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Agriculture - A Female World

Posted by Grace Wilson-Smith on
Woman in forest carries basket on vegetables as she walks through a clearing

Let’s be honest – when I think of a typical farmer, the face of farming is still a man. The image of calloused brown hands labouring down in the dirt is still a masculine one in my mind, the myth of the manly farmer. But in much of the world, the face of farming is female, where the majority of economically active women in the least-developed countries work in agriculture.[1] However, there are a myriad of gender-specific obstacles putting female farmers at a disadvantage, preventing them from achieving their full potential in the agriculture industry. These barriers include lack of access to land, financing, markets, agricultural training and education, suitable working conditions, equal treatment and gender stereotypes.[2] 

One of the biggest obstacles for female farmers is land rights, with less than 20% of landholders in developing countries being women, and in some countries, women aren’t allowed to own land at all. This sort of gender bias in developing countries can also prevent women from bringing their crops to the market without their husbands. Even in developed countries, persistent gender bias in agriculture often makes it easier for the men in the farm to handle business transactions and phone calls, simply because they are more likely to be seen as credible and capable farmers.  

It wasn’t until 1994 that women could legally be recognised as farmers in Australia. On the Australian census, female farmers could only list their occupations as “domestics” or “helpmates”, and in some cases even “farmers’ wives.” [3] The female contribution to the country’s agriculture sector, whether that includes manual labouring on the farm or generating revenue from farming activities, has been swept out of the traditional image of farming. But women make up 43 percent of the agricultural labour force and are responsible for nearly 90 percent of household food preparation.[4]  

Eradicating gender barriers in agriculture would not only empower female farmers to achieve their highest economic potential, but it could help feed millions of people.  

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, the majority of people who are currently undernourished live in developing countries, places where women are key to food production.[2] If females were given access to the same resources and education as males, this could increase food production by women by up to 30 percent, potentially eliminating hunger for 150 million people. Extra income would also mean more money for health care, nutrition, and education for children, investments that could produce long-term, positive results for farm families and communities.  

So how can we help our female farmers to follow their passion and feed the world?  

The global goal to level the agricultural playing field for females in agriculture is gaining momentum. The PepsiCo Foundation [4] has started a global program, She Feeds the World, to improve the food security and nutrition of poor rural households. By teaming up with the global humanitarian organisation CARE, they aim to “Close the Crop Gap,” by developing, testing, and scaling impactful approaches to strengthen women farmers’ capacities. They work directly with female farmers to build their skills and confidence in sustainable agriculture, market engagement, gender equality, and food and nutrition security.  

Achieving gender equity in the agriculture industry contributes toward several of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including goals 2, 4, 5, and 12.  

Let’s keep empowering women in agriculture – and maybe the future face of farming is female! 





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