How can smart farming support gender equality?

#18 December 2021

Margaux Plurien

SmartAgriHubs Work Package 1, Digital Innovation Hubs and Ecosystem Building

Addressing gender inequality is essential to achieving sustainability in agriculture. According to the FAO, women represent 48 percent of the global agricultural labour force in low-income countries. At the EU level, the number of women in farming has been slowly increasing in recent years. The most recent data (Eurostat 2016) suggests that, on average, 29% of farms across the EU are managed by a woman.

We need a new generation of farmers to feed Europe. Europe's farming sector is dominated by an older population and this is certainly true when it comes to female farmers – current data shows that just 4.2% of female farmers are under the age of 35. Given that 42% of women working in agriculture are over 65 (by contrast to just 29.2% for men), there is the potential for the gender gap in farming to widen in future years.

Gender equality and women’s empowerment are crucial to end hunger, malnutrition and poverty.

In her presentation during our event co-organised with DEMETER, Dr. Doris Marquardt of the European Commission (Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development) raised the question: What would a digital decade look like without women in the driving seat?

However, compared to men, women have lesser access to  resources, services, institutions, markets, decent employment and other economic opportunities.

As SmartAgriHubs Gender ambassador, Ntuthu Mbiko-Motshegoa puts it:” My message for young women [...] be aggressive in your approach, be ruthless with your time, spend time with people with some vision, and be creative and innovative”.

Mosaic of the contributions to our campaign “I support women leading in agri-tech”
Mosaic of the contributions to our campaign “Isupport women leading in agri-tech”

A new way of farming for a new generation of farmers

Today, agriculture and food systems face unprecedented environmental, social and economic challenges. Often, due to traditional gender roles, women are at the frontline of food production or management of nutrition in their household: they either work on the family farm, purchasing foodstuff, carrying water. Evidence shows that when meaningfully engaged, women can contribute significantly to co-creating resilience and adaptation strategies and solutions, given their experience.

New technologies are key to help reducing the use of natural resources, pesticides and fertilisers while maintaining yield. They can also help reducing the physical burden of certain strenuous tasks.

Technology has changed the requirements and skillsets to have a successful career in the agricultural field, continuing in this trajectory will allow more women to become key players in this sector. We need more farmers, and with a wide diversity of profiles, we can draw innovative solutions and approach to our challenges.

But we need to address the current obstacles women have to face, in the agricultural and tech sectors.

How can we change the status-quo?

In the perspective of leading the change from within, SmartAgriHubs started its Gender Taskforce in 2019.

- Supporting women in leadership position: On 8 March 2020, SmartAgriHubs rallied stakeholders in its social media campaign around the call “I support women leading in agri-tech”.  As Faustine Bas Deffosez (Head of agriculture and land management) highlighted in our event on 15 October, in relation to CAP the percentage of women involved in reform decisions, and agriculture presidency seats and leadership positions, is relatively low.

Screenshot of thecontribution of Hajnalka Petrics from the FAO to our ‘Gender in agri-tech’event on 15 October 2021

However, this is crucial to avoid building up a gender bias in the development of new technologies or new policies. A diverse leadership is the guarantee that all voices are heard, and that new projects take into account the needs of all.

- Enable access to technology and training: Hajnalka Petrics, Programme Officer (Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment) at FAO identified that the level of technical information provided to women in agriculture lags behind that of men and this causes a widening of the digital gender divide.

Entering a male dominated sector can be challenging. During the 2nd edition of the European Gender Equality Week, SmartAgriHubs collected testimonials from farmers across Europe. The testimonial of Martina Vicini highlight the obstacles that young women can encounter. As she recently lost her father, Martina started to work on the family farm with her mother. But as she explains:” (…) it was really difficult. My colleagues were almost all men who did not give us any advice. They were wary: "impossible that two women can do it!".

Access to childcare is equally important – too many women have to give up on their professional ambitions, as it might not be economically viable.

- Be the change you want to see: Federica Basile, ex-Amazon employee and new farmer in Italy, encountered prejudice in her new position. In recent years, she has started working with high schools to introduce an internship program. Her goal is to help the younger generations to understand that agriculture is different from what it used to be and inspire them.

Are you interested in supporting more gender equality in the agri-tech sector? You can start today by participating to our Gender Survey! We are calling on all stakeholders of the agritech, agrifood and agricultural sector to better understand the challenges & best practices across Europe.

Click here to participate!