Women have always had a pivotal role in agriculture. The International Labour Organisation indicates almost a third of women’s employment is in agriculture globally (2018). In low- and lower-middle income countries, agriculture is the single most important employment sector for women.
However, women account for less than 10% of the industry in upper-middle and high income countries, on average. This is not simply due to choice – barriers such as access to and ownership of land compared to their male counterparts, education and training structures and accessibility, equal treatment and lack of representation in industry bodies all contribute to a lower female involvement in agriculture.
This is at a loss to the industry.
Findings of a U.S. study suggest that barriers of entry to agriculture encourage female farmers to pursue alternative avenues, with women finding success in smaller scale farms, diversified high-value and value-added products and enterprises, unique marketing strategies, and sustainable practices (Sachs et al., 2016).
Research conducted by Dr Lucie Newsome at the University of New England also found that female farmers are more inclined to engage in sustainable and alternative agriculture – a methodology which is increasing in popularity, revenue, and ecological necessity.
Dr Newsome has connected this to the perceived ‘nurturing’ role of women, and how it is applied to their agricultural practice. This research concluded that a common factor of women’s success in agriculture is their willingness to work in harmony with nature rather than attempting to dominate it, as traditional methods might dictate.
This factor isn’t isolated to upper-middle and high-income countries. Increased inclusion of women in agriculture is associated with more socially and ecologically sustainable outcomes in Africa, especially in food production (OECD, 2021).
As agriculture pivots to regenerative practices which prioritise ecological health, consumers become more educated and the climate crisis continues, there seems no better time to amplify the voices of women in agriculture across the globe. Fostering female participation is essential to an environmentally-conscious future for farming.
International Labour Organization (ILO). (2016). Women at Work: Trends 2016.
International Labour Organization (ILO). (2018). ILOSTAT database.
Newsome, L. (2020). Beyond ‘get big or get out’: Female farmers’ responses to the cost-price squeeze of Australian agriculture. Journal of Rural Studies, 79, 57-64.
OECD. (2021). Gender and the Environment: Building Evidence and Policies to Achieve the SDGs. OECD Publishing, Paris. https://doi.org/10.1787/3d32ca39-en.
Sachs, C. E., Barbercheck, M. E., Brasier, K. J., Kiernan, N. E., & Terman, A. R. (2016). A New Crop: Women Farmers in a Changing Agriculture. In The Rise of Women Farmers and Sustainable Agriculture (pp. 1–29). University of Iowa Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt20p57gr.4