Women farmers ‘essential’ for future, says French agriculture minister

While 29% of farmers are women on average, most of them are in Latvia and Lithuania, where the share of women in the sector is 45%, respectively. By comparison, only 5% run a farm in the Netherlands, 6% in Malta, 8% in Denmark, and 10% in Germany, according to the latest Eurostat figures. [Elitprod/Shutterstock]

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.

“Until the start of the 1960s, the role of women in agriculture was so poorly understood that there was not even a word to describe it” and the term “female farmer” only entered the French dictionary in 1961, French Agriculture and Food Minister Julien Denormandie told a breakfast debate on the occasion of International Women’s Day on Monday (8 March).

However, things have changed in the last 60 years. These days, 30% of farmers and one in four farm managers are women.

According to figures published this week by the French agriculture ministry, 30% of sheep and wine farms are managed or co-managed by women, while nearly half of the staff in agricultural education, 77% of the staff in personal and territorial services, and 57% of food processing staff are women, while almost two-thirds of students in higher agricultural education are women.

Source: Eurostat

A ‘gender gap’ in Europe

In the EU, although the number of women farmers is increasing, huge discrepancies between countries exist. While 29% of farmers are women on average, the highest proportion is in Latvia and Lithuania, where the share of women in the sector is 45%.

By comparison, only 5% of farms are run by women in the Netherlands, 6% in Malta, 8% in Denmark, and 10% in Germany, according to the latest Eurostat figures.

The European Commission has already attributed this problem to a “gender gap” particularly noticeable among newer generations, as only 4.2% of women farmers in Europe are below the age of 35.

The Commission aims to close this gap through its farming subsidies programme, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP): EU member states must take account of the situation of women in rural areas in their rural development programmes, it said in a statement published Monday.

During the debate moderated by the French agriculture minister, Agnès Poirier, the director of two documentaries about farm life, commented on the current situation, pointing to the agricultural world still being “very masculine”.

This point of view was shared by the president of the association Les Elles de la Terre, Laurence Cormier, who told EURACTIV that there is always talk of male farmers (‘agriculteur’ in French) but that the term for female farmers (‘agricultrice’) still remains “very poorly recognised”.

“But that’s changing, things are moving and women are no longer afraid to settle down today,” she added.

Women must be ‘at the heart of sustainability conversation’ in farming, says MEP

Women farmers must be at the forefront of the sustainable farming discussion, but they say there are still barriers in the way and a lack of support for their entry into the profession.

“We’re less afraid of screwing up”

Although establishing a farm is often seen as an “obstacle course” for women in France, an increasing number of them are taking that step. According to an article published by FranceInfo, 37% of new farmers in France each year are women.

“As a woman entering the agricultural world, we have more to prove than a man who will immediately be considered more legitimate in relation to the profession he chooses,” explained Cormier, adding that “women are less afraid of failing. We tell ourselves that if one thing doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.”

According to Denormandie, addressing the challenge of renewal, which is so important in “the agricultural world of tomorrow,” can only be achieved by “supporting our women farmers” whose role is essential and should thus be strengthened further.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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