Bridging gender gap in ag could feed millions more

VISIBLE: Global Trends host Adrian Bell speaks with women playing key roles in agriculture Rekha Mehra, Svetla Garbeshkova Audra Mulkern and Lucia Salmaso.
VISIBLE: Global Trends host Adrian Bell speaks with women playing key roles in agriculture Rekha Mehra, Svetla Garbeshkova Audra Mulkern and Lucia Salmaso.

IF female farmers across the world had the same access to resources as men, agricultural production could increase by 30 per cent, feeding 150 million more people.

This estimate from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation is just one of the little-known, yet fascinating, snippets of information about agriculture's gender gap that was brought to the fore in a recent digital talk show featuring some of the world's leaders in the field.

The episode of Global Trends, the BKT Network platform which explores major issues in the agriculture world, on women in farming made a strong case for turning more attention and resources to female farmers.

Host Adrian Bell said women accounted for a large proportion of the agricultural workforce worldwide, yet were often disadvantaged when it comes to accessing things like land and credit - not only in developing countries.

According to the FAO, agricultural businesses run by women produce up to a third less than those run by men, he said.

The gap was not due to a lack of skills and experience, but to unequal conditions and opportunities which often penalize women.

Unlevel working field

In Bulgaria, where the agriculture minister is a woman and three out of ten farms are managed by women, agriculture is still largely seen as a job for men, Svetla Garbeshkova told the show.

Ms Garbeshkova is the chief executive officer of AGRO TV Bulgaria, that country's specialist ag publishing group.

Forty per cent of Bulgarian farmers are women and 29pc of those women hold management positions. Women play very important roles in family farms, with organising production, running administration and decision-making key duties, she said.

Bulgarian women are managing huge amounts of land for cereal production, running wineries and are prominent in ag research.

The only farm for the production of organic meat in Bulgaria is run by a woman.

"In Europe as a whole, 42pc of those employed in ag are women," Ms Garbeshkova said.

"Women do face a lot of challenges but this is part of the attraction. Bulgarian women are ambitious and becoming more business-minded and see a big career future in ag."

Yet even in a country with these sort of statistics, women are typically paid less and historically have been neglected by development assistance programs, renowned gender specialist and economist Rekha Mehra said.

In developing countries, most women don't choose farming, it chooses them, she said.

"The stats show women make up nearly half the farmers in some parts of the developing world and yet often that work is not acknowledged," she said.

"The first challenge is to make women farmers visible.

"Why do they need assistance? The short answer is it's an unlevel working field.

"Women farm with fewer tools, have access to fewer inputs, less access to assets like land and water and credit, loans, information, training and technology.

"Their work on farms is often unpaid, or they are paid less. They have also been neglected by development assistance programs.

"Research shows globally they receive just 10pc of development assistance and 5pc of extension services."

Invisible

Even in the US, women are largely invisible in farming, founder of the Female Farmer Project Audra Mulkern said.

This is despite the fact the female farmer is the fastest growing demographic in US agriculture, she said.

"Everything - books, statistics, paintings - refers to men as farmers but at my farmers markets every table had a woman behind it," she said.

"Women are producing small livestock, fruit and veges and the experience during pandemic lockdown was that when the food system buckled, they became the bridge in many communities - small farms were so important during this time."

Managing director of BKT Europe Lucia Salmaso said it still seemed to take less time for a man to become successful in ag than a woman.

"A 40-year-old man will have reached a certain position that it will typically take a woman another ten years to reach," she said.

Still, her message to women considering a career in agriculture was 'you're on the right path, ag has so much potential.'