Women are the backbone of agriculture today and make a big contribution to the global economy. Female farmers around the world open their farm gates to share insights from their daily lives and the perception of women in agriculture.
It’s a late, sunny morning in New South Wales, in the eastern part of Australia. Koalas climb up the huge eucalyptus trees standing in the middle of a tremendous farm complex. Against this backdrop, on a hay bale, a young female farmer sits down, cup of coffee in her hand. Her name is Kate Davidson, and she runs the 10,195 hectare farm together with her parents and brother. She has a tired but, at the same time, content expression on her face: “I just came back from my first round of field work this morning,” she says. “Though it’s hard physical labor, it’s still a fulfilling task because I’ve developed a relationship with each field.”
The Female Force of Farming
Passion for Farming
Elaine Bellamy, a 68-year-old farmer from Alberta, Canada, shares this passion for farming: “Each of my farm fields has a name and a history. It’s a sense of accomplishment in the fall when you see the canola and grain coming in and that the food is then travelling all over the world, feeding people.” Bellamy was a teacher before she started to get involved with farming: “When my father passed away in 2002, it was surprising to me that he left the management of the farm in my hands. But growing up he also taught me the value of the soil, the land. My parents strongly instilled in me a love of learning and I immediately began acquiring the knowledge and skills necessary to operate this large family farming corporation.”
Passion for Farming
Office work and financial planning are very important, especially for women in agriculture if they plan to be sustainable. “You need to have a good head on your shoulders and know how to work with numbers. Good math skills and a vision for the future are essential. As in any business, there are many facets to agriculture, and as a woman you need to realize that you need to be exceptional. Farming issues affect all farmers, irregardless of gender. Keep studying, keep expanding your knowledge,” Bellamy states.
Education is Key
In this regard, Kate Davidson sees education as key to agricultural success: “As women are getting more educated, they have a lot more to contribute. They can actually utilize those skills in the businesses and help them grow,” she states. Chances for women to receive education, however, are distributed unequally around the world, especially in developing countries. This is particularly obvious in rural regions where female household heads have less than half the years of education as their male counterparts. In Africa, as one example, rural women suffer from the highest illiteracy rates.
In fact, many female farmers in these countries experience other disadvantages compared to their male counterparts, due to the so-called ‘gender gap’. For women in India, for example, it is difficult to get access to credit since women lack many conditions for lending such as ownership of property. These circumstances make it difficult for Indian female farmers to use resources necessary for labor stability. The gender gap also appears in unequal wages. For instance, in developing Africa, women’s wages in the agricultural sector are half of men’s wages even though women produce more than 70 percent of Africa’s food.
Though women in developing countries represent 43 percent of the agricultural labor force, they exercise significantly less power in the sector than men. But if they had the same opportunities and access to productive resources as men – if this gender gap was closed – they could increase the yields on their farms by 20 - 30 percent. This rise in agricultural production would be enough to feed an additional 150 million people.
Share of working women in agriculture in different
countries 2010, in percentage
In developed countries, female farmers tend to feel treated more equally. South African orchardist Karin Cluver runs a farm situated near Grabouw, a town 500 km east of Cape Town. Cluver, for example, doesn’t feel as though she is ‘a woman in a man’s world’: “I am a fully respected person in our agricultural industry. I always had the freedom to experiment and had a sounding board in my father,” states the 42-year old. In fact, her self-confidence stems from her family’s liberal thinking, a trait which has long run in her family. Cluver’s grandmother was the first female farmer in the region. As a qualified teacher, she started a farm school for farm workers’ children in 1957. “Today, children from 58 farms attend this school. My family and I believe that challenges for women in agriculture become fewer as young women focus on education from an early stage,” says Cluver. In this context, the school established a new focus on agriculture to provide practical farming skills to students. Cluver believes that up-to-date farming skills are essential for the future of farming: “Next to understanding the basics, such as plants, soil and water, you also have to be fit when it comes to data interpretation,” she says. In this regard, Cluver finds digital farming important: “Programs such as GPS on tractors provide pictures that tell a thousand words. So we have to make sure to use all the data. It’s our challenge to keep up with the permanent progress of technology.”
It’s our challenge to keep up with the permanent progress of technology.
Open Minds Succeed
Open Minds Succeed
Additionally, female farmers can actively influence their own path to success by displaying an open-minded attitude, such as through networking. Elaine Bellamy has attended several conferences in Canada and in the United States. Instead of trying to keep talking all the time, her strategy consists of active listening – especially when it comes to conversations with male farmers: “I always felt welcome in the industry though men usually feel more comfortable talking to men. As a woman, it can be difficult to enter the conversation,” she says. “However, you can learn a lot from their experience by listening and asking questions. You don’t always have to lead the conversation,” she continues. Nevertheless, Bellamy also likes to attend conferences that are suited to female farmers, such as the Advancing Women in Agriculture Conference held in Calgary, Canada: “It was totally unique and almost overwhelming to me because I have never been to such an event that only consisted of women. The atmosphere was full of comradery – a totally different feeling from conferences where I’m the only woman among all men.”
Furthermore, leadership skills can ensure long-term business success for female farmers: “Work on people skills,” Cluver recommends. She is in charge of 120 permanent and 300 seasonal employees. “As a leader, you must be able to motivate your team. Place the right people in the right positions and support them. Knowledge gives power and respect,” Cluver adds.
In this context, being a successful female farmer is all about confidence. Though almost 50 percent of working women are involved in the farming business in her country, Australian farmer Kate Davidson doesn’t yet feel a corresponding spirit of self-perception among her female counterparts: “The challenge that still exists is that many women don’t identify themselves as farmers,” she says. A recent study by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) confirms this impression. According to their findings, women worldwide are less likely than men to define their activities as work and don’t report themselves as being engaged in agriculture as often as men; however, women work, on average, longer hours than men. In a lot of cases, female farmers also have to take care of a family as well – in addition to the time they spend in agriculture. So if time for caregiving is included in the calculations, U.S. women may contribute more total time to the farming sector.
Overall, farmers – whether female or male – incorporate a multitude of demanding and, at the same time, exciting roles. Kate Davidson puts it in a nutshell: “There is almost no routine. Every day is different. So you might have a day of cattle work and then a week in the office or a week on the tractor. For me, this diversity is one of the best aspects about being a woman in agriculture.”
Though it’s hard physical labor, it’s still a fulfilling task because I have developed a relationship with each field.