Empowering women in Ag: the benefits of having women in the sector

By Ben Watts

Tue, 9 Oct 2018

When people are asked to think of a farmer a majority would picture a masculine figure, probably dressed in overalls, driving a tractor through his vast farmland. It’s understandable as agriculture is traditionally thought of as a man’s speciality. Women typically take a back seat but have also played critical roles in farm production throughout history. A significant part they play is growing the family’s food while the man is focusing on managing the farm.


Women are the backbone of a healthy rural economy, particularly in developing countries. They are the human link between the farm and dinner table in terms of being a food and nutrition provider to their families. When women flourish communities and families tend to follow, with income typically being reinvested into their family to improve education, nutrition, and well-being.  


Despite images of farmers depicted from cultural tradition and issues surrounding the marketing of women in ag, a quick google search would reveal that half the worlds farmers are in fact women. Due to women becoming prevalent in almost half of the farming population over the last few decades, it’s evident that their involvement has broadened. This has coincided with the increase in female lead households as men are increasingly migrating to cities in search of work. As female lead households are increasing, qualifications, training, and development opportunities need to be a priority. The average female farmer in the U.S. is 60 years old which is 2 years older than the average farmer in general. Female farmers, however, have been adopting new technology at a much higher rate than the general farmer through increased internet access. Along with increased adoptions in technology, the diversity of women’s roles in farming is also growing, such as managing finances or running the machinery. This demonstrates the growing importance of women in ag as they are considerably more involved than they used to be while demonstrating their success in a male-dominated field.


The presence and growth of diverse roles for women in ag are growing but obstacles still exist. This is mostly due to gender stereotypes which provide unwelcome liabilities for women attempting to run a farm. Women are unable to think they can be farmers due to a strong cultural bias particularly in marketing, with most farm-related ads not showing any women. If more women are to be in farming, then it’s essential they can envision themselves working on the farm.


They get just a fraction of the land, markets, technologies, credits, inputs such as improved seeds, training, data and fertilizers that male farmers receive. When women are empowered and invested in rural culture it’s been shown to increase productivity, reduce hunger, malnutrition, and improve livelihoods. Whether on the farm or in the lab women can transform and alter food production or consumption to provide sustainability in resources and land. Respecting basic rights and equality of women is by far the most effective means of increasing social prosperity and preserving natural resources sustainably.


As statistics indicate, empowering women is crucial to ending world hunger. Typically, women are the providers of food which is why agricultural education is fundamental for women. It promises better health outcomes for communities which use farming as their main food source. As they make up to half the labour force in many developing countries, it’s essential that there are no barriers to limit their production methods. There’s a lot of potential yet to be untapped providing women had equal opportunities and resources. Equal production resources would see an increase in yields and feed a higher demographic of people who are without access to food. Without having gender-sensitive programming and availability to opportunities or tools, we won’t be able to reduce hunger and poverty in the long term.


The promotion of equality is still an on-going process yet remains a big factor in reaching the necessary goals of development and sustainability in ag. There’s a lack of understanding on how to fully implement changes, but it can be solved providing effective communication on how to combat the cultural perception women farmers face.


Not pursuing changes and eliminating the significant gap in equality could spell failure for all farmers and businesswomen in providing a solution for world hunger. Yields on women’s farms would rise by 20-30% and increase agricultural production in developing countries by 4%, which in turn could reduce the number of undernourished people in the world by up to 17%.


Inspiring equality in agriculture remains a challenge but there are ways to encourage progression. Challenge Advisory aims to tackle big issues such as this through the design of the Ag 4.0 2-day workshop, based in San Francisco California. There are over 40 speakers and 400 farmers present, with panels such as ‘Empowering women in Ag’ ideal for covering this topic.


At Ag 4.0 farmers will have the chance to communicate directly with AgTech companies. Farmers such as John Plemmons will get the chance to speak at the workshop and have there say on issues with fellow farmers.  ‘I am very much looking forward to disseminating and sharing ideas with fellow members of the industry in November. I am supremely grateful to be asked to be a part of Ag 4.0 as we reach this new frontier in agriculture.’


Tickets can be purchased for free here: www.challenge.org/ag40

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Ben Watts


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