By Sara Grace C. Fojas
As the Undersecretary for Agribusiness, Marketing, and Regional Engagement of the Department of Agriculture (DA), Berna Romulo-Puyat deals with farmers and fishers from all over the country, but she is proud to say that she has not encountered any gender-related problems or challenges during her 12 years of stay at the department.
“The DA provides equal opportunities for its men and women to develop into productive workers for the government. It allows women to handle equally important roles in the department, such that a lot of women have been appointed into top-level positions such as undersecretary, assistant secretary, administrator, director, and division chief,” says Usec. Puyat.
Usec. Puyat has been assigned to handle several important posts throughout her stay in the department, such as administration and finance, credit, and development assistance. Now, she handles one of the major thrusts of the current administration: agribusiness and marketing.
“The DA encourages both men and women to develop themselves and allows everyone to participate in capacity-building activities such as trainings, seminars, and scholarships both here and abroad. Female employees can also lead employees’ association and serve as an official representative in voicing out their concerns with high-ranking officials,” she says.
CHALLENGE AND OPPORTUNITY
Helping people who produce our food such as farmers and fishers is Usec. Berna’s longtime advocacy. With her help, the department makes sure that the programs and initiatives for them are inclusive so that they are able bridge gap between them and the government. The department provides assistance to empower them and make them partners in attaining food security, in order to eventually reduce rural poverty.
“Serving in the DA is [also] an opportunity as we are able to learn not only of the technical aspects of our work, but also be immersed in our food culture. By reaching out our farmers and fisher folk, we are able to learn more about their way of living, their traditions, which help us in assessing their needs and in designing appropriate programs/projects for them,” says Puyat.
Her role requires her to link farmers into the market, locally and internationally.
“At present, we are focused on implementing the TienDA in the different parts of the country, which serves as a venue for our farmers and fishers to sell their produce directly to the consumers at farm gate prices. We have forged partnerships with Ayala Malls and the Department of National Defense (DND), which helps us to extend the benefits of TienDA to more commercial areas in the country, as well as in the military camps,” she says.
The department is also piloting the implementation of the Karne, Isda Suporta sa Masa at Ekonomiya (KISS ME) in the military camps.
“KISS ME is a marketing project designed by Sec. Emmanuel F. Piñol himself, which aims to establish neighborhood outlets that will sell poultry, meat, and fish products sourced directly from our farmers and fisher folk to bypass resellers or middlemen, thus ensuring good profit for both the source and the seller, while maintaining competitive prices. Under the DA-DND Partnership, the KISS ME outlets will be managed by the wounded soldiers, thus giving them the opportunity to further support their families. Also, there will be two livelihood projects under KISS ME which are the (1) Circles of Life by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the (2)PAGKAIN Para sa mga Bayani—wherein the Aboitiz Group donated egg layer machines for the soldiers,” shares Puyat.
Lastly, Usec. Puyat is also in charge of overseeing the programs for special sectors such as women, senior citizens, and the differently abled by providing technical assistance and conduct capacity development activities to enable them to become productive.
WOMEN IN AGRI
With the different hats she’s wearing every day, Usec. Puyat is a proof that women can make it in the world of agriculture, whether as a farmer, a fisher folk, a leader, or an entrepreneur because agriculture is thriving industry that gives good profits.
“Women may be encouraged to get into agriculture by showing them that our sector is a profitable one. Nowadays, rural women are not just working as plain farmers and fisher folk, but they have also become entrepreneurs who are responsible in developing value-added products to our various agriculture and fishery produce. We hope that the income-generating activities will entice more women to join the agriculture sector, as this will help them augment their family’s income,” she says.
In the agriculture sector, in particular, according to Usec. Puyat, women may participate in almost all stages of food production (preparation of seeds, planting, harvesting, postharvest, processing, and marketing of their produce) and keepers of traditional knowledge in growing food or important agents in feeding our people.
“By empowering them in their farming and fishing activities, women are encouraged to remain in sector and continue producing quality food for us. As we have seen, women are at par, if not greater, than men in performing various tasks that contribute to the development of our economy and society. Given equal access to resources and opportunities (e.g. education, employment, etc.), women will be able to maximize their potentials and contribute greatly to our country’s progress,” she says.
But supporting farmers and fisher folk is not the only responsibility of DA, according to Usec. Puyat. The department has also been actively empowering rural women in the performance of their respective mandates specifically in the regional field offices, bureaus, and attached agencies of the DA.
“Fulfilling our mandate has been achieved largely by the efforts of the organization to mainstream gender in the programs, projects, and activities (PAPs) that are geared towards the goal of ensuring food security. In compliance with Republic Act 9710 or the Magna Carta of Women, the DA has been allocating at least five percent of its total budget to gender-responsive programs, projects, and activities of our banner programs. We have also issued a Special Order directing all DA offices, bureaus, attached agencies, and regional field offices to make Gender and Development (GAD) an integral part of their plan and budget,” says Puyat.
The DA has institutionalized the Gender and Development Focal Point System (DA-GAD FPS) as prescribed in the Magna Carta of Women, and it has designated focal person at the DA central office and regional offices, as well as in the bureaus and attached agencies. The GAD FPS is also in charge of identifying and monitoring projects for the rural women in their respective jurisdictions.
Some of the notable projects of the GAD FPS are Inclusion of Women in Farmer and Fisher folk Databases, Women-Managed Marine Coastal Areas, Gender-Friendly Technology, Comprehensive Participatory Action Research (CPAR), Gender Responsive Economic Actions for the Transformation of Women (GREAT Women Project), Rural Improvement Clubs (RICs), Women Participation in Consultative Bodies, Search for Outstanding Rural Women, and Capacity Building, among others.
“We have also endeavored to identify women and women groups who have the potential to be partners in agricultural development. We have provided them, with appropriate trainings and mentoring. Many of them have acquired knowledge and skills in the various stages of the value chain for various commodities. Their learning had propelled them to start their enterprise that will later on improve their status in life and benefit their households and communities,” ends Usec. Puyat.