Kamis, 25 Februari 2016

Learning from a woman rural leader in Japan

Misako Watanabe

It is a learning from Okitama Yamagata Prefecture in the framework of training in the Asian Rural Institute Japan. I am very grateful finally I met someone special who is a good example of leader.
For complete impression, I just want describe to you readers about gender equity in community development by doing organic farming.
This is the story....
After searching so long to learn a real women right movement in rural community, I am very happy to meet a special woman among many great rural leaders. She is our host family when I was involved 2 weeks in Rural Community Study Tour who has very strong spirit and never give up to reach her dream to raise women right up, our mother, Misako Watanabe (57 years old).
Somehow the story that flows from her was able to overcome my sleepiness that night, when I felt very tired all that day. It's really remarkable. The character of a true leader is shown in her speech straightforward, but at the same time she's humble, and also honest but very touching. I did not get time to ask her personally but during 2.5 hours her sharing truly effected and inspired me. I admired her. 

Organic Farming
 Misako married when she was 23 years old. According to Japanese rural culture, after married, a woman have to follow her husband and lived in her husband family’s house. Before getting married Misako only involved in harvesting vegetables in her family garden, she didn’t have enough knowledge about field management. But after married, she was given the responsibility to manage the whole family farm. “My best teacher is actually my grandfather-in-law. He taught me about farming : how to make seedling, hot beds, making compost, sowing, transplanting and apply organic fertilizer” she said. “The teaching from my grandfather-in-law gave me only one way, that is what people now refer to as Organic Farming.” she continued saying.
But after grandfather in-law passed away, her parents in law applied chemical fertilizer and pesticide in their farm. "In the division of roles in the family, I managed vegetables with father and mother-in-law, while my husband was managing paddy field with organic way" she said. “One day my parents in-laws asked me to apply chemical fertilizers and pesticides on our vegetables, I doubt then I asked my husband, and my husband said no, he didn’t allow me to do it, because it's not organic materials”. Parents in-law was angry. Misako should obey the parents rule as a fellow at the vegetables section, but she ignored them. She said “I followed my husband decision because I knew he is right”.
She has a strong willingness to know, so she tried to learn more about Organic Farming from her husband. "My husband got a lot of chance to improve his knowledge about Organic Farming, but as a woman I never have time for it” she said. "I asked him to share his organic farming knowledge, and we thought together how to develop women related with food, because women had important role in food management". After 3 years they made farmers wife activities within her husband farmer group meeting in their free time after lunch and dishwashing. They discussed about organic farming, natural cosmetic and food issues. At first time there were 30 members of farmers wife, then decrease became 10 people and finally only 3 people until now. Many difficulties in Organic Farming movement. Many neighbors insulted her. Only consumers who support her because they understood about safety food and the dangers of chemical inputs in agriculture products.
She was struggling to pass many difficulties. When there were many small holes at the soybean, then the price was dropped directly. Another experience is 10 kg of Zuchini were valued only 100 yen. She and her husband tried to check again, maybe they are wrong counting, but there is not, their products are valued very cheap. She did not give up, she tried to meet her customers and asked them whether they were satisfied or not of her products. She said: “Nowadays many people speak about safety food, but at that time no one spoke it like now. My product are different, that is organic, people have to know it and I must explain about my product”. It’s not easy to get trust from consumers. Finally many members gave up.
International activities but local movement
That time she got sick until a month in a hospital. Her husband advised her to stop being a farmer and working in the city. She does not want to, because the spirit of organic agriculture already penetrated her soul.
At the time “chemical helicopters” for pesticides began to be applied every morning exactly time when the kids was going to school. She’s very sad. “To protect my own children, I could take them by car so they are safe, but I am thinking of the other children, they are new generations who need safety and good health” she said.
We knew that chemical toxics in pesticides are very harmful to humans especially children. Misako cannot keep silent, she made a big tarp post and she plug in surround her paddy fields. What she wrote on the tarp? "STOP CHEMICAL PESTICIDES TO FIELDS, REMEMBER YOUR CHILDREN". The posting made many farmers around got angry, and they complained through her husband: "What did your wife does?”. Misako was so sad, nobody understand her, she felt alone  that time. "My husband asked me to remove the posting the day after. I was angry in my heart but I understood my husband, without waiting for day after, that night while raining I ran to the field and I removed the posts while crying” she said.
But she was not give up, she approached school teachers to announce to each students to use a mask and a hat to school every day. That time in some other areas, there are many cases of children illness after being contacted with chemical pesticide spraying. People who are not farmers did not know, but farmers knew that it was due to the chemical pesticide application. It’s very hard to stop "chemical helicopter", it can be understood because it helpful  the work of farmers, moreover they were getting old. Ten years after, the condition began to change. Many peasant communities began to dare to say stop " chemical helicopter".
Tei Kei system then became famous in the world. There was an invitation for Tsutomu Watanabe (Misako's husband) to be a speaker on Tei Kei abroad. But he was very busy with 350 chickens and 8 cows. He could not leave the fields and livestock. Finally he asked Misako: "You should go there". Then Misako went there and she shared the experience of Tei-Kei as well as organic farming for 17 days in some countries: Egypt, Hungary, Austria, France, Czech and UK.
In Austria she met a woman who has the same experiences as her about how organic farming campaign struggling. She said: “I was impressed, somebody in different place was same with me, so I’m not alone”. It was a very treasure experience in my life, when I was 38 years old”. In 1990 she was invited again for sharing the same thing in several other countries: Poland, the Soviet Union (at that time). She also learned from them about pig management, about avoid smell at the pig pen by covering it with wheat straw. “Good lesson for me, they do not know Japanese and they do not know me before, but they opened their homes and their hearts to me”. 
Bank Account
In the last part, she talked about a very important thing : “I am lucky because my husband is very understanding. When I got married, I do not have freedom of money. Despite my hard work, no holiday and all the results I gave to my parents in-laws. One time I asked permission to my husband to create my own bank account that I will fill it by money only from my toil, separately accounts from his family. Unexpectedly, he was very supportive of it.
Since I had my own bank account, the results are very different. I was motivated because I know how much money I got, how much I earn it, and I spend it. Then I also enjoyed my life as a woman, as a wife with happiness, I took holiday for visiting several countries. I am very happy and I started to motivate the farmer wives in our community that: women in rural areas should be able to stand on their own feet.
One by one she achieved her dream and stay humble and focused and straight at the goal from the beginning, never turn the bow. She educates women in her communities to make positive steps without fear. One interesting thing is as a brave woman and independent she can go to anywhere and whenever she wants, but Misako remain put herself as a good mother and wife who respect her husband in each decision and step she chose.
Many barriers and obstacles she cleared one by one. Although chemical helicopters still running on ​​fields, we cannot say that her struggle was failed. The condition show the reality how struggle a leaders taking care their movement such as Misako Watanabe that good movement is never end.

Eunike Widhi Wardhani-Indonesia
ARI 2014