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

Besides structural issues such as fair access to land and to funding, a number of social barriers still stand in the way of women farmers, MEP Maria Walsh told EURACTIV. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

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.

“I believe we need women in the heart of the sustainability conversation. We need different ways of thinking around the table of change,” Maria Walsh, Irish MEP and farmer, told EURACTIV.

“The fact we, as policymakers and as citizens of change, are at the crossroads of emergency change, is our chance to redesign our sector,” she said.

However, support is still lacking for women to be able to enter the industry.

Besides structural issues such as fair access to land and access to funding, a number of social barriers are still standing in the way of women farmers.

“Collectively, I believe we need to educate farming communities and stakeholders on the stigmas facing women who wish to farm full time or work within agriculture,” Walsh said.

‘Women bring bad luck to crops’: fighting stereotypes in agriculture

There is an urgent need to fight gender stereotypes in EU agriculture as women’s multilevel skills have a lot to offer in the future of the field, center-left MEP Isabel Carvalhais has said.

Without this, the agricultural sector will suffer and the “opportunities to merge ‘custodians of our lands’ and technology, in pursuit of sustainability and viability, will simply not happen,” she warned.

“Essentially, the speed we get women into the conversation, be it in training, in access to cash and land, the richer the sector becomes.”

Walsh highlighted the importance of enabling access to educational programmes, which will allow women to capitalise on the digitalisation of the sector.

“We need to work on access to education, agriculture programmes, and access to develop our practical skill sets,” she said, noting that advancements in technology help the ‘physical labour’ aspects to the ‘men vs women’ debate.

Walsh pointed to the potential of online training as a way to offer practical training to aspiring women farmers, but also to offer examples of successful female agricultural entrepreneurs.

“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’”, she said, adding that the more we highlight, promote and speak to the women driving the change in our agriculture sector, the more the stigma lifts and we have a sustainable and balanced sector to benefit the country, investors and future generations.

Young people and women in EU farming

The EU farming sector is faced with an ageing population. In 2016 only 11% of farm managers in the EU were young farmers under the age of 40 years, according to Eurostat.

One such pioneering female farmer is Cosmina Dinu, who has launched a sustainable poultry farm in Romania, thanks to one such virtual training programme.

The family farm, which Dinu runs with her husband, works to bring sustainable poultry to the market, while also accelerating the transition towards sustainable, regenerative agriculture in the country.

After participating in ‘Empowering Women in Agrifood’ (EWA), an educational programme offered by EIT Food tailored for female-specific challenges regarding entrepreneurship, Dinu has seen her project go from strength to strength.

“The EWA programme has been extremely helpful in establishing our project,” she said, highlighting the mentorship opportunities as the most valuable part of the programme.

“It is extremely helpful for a fledgeling farmer to have direct, fast access to people with established businesses,” she said. Notably, this link helped Dinu to appropriately set the prices of her products, having initially considerably underestimated their value.

As well as innovating at the farm level, Dinu has also harnessed the power of virtual sales platforms, which has enabled her to sell 85% of her products directly to the consumer.

“These were made possible by establishing a modern sales platform, based on Facebook, which brings together consumers with several small producers and which has had a spectacular increase in the last three months, both in terms of membership number and the number of orders and their value.”

“I believe our biggest accomplishment so far has been to lead by example and show that it’s not only possible to transition successfully to farming without having any practical experience, but that it can also be financially and professionally rewarding,” she said.

She urged policymakers to support family farms as “the only ones capable of producing good quality food, biodiversity and economic well being”.

Eva Marín, president of the Spanish young farmers association (ASAJA), added that rural women, especially young rural women, need the support of institutions and society to encourage them to pursue careers in farming.

“We need programs dedicated to us, as it is very useful to know the work that other women do on a daily basis and to be able to have spaces and meeting points to debate”.

However, for this to happen, the EU must work to ensure access to broadband in rural areas, she warned.

“Giving women the opportunity to develop their agricultural activity is an act of equality,” she stressed and added it is especially important in the context of the depopulation of rural areas.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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