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