plants, because they know that they need many things, just like a child needs it, like any living being.
-How many Plant Meetings have you already held? How do medicinal plants work? What are the most used in the fifths?
- The meetings of women and medicinal plants began more or less in 2017 and now we are going through the ninth meeting, where the companions who participate in the Gender Secretariat and all the companions who want to come to bring their plants, the ones that use them, get together Or they remember that their mothers used when they were girls, such as eucalyptus, mint, lemon balm, chamomile, laurel, dandelion, a lot of plants that they remember they used when they were girls, that they still use and others who stopped using or replaced it with some other medicine. What we do is share all that knowledge and start making cookbooks. More and more plants and more knowledge are being added to the cookbooks. This is where companies started, for example that of mother tinctures, where there is a group where we make mother tinctures to market through UTT warehouses. It is also a way to preserve the properties of a plant and extract them. For example, we only have chamomile for one season, which is in spring, now in midsummer you don't get much anymore and if you need its properties, it's a way to preserve the mother tincture. But also use the medicinal plant in a tea or in steam baths such as eucalyptus, for example, for when you have a respiratory problem. In the last workshop we made natural cosmetics, there we learned how to make a lotion for lice, a repellent for mosquitoes and insects, which now in the summer were going to attack us a lot in our workplace. We also take a tour of the place where we do the workshop, we always choose a fifth or a place that has a lot of plants, to be able to go with the companions and recognize the plants, to know what parts are used, in what way. Each partner brings their knowledge and we share it. Now a work team is going to be formed that can delve deeper into the issues, there is a mother tinctures team and there is going to be another on natural cosmetics. Because these ventures also come out so that the partner has financial independence, so that she can also decide how she wants to use the money she earns. Normally in the family the one who handles the money is the man, it happens in many cases. And so the partners can also have extra income and be able to decide what they want to spend it on.
Many of those colleagues who joined the ventures also do agroecology and understood that in the field you no longer use these chemical synthesis products. You are using bio-inputs, you do a good design of the farm to have a lot of biodiversity, a good soil preparation and that's when they also have the opportunity to have medicinal plants in the biological corridors. The corridors are lines between the crop, where you have aromatic, medicinal plants, flowers, there are many plants that serve as insect repellants and there are also other flowers that attract pollinating insects or the same insects that control pests, natural enemies. And that's when you find a great diversity of plants that grow alone in this area, for example mint, lemon balm, rosemary, lavender, calendula, chamomile, laurel, eucalyptus, burdock, plantain, nettle, milk thistle, mallow, mugwort. There are many plants that are used in these corridors that are medicinal. When you do not have the possibility of having the plant fresh or dry, you have the mother tincture, which is also more convenient to be able to take it with you when you go on a trip or go to another place where you cannot have the plant. So it can be taken in a few drops in a glass of water. The partners stopped using chemicals in the fifth year and also understand that the same thing has to happen in their body, and that the medicine is in the food itself and is around it, in nature and in the plants that also work to help in cultivation.
- The ancestral agroecological method detoxifies the earth, it heals the soil as healthy food is produced, in resistance to the agrotechnological package of Bayer, Monsanto, Sygenta. And the use of medicinal plants detoxifies and heals the body naturally without resorting to industrialized drugs in laboratories of these same companies. Can conventional medicine be disembodied in the same way that agroecology is fought for in the fields?
- I believe that, at first, also people who have already forgotten or stopped using medicinal plants are going to have a little distrust, as with agroecology, that in reality agroecology is still the real way of producing food, caring for the earth, respecting it, feeding the earth so that it maintains its natural fertility. I think that with medicinal plants at the beginning there will be a mistrust as it happened to me, that I have a small daughter and that before the encounters of medicinal plants begin I only knew some. I used only a few that were no more than three or four that I remember my mother used on me and my mother remembered her grandmother and there were no more than those three or four plants that she used without distrust, because we drank chamomile tea, lemon balm , mallow and with these plants there is no distrust. But with the new ones there is. For example, mugwort I did not know but now I know about its medicinal use, you use it and you realize that you no longer need ibuprofen, a reliever for menstrual cramps. You realize that the plant is one step away from you and you can simply make yourself a tea or drink a mother tincture and it relieves the pain. But you also have to think about it by going to the real solution, why do you have that pain, why do you have to have that operation or surgery, or for what reason yes or yes sometimes you go to the doctor, and see the real solution from the diet. Now, by changing the way of production, we have more nutritious food that is healthy, it is not poisoned, which is what also makes people sick. Think from how you are feeding. Also your own mental health because if you are stressed or angry all day your head will hurt, or if you did not drink water or you do not breathe well your head will also hurt, or your stomach, your body. And not always the pain reliever is going to be the solution, but you also start to think more about what you do every day. With the companions we were talking in the workshops on medicinal plants about not eating all the vegetables that we produce, and we also did workshops on healthy eating where some fellow nutritionists came. We started to share recipes because the foods that were cooked before were with a lot of varieties and there were many ways of cooking that are not always how we make food now. At first I thought that, as she is my first daughter, she could be risking her health with plants, I was scared, but then I started taking mugwort or shepherd's bag for menstrual cramps and I saw that it works. In thirty minutes those pains that I had left me, I could well have taken some other painkiller. Or for coughs, for example, with a eucalyptus tea, making a eucalyptus syrup with rosemary, burnt sugar and honey and eating well on those days you can reduce coughs for children and ourselves. I believe that it is possible, but thinking in this way as a health that integrates a lot of other things, not only to calm the pain.
Sometimes the answer to all those pains is next to you in a plant. Like the burdock that is used to detoxify the body, and many colleagues and their families who used agrochemicals now take burdock tincture to get rid of all those chemicals that were accumulating in their body. There are colleagues who had a high percentage of agrochemicals in their blood, which forbade them to approach a farm, but in an agro-ecological farm they can easily live. That is why, due to the same experiences that colleagues have with agrochemicals that poisoned their own children or their own family, they began to have severe pain in the muscles, which did not go away, or burning skin, problems in the view, which is why they switched to agroecology, because they saw how agroecology solves a lot of problems. The way of producing is healthy and greatly reduces costs because the bio-inputs that are made, the fertilizers, adapt to any farm, you find the materials around the farm, they are also made from plants. In addition, the marketing of vegetables and fruits that we produce is more fair, when we are the ones who decide the prices and it is not an intermediary who comes to put them, which are always low. In short, we should be more suspicious of laboratory and chemical remedies than of encouraging ourselves to learn about new plants. -
Most of the medical scientific knowledge comes from women who have produced and shared knowledge of cultivation, selection, use and preparation of medicinal plants. However, the health system does not consider it and the installed narrative of the corporations internalizes in common sense the idea of delay or danger of it, thus contrasting herbalism and modern medicine as opposites.
This lack of recognition and remuneration for land workers in terms of natural medicine, production and preservation of natural resources further increases the great inequality gap in relation to the labor rights acquired in the salaried and industrial sectors and makes them invisible doubly considering that housework is not recognized as a workforce either.
On the other hand, along with the feminization of nature, Botany was also limited to being thought of as a science of women while Agronomy came to be considered a science of men, thus keeping the decisions of agricultural production in the hands of the latter.
However, against oblivion, colonization, expropriation and abandonment of the indigenous medicinal flora, they, the rural workers, the women of the earth, remove the soil to heal and heal themselves because, invincibly, everything is kept in memory.
- Photos by the Gender Secretariat of the UTT.
Contact:Natalia Tangona ([email protected])