Agrifood Brief: Here come the girls

Welcome to EURACTIV’s AgriFood Brief, your weekly update on all things Agriculture & Food in the EU. You can subscribe here if you haven’t done so yet.

25 - Portuguese agri minister, CAP super trilogue, EU-US relations


This week: EURACTIV spoke with Portuguese agricultural minister Maria do Céu Antunes, who is the current chair of the AGRIFISH Council, about the challenges involved in wrapping up the CAP, including the thorny issue of social conditionality and how she hopes to tackle the remaining outstanding issues to reach a conclusion within the next few months, and we discuss the thawing relations between the EU and the US.


Back in a different lifetime, I found myself wearing a different (straw) hat, working as a farmer.

My first taste of farming life came from a project in Greece, just outside a sleepy village on an island where women were more likely to be found cooking vegetables than growing them.

My favourite thing to do was to ride from the farm into the local village on the quad, much to the confusion of the old men on cafe terraces sipping on their ‘freddo espressos’.

Fast forward one year, and I was working on an organic mixed farm in the south of France, headed up by the formidable farmer and all-round superwoman, Odile.

I never will understand how she managed to juggle the challenges of farming life with running her on-farm shop, managing a market stall twice weekly in the nearby villages and somehow always finding the time to cook up a sumptuous meal for us all in between.

I soon ended up swapping pitchforks for pitching articles, but the experience gave me both an insight into the realities of farming life and profound respect for the contribution of women to the sector.

Which is why I was heartened to see the EU farmers association COPA-COGECA’s ‘Women’s Innovation Awards’ this week, showcasing an impressive array of pioneering female farmers from across Europe.

From Spanish mushroom farmer Nazaret Mateos Alvarez, who champions an ecological, circular-economy farming approach and nabbed first place in the awards, to Italian organic farmer Immacolata Migliaccio, who has been optimising the use of digital and AI technologies, the awards underscored women’s place in the future of farming.

But the reality is that the farming sector is still overwhelmingly dominated by men.

According to a statement released this week to mark International Women’s Day, the number of women in farming has been slowly increasing in recent years.

That, of course, is good news, although most recent Eurostat data suggests that, on average, only 29% of farms across the EU are managed by a woman (which, incidentally, is still a higher percentage than the number of women who have ever held the EU’s top agricultural job, but I digress).

Dig a little deeper though, and you find that this data masks some considerable demographic differences.

For example, while over in Lithuania and Latvia, nearly half of all farms are managed by a woman, elsewhere, in Malta, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, the proportion of female farm managers is less than 10%.

What’s more, the data shows that just 4.2% of the EU’s greying farming population are women under the age of 35, while 42% of women working in agriculture are over 65 (compared to 29.2% of men), suggesting that there is the potential for the gender gap in farming to widen in the years to come.

The European Commission aims to close this gap through its farming subsidies programme, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

“Not only will the EU support new farmers through its usual income support system, but it can also provide rural development funds to help young women get started in farming,” reads a Commission statement released on Monday (8 March).

It points out that this commitment to addressing the EU’s gender gap is “enshrined in the CAP” and that EU countries are required to consider the situation for women in rural areas when developing their rural development programmes.

But it’s not just the fields that need a female touch.

The days of the all-male event panels may be waning, but this has given rise to another all too familiar phenomenon, the “token-woman” panels, which are painfully prevalent in agricultural discussions. Meanwhile, women occupy only one out of five of the top positions in DG AGRI.

Ensuring all voices are present around the table is as much a practical issue as it is a social justice issue.

Social justice because, in many cases, women have fewer rights and opportunities than men.

But practically speaking, given that women make up half the population and play an increasingly important role in agriculture, involving them in the decision-making process therefore increases the chances of a successful sustainable food system transition.

“If we want to see change as women, we need to speak out and be seen; ‘if you can not see it, you can not be it’”, farmer and MEP Maria Walsh told me in an interview at the end of last year.

The more we highlight, promote and speak to the women driving the change in our agriculture sector, the more we will have a sustainable and balanced sector to the benefit of all.

Agrifoood news this week

Farming chiefs meeting signals thaw after EU-US trade row
A meeting between EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski and US agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack showed the first signs of thawing relations after the trade dispute that has soured transatlantic relations in recent years. EURACTIV’s agrifood team has more.

Expert: Antimicrobial resistance is the ‘new climate change’
Diseases evolving to become resistant to antibiotics is a hidden threat to humanity as dangerous as climate change, an animal health expert has told EURACTIV, warning that more must be done to reduce the use of antimicrobials in agriculture. Natasha Foote has more.

Meat debate heats up in Italy after remarks by new ‘super minister’
Italy’s livestock farmers are fuming after the newly appointed ‘super minister’ for the ecological transition said the amount of animal protein consumed should be decreased and replaced with plant-based alternatives. Gerardo Fortuna has the story.

MEPs demand action over cattle stranded at sea in ‘diplomatic limbo’
European lawmakers are urging authorities to take action over the thousands of cattle currently stranded at sea in “diplomatic limbo” in order to spare the animals any additional and unnecessary suffering. Learn more.

Women farmers ‘essential’ for future, says French agriculture minister
An increasing number of women in France are entering the agricultural world, dominated by men for so long. EURACTIV France takes a closer look at the role of women farmers in the country.

News from the bubble

CAP corner:  The Portuguese Presidency has reiterated its intention to organise the CAP “super” trilogue, provisionally to be held on the 26 March. In the view of this “super” trilogue, the presidency will prepare a document with questions and principles to be discussed during the upcoming Agrifish Council (22-23 March) on two main themes: targeting of direct payments (incuding capping, definition of active farmer, redistributive payment etc) and the new delivery model. Social conditionality will also be part of the discussions.The presidency also sought delegates’ guidance on the CAP horizontal and CMO regulations, including a concern about a Commission proposal to identify and record information on the organisations benefiting from EU funding through the compulsory use of ARACHNE (or a single data mining tool). Several delegates argued instead in favour of a voluntary and phased approach, raising concerns on the interoperability of such tool.

Meanwhile, this week 300 scientists published their recommendations for how science can help make the CAP work for biodiversity. See more here.

Due diligence: Lawmakers in the European Parliament passed a resolution to tackle environmental and human rights issues in the supply chains of EU businesses by 504 votes to 79 on Wednesday (10 March) ahead of the Commission’s proposal on corporate due diligence later this year. The report introduces mandatory due diligence to ensure supply chains do not include environmental or human rights violations and calls for fines and sanctions for those found breaching the rules. It also demands better access to justice for victims in third countries. Read here for more.

Carbon adjustment mechanism: The European Parliament adopted a resolution on a WTO-compatible EU carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) on Wednesday (10 March), including an amendment that includes the fertiliser sector in the proposed mechanism. EU farmers association COPA-COGECA have expressed their “deep concern” over this amendment, maintaining that if the CBAM does not apply to agricultural products, it should not apply to fertilisers either.

Agrifood news from the Capitals

Agriculture Minister Ján Mičovský has announced that he will be forced to resign if Slovakia’s recovery plan, which was presented Monday (8 March), fails to set anything aside for the agriculture sector or landscaping reforms, EURACTIV Slovakia has more.SPAIN
Speaking before Spanish MPs, agriculture minister Luis Plans said he will advocate for a gradual implementation of convergence in the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), according to EURACTIV’s partner, EFE Agro. The ‘convergence’ process was designed to gradually allow Eastern farmers to catch up with the others when it comes to direct payments. However, Spanish farmers’ organization and Andalusia opposed any attempt to accelerate this process. “I am open to negotiate on a text that respects a gradual approach to convergence,” Planas said. The minister also reiterated his commitment to reaching an agreement with the autonomous communities on the implementation of CAP strategic plans. See here for background.

The German government has agreed to the agriculture ministry’s changes to the draft law on animal welfare. The updates expand the areas of inspections from solely livestock farms to factories that process animal by-products. Livestock farmers will also be required to label animal carcasses to allow for tracing back to specific facilities.  “The additional monitoring will make it easier to detect, track and prevent animal welfare violations in the future – the network will be tighter,”  said agriculture minister Julia Klöckner (CDU). (Sarah Lawton |

The French government has promised 60 million to French farmers in need, including breeders who earned less than 11000 in 2020, who will receive exceptional financial aid, prime minister Jean Castex announced during the weekend. “We have a situation of emergency, and we cannot abandon you”, Castex said, referring to the difficulties farmers have been going through since the start of the pandemic. According to numbers of the French national institute of statistics (Insee), farmers’ overall revenue has fallen in 2020, both due to the pandemic, but also bad harvests in the cereal and beetroot sectors. The measure announced last weekend is destined to help farmers cover up to 80 % of their financial losses of 2020. It comes as a supplementary to the 50 million dedicated to restructuring the farming sector under the French recovery plan and will concern 18 000 farms, Jean Castex said. (Magdalena Pistorius |

The agriculture committee of the Italian Senate approved a law on limiting the sale of agricultural products below the production cost and banning double-step bearing bid auctions. These two unfair practices are strangling farmers while favouring the exploitation of migrant workers in the farms and aggravating the heavy imbalances in the value distribution chain. According to Italy’s farmer organization Coldiretti, the approved law must be completed with the transposition at the national level of the EU directive on Unfair Trade Practices (UTP) in order to ensure a fair distribution of resources along the food value chain. (

The UK department of enviroment, farming and rural affairs (DEFRA) announced this week that it will start a pilot scheme for its ‘sustainable farming incentive’, one of three new schemes to encourage environmental land management as the UK transitions from direct payments. (Natasha Foote |

The decision by the UK government to delay by six months the introduction of new import controls has been welcomed as a “boost for the agri-food sector” by the Irish Farmer’s Association (IFA). IFA President Tim Cullinan said on Thursday (11 March) the announcement “provides major breathing space for Irish agri-food exporters who are preparing for the new requirements”. (Natasha Foote |

The Austrian government announced it will launch another marketing offensive for the beef sector during the state agricultural officers’ conference. The push, which will run throughout 2021, is intended to increase beef sales, which has been hit hard over the course of the pandemic. “In the beef sector, we had sales difficulties in the first lockdown due to the loss of tourism and, above all, closing restaurants […] Together with the federal states and ARGE Rind, we already had good experience with such a measure last year. Now we are tackling this project again in an attempt to cushion the fall in prices,” agriculture minister Elisabeth Köstinger (ÖVP) explained. (Sarah Lawton |

From December 2020 to mid-February 2021, public consultations were held on Poland’s CAP strategic plan, which will be the basis for preparing the final draft of the strategic plan of the CAP for the years 2023-2027. In the first stage of consultations, the Ministry of Agriculture received 3.5 thousand postulates, the majority of which were submitted by individuals, i.e. farmers and inhabitants of rural areas. They accounted for 30% of the applicants. The document is expected to be submitted to the European Commission for approval in November 2021, and the negotiation process is expected to be completed in May 2022. The second stage of consultations is expected in May-June 2021. (Mateusz Kucharczyk |


15 March – There is an AGRI committee meeting. See here for the draft agenda.15 March – There is an ENVI committee where the Commission will present an amending regulation on the official controls on animals and products of animal origin exported from third countries to the EU to ensure compliance with the prohibition of certain uses of antimicrobials. See here for details.

15 March – The special committee on agriculture will meet to discuss Presidency notes on CAP dossiers. See here for more information.

16 March – Will the current Farm to Fork strategy proposal succeed in bridging the gap between consumers and farmers? Will the intermediate actors of the supply chain also be bound by commitments, or will voluntary action remain paramount? Tune into a Forum for the Future of Agriculture event on the Farm to Fork Strategy where stakeholders will tackle these questions.

16-17 March – There is a Trans-European online seminar on science-based policy advice in agriculture, food, climate and environment. More information here.

16-18 March – The Internet of Food and Farm 2020 project is holding its final event. More information can be found here.

17 March – The European Investment Bank will hold a webinar focusing on the financial environment in which farmers and processors operate in France. Learn more here.

17 March – The Committee of Inquiry on the Protection of Animals during Transport (ANIT) will hold a meeting. Details here.


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