The future of Family Farming: empowerment and equal rights for women and youth

To cultivate the next generation of family farmers, we must invest in women and youth.

The stereotype of the young male farmer has given way to the reality of an aging, female-fronted farming force. In the developing world, women make up 43 percent of the agricultural labor—and, in some countries, they make up 80 percent of agricultural labor. However, in some South American and European countries, rural young women are leaving the countryside in search of employment in urban centers leading to the masculinization of farming in these regions.

Women face many obstacles to productive farming. Compared to men, they have limited access to credit and lack control of family funds. In fact, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that only 10 percent of credit in sub-Saharan Africa is available to women. Female farmers also face scant educational opportunities and gender discrimination at markets. Without available funds and proper training, women are unable to make improvements to their farming methods and continue to suffer from low food yields. Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, FAO, emphasizes, “In many developing countries, women are the backbone of the economy. Yet women farmers do not have equal access to resources and this significantly limits their potential in enhancing productivity.” But encouraging experiences can be found, such in Brazil, where women have joint title to land, as part of innovative land reform policies, giving them equal ownership of land with their male partners, whether they are married or not. According to FAO, providing female farmers access to the same resources as men could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100-150 million people. And when women earn more and have better rights, they tend to invest more in the health and nutrition of their families.

Today’s youth are tomorrow’s family farmers, and maintaining interest in farming as a profession is vital to future food security. Youth make up roughly one fifth of the population of developing and emerging economies and face global unemployment levels from 10 to 28 percent. The number of young people of working age is increasing while this same group typically rejects careers in the agriculture and food system. But we can change that and cultivate the next generation of agricultural leaders—not just farmers, but food entrepreneurs, scientists, agronomists, extension agents, union and government leaders. Governments, particularly in developing countries, but also elsewhere need to invest in policies and practices that provide access to land, credit and banking services, education and knowledge, and technical skills for young farmers. And these governments need to ensure that young people have access to markets, goods and service, employment opportunities, and leisure so that they want to stay on the farm.

Food Tank is excited to be collaborating with the FAO to promote 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF).We look forward to participants highlighting current initiatives that work to empower female and youth farmers, and are interested to hear suggestions for improving livelihoods of female farmers and encouraging youth to pursue farming. Some questions to consider include:

  1. What are some of the key challenges women and youth in agriculture are facing? For example, many rural areas in the developing world aren’t stimulating places for youth to live and develop? How can we make rural areas more attractive to youth?
  2. Please share any programs and initiatives you are leading/participating that are helping to strengthen the role of woman and youth in agriculture.
  3. What measures can family farmers’ organizations, governments, development organizations, the private sector take to ensure empowerment and equal rights of  women and youth in agriculture?

We look forward to a lively and thought-provoking discussion. Thank you in advance for your contribution!

Danielle Nierenberg

President and Co-Founder

Food Tank, foodtank.org

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Thanks to participants for your comments about the involvement of women and youth in agriculture. The discussion has been lively and enlightening to all!

Commentators shared that women in industrialized countries largely face the same discrimination that women in developing countries face in agriculture. In Canada, one participant explained, women often have little control over decisions made about farming and finances, and share concerns over the disconnectedness of rural life. However in the United Kingdom, many women are now heading large agricultural organizations, which give females in farming a more prominent face. Organizations in the U.K., such as the Ladies in Agriculture Club, help to connect female farmers to one another. And in Jamaica, the Network of Rural Women Producers is hosting weekly dinners where female farmers can cook and confer together.

Women’s attitudes towards rural agriculture can influence the attitudes of young people. One participant pointed out, until women see a better life for their children at home in rural areas they will still give the message – go where the grass is greener.” In countries like Uganda where agriculture is dominated by subsistence farming, youth would rather make quick money than wait for marginal returns on hard labor. Similarly, a participant shared that youth in Mexico get low paying jobs in cities instead of staying on farms because cities are associated with progress. Commentators agreed that work must be done to provide agricultural role models to youth, incorporate agriculture into school curriculums, allow better access to credit, and create special interest farmers organizations that appeal to youth. Moreover, a participant mentioned that since organic agriculture and healthy eating is increasingly trendy among the young urban set, more projects could aim to bring together young consumers with young producers.

Both women and youth often lack access to family decision-making, financial credit, or agricultural training, yet, as one commentator shared, “there is no one-size-fits-all solution” to incorporating these demographics into agriculture. Still, participants highlighted regional organizations like the U.K. Young Farmers Club, The World Farmers Organisation, The Cambodian Farmers Association Federation of Agricultural Producers, and the Future Farmers Network of Australia that are all working to encourage participation in farming.

I appreciate your contributions and thank you again for engaging in the discussion! 


Danielle Nierenberg


[email protected]


The Future Farmers Network of Australia (FFN), welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the global conversation designed at better equipping young people and women to proposer in agriculture.

FFN is Australia’s national, independent organisation providing opportunities and services to support the future of Australian agriculture. FFN represents members on a national, cross commodity basis and supports its members through educational skill development, communicating industry news to members and by advocating to governments and industry the needs of young people working in any aspect of Australian agriculture.

Supporting young people in agriculture

A large focus of FFN’s advocacy work focusses on addressing issues industry faces attracting and retaining young people choosing agriculture as a viable career. Recently FFN surveyed its members about their needs and identified barriers to enter and remain in agriculture for the Australian Government’s agriculture competitiveness white paper.

Through the survey our members told us that they very much believe they can have a prosperous career in agriculture, particularly as demand from our Asian neighbours intensifies. FFN recommended the Federal Government through the Department of Agriculture establish a next generation program to help further support young people in agriculture, addressing industry issues and making it easier for young people to stay in the industry.

Australia, like many other nations, is facing an ever ageing population and agriculture is not immune from the demographic shift. As the vast majority of farms in Australia are operated by family farmers, Australian farms are undergoing a generational handover from parents to their children. This process brings with it legal and financial issues which must be addressed to ensure the next generation of landowners have the best opportunity to manage a successful farm business and continue to contribute to the country’s overall agricultural industry.

So it was no surprise to hear from our members that succession planning and financial management were two major issues needing to be addressed to keep young people in agriculture. FFN recommended that the Federal Government, through the Department of Agriculture, create a succession planning program, aimed at helping finance family farms to implement succession planning as the farm transitions from one generation to the next.  

The final main outcome of the member survey was that young people believed that they lived in vibrant regional and rural communities, but residence of these communities were most at risk of social isolation.

No matter the country, social isolation is an issue faced by any regional or rural community. In Australia it is very common for there to be community and sporting groups operating, which help to give community members a sense of belonging and combat social isolation.

FFN recommended that the Federal Government, through the Department of Agriculture, create and support a community grant scheme where communities experiencing or are at risk of social isolation, can apply for funding for community activities aimed at reducing social isolation. 

It is important to note that industry is very willing to work and support young people, just as long as they know what support is required and whatever support or development created is carried out in a manageable, meaningful way.

The full submission to the Australian government’s white paper is attached to this post.

Supporting women in agriculture

In Australia women have a very large presence on-farm and in agribusiness. Gender and suitability for farm related work is becoming a less important factor for the next generation of Australian agricultural professionals.

Organisations like Australian Women in Agriculture, Queensland Regional, Rural and Remote Women’s Network as well as the Country Women’s Association have helped foster a culture where the role of women and the contribution they make to Australian agriculture is widely understood, accepted and appreciated by the industry. These organisations also help develop and support women in a meaningful way. This is not to say that it has always been an easy journey but the perseverance of organisations like these has helped find solutions to any issues or barriers faced by women in agriculture.

To make any noticeable difference for women and their role in agriculture, the conversation must not only be discussed by women for women, men have an equal part to play in the progression of women in agriculture and more widely in society. To not include men in the conversations and work being undertaken by women’s rights and empowerment organisations can create a culture of women talking about women’s issues amongst themselves and seriously impede long lasting, wide ranging changes.

As men make up the majority of decision making and executive roles in the workforce, they are also well placed to bring about true gender equality in agriculture and indeed all sectors and industry. However they will never do this if women’s issues are seen by both genders as being simply issues for women to discuss amongst themselves. 

The question we should be asking ourselves as a global industry is, why does the glass ceiling have to be smashed from the bottom up, surely it can be smashed from the top down as well?

Equally it is very important to be certain what we are trying to achieve, is it greater women’s participation in agriculture, but at the expense of men? Or is it true gender equality, where men and women are provided equal opportunities regardless of their gender and once in the agricultural industry are supported to do the best job they can through further support and mentoring?

For the empowerment of women to come at the expense of support and opportunities given to men, is not empowerment at all and swings the pendulum too far the other way.

In Australia and indeed globally, a lot has already changed for women’s participation in agriculture within the last generation. Women are on-farm, in the sheering shed, running agriculture organisations as CEO’s and in the board room. This is a trend the next generation of farmers will continue to develop.


Hopefully one day soon true gender equality will be achieved in agriculture and society and answers to the “how to empower, support and develop women?” question will be irrelevant and instead we will all be answering the question “how can we best support our farmers?”.


  1. What are some of the key challenges women and youth in agriculture are facing? For example, many rural areas in the developing world aren’t stimulating places for youth to live and develop? How can we make rural areas more attractive to youth?

Women in Malawi, as in most countries in Africa, contribute significantly to agricultural production. In Malawi, women are key producers of maize, the main food crop in the country. They also contribute significantly to the production of other key cash crops such as soya beans, groundnuts and rice.  Inspite of this, most female farmers face many challenges that affect their productivity: They lack access to land, credit, training and extension services, as well as capital. Furthermore, the productivity of female farmers is also affected by their limited labour availability and the competiting requirements for their labour between household responsibilities(reproductive roles), farm work (productive roles) and community responsibilities.

The challenges that female farmers face constrain them from moving up the value chain. Women are mostly involved in farm work but their participation in marketing, agro-processing and other value-adding opportunities is limited. This means that the they fail to benefit from these more rewarding activities and opportunities. For example, in Malawi, time and labour availability constrain women from looking for more rewarding markets for their farm produce, which in most cases exist in areas far from their homesteads. Instead, they sell their produce at very low prices to intermediary buyers who then sell on to agro-processors and/or export markets.  

In order to assist women increase their productivity as well as to access input and output markets, they need to participate in farmer groups that are sensitive the needs and challenges that the female farmers face.

In Malawi, the National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (NASFAM) assists smallholder farmers in general, and female farmers in particular, to join or form Farmer Associations so that they can benefit from economies of scale in accessing the inputs and services that they require. Through the associations, members are able to acquire cheaper inputs and consolidate their produce so that they can increasing their bargaining power with buyers. In addition, buyers are willing to bring their markets closer to the farmers becaus ethey are assured of accessing the commodities that they need in bulk. Although this benefits all farmers, it is female farmers who benefit more because unlike male farmers, they have fewer options and opportunities for selling their produce because of the time and labour constraints discussed above.

NASFAM is also encouraging more female farmers to take up leadership positions in the farmer groups so that they may also contribute or drive the agenda of the groups. We also work with succesful female farmers, encouraging them to be role models for other women. The other women are more encouraged when they see how their fellow women have managed to improve their livelihoods by participating actively in association programmes as well as in taking up leadership positions.  

In trying to promote the empowerment of women and youth in agriculture, it is important for the gender agenda to be clearly defined and pursued with real commitment. Often, gender in agriculture has been misinterpreted or pursued because it has been given as a requirement by donors and development agencies. Gender in agriculture needs to be pursued because women contribute significantly to agricultural production and because the inequalities that they face not only affect their productivity, but also affect agricultural production in general. It is therefore necessary to analyse the participation of women throughout the value chains and ensure that interventions aimed at improving agriculture are always gender-aware. From access to land, through access to inputs, technology, extension services and markets, it is important to consider how men, women and the youth are going to benefit so that equity of particpation and benefits can be achieved.

The swiss farmers’ union has a committee of young farmers, which are also represented in the managing-committee of the swiss farmers’ union. Just a month ago, the committee of young farmers had the possibility to discuss their most important requests with the director of the Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG).

To strengthen young farmers in Switzerland, it is very important to have policies, which are long-lived. At this time, the agricultural policy is changed every four years, but investments are not done just for four years. It takes much more time for amortization. Hence there is a need for steady policies with duration of a minimum of eight years. This would extremely increase the stability and could be very helpful for innovative systems.

There is a need for increasing the attractiveness of being a farmer. In Switzerland, the income of farmers is approximately 40 % lower than the income of comparable jobs, which isn’t very motivating for young farmers

The two most important points to strengthen youth and women in agriculture are to guarantee the access to financial support and to secure the political stability. For policies it is most important to ensure land rights. On this basis, there is higher guaranteed future. To increase the attractiveness of rural areas for young people, the infrastructure should be improved.

Thank you for this opportunity to contribute to this vital conversation.  At the World Farmers Organisation we have been 'walking the talk' by forming committees within the organization of women and youth.  Not only do we have these two standing committees, but WFO also strives to include both women and youth in leadership positions within the organization.  There are several areas of concern listed above as we look toward our world's growing population, our aging farmers, the injustices many women farmers face, and how to encourage the next generations to be farmers and agricultural contributors that WFO continually strives to address.  The first thing we need to remember is to listen to what the women farmers need.  There is no one size-fits all solution, and our goal is to seek concrete solutions to share with our members.  We seek contributions of best practices and case studies which we share on our website.  We seek stories and information from our members of what roadblocks they may be facing and how we can connect them with others who have experienced and faced similar situations--being a catalyst of change is a helpful empowerment tool we offer women farmers.  Women's role in their family's farms is crucial.  In many cases women are the farmers, yet for many cultural and other reasons do not have access to land tenure, to knowledge, basic infrastructure needs, to finance, to markets, to leadership opportunities.  As farmers we need to have a profit.  Farmers invest in their family farms more than any other sector invests in agriculture, yet we have few guarantees of profitability.  So with 70% of U.S. farmers to retire within the next 20 years and the average age of African and America's farmers currently at approximately 55 years old, how can we ensure the youth, especially those who have grown up on farms and learned so many valuable skills, stay on the farms?  How do we encourage those who've not grown up on farms to view agriculture as a viable career and lifestyle?  First, there needs to be profitablity.  We need to strengthen local, national and international family farm policies.  Farmers are more than food producers--they are stewards of the land, they are artists and innovators, they are entrepeneurs, they are creative problem solvers, they are committted, they work to get the job done. Farmers must have a free and open market; concentration of buyers are a big concern.  We must make sure that agricultural investments being offered are what family farmers want-- is it beneficial to them.  Investment in family farmings is important to improve food security, social and enviornmental stability and safeguard livelihoods for the majority.  We need to guarantee farmer control of production resources, land and water. We need to build strong markets for farm producers.  We need to invest in research that meets needs of family farmers.  We need to invest in human capital--training in financial management and farm management.  We need more women to be extension agents and farm trainers.  Once we have a profit for family famers we can be sustainable and improve farms.  But let's not forget the investment we need is in the farmer and their extraordinary ability.  Women farmers have exceptional abilities to not only improve their farm production, but also seek ways to improve the lives of their children through education, health care, nutritional needs.  We need to ensure that being a farmer for both women/girls and men/boys is a dignified and important career.  We see in the U.S. the increased value society is placing on food, where and how it is grown, and putting a farmer's face to this highly nutritious produce.  We all need to eat and should remember--no farmers, no food, no future.  Let's all work together to ensure family farmers--all units of that family no matter the gender or age, are vital to ensuring our world's food security.   

Hello. Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this forum on the future of family farming: Empowerment and equal rights for Women and Youth. 

We have been asked to contribute as individuals but as a Canadian woman who serves on several ag-based boards (Ontario Federation of Agriculture,  Canadian Federation of Agriculture as a working group chair on taxation issues, and vice-chair of Ontario AgriFood Technologies, and as the CFA rep on the WFO Women's standing committee) I feel I must try to contribute in a broader context than just my personal observations.  

That said, each of our views are shaped by personal experience. I have been married to a dairy farmer for the past 30 years, as of today.  I naively thought that we would farm together, as partners, but I did not foresee a cultural roadblock; abetted by a  succession planner who warned farmers to beware of "the daughter-in-law."

I was raised on a small beef farm. My parents both came from farms; Dad from dairy, Mom from beef, and I am the only one in my generation of family cousins (after 200 years of farming in Canada) living on a full-time farm that does not depend on off-farm income to survive. We are very fortunate, with much thanks to all my hard working in-laws, and to having Supply Management in Canada.

I cleaned calf pens, baled hay, milked cows, raised three children and looked after "the home front" but finally realized I would never be at the decision table. I went back to college to sharpen my communication skills.  I had become involved with county (local) level farm organizations and wanted to be a more effective advocate for agriculture.  I found I could help make a positive difference.  Others reached out and asked me to become involved. We need to keep doing that (approaching farm women and youth)  for organization renewal and to bring new ideas to the table.

So that's where my views start...I was hesitant, hence the last minute submission, to comment on the key challenges that women in agriculture face.  I find it interesting that the first question refers to many rural areas in the developing world that aren't stimulating places for youth to live and develop.  I would say that even in our very privileged country of Canada, this applies to even those of us close to urban centers, if the farm focus is on work 24/7. As farms grow ever larger the rural connection shrinks and the social fabric is diminished. It still exists of course, but at 56 I can see the changes from my youth.  Hospitals are closed. Same with schools; agricultural societies that organize and host local fairs are struggling to survive in some areas. These services need to be maintained in rural areas or the youth will leave. Bit of a "Catch-22."

Some of the key challenges : Canadian farm society is as much a mosaic of attitudes and social norms as the rest of society, albeit perhaps a tough more conservative.  While we all have the same legal rights, I believe some women are held back by outdated views, however there are many Canadian farm women who are full partners and also sole proprietors of their farming ventures. I admire them more than words can express.

A lot has changed since my mother applied for her first bank loan,  and as a general comment beginning farmers, male and female, face similar challenges: get the proper education, access to capital, rural child care...create a credible business plan, etc.

Programs and initiatives to help: I was one of very few women on our general farm board 15 years ago but I now see more female representatives.  I see young, educated women today smashing stereotypes who want to farm and help shape policy, leading.

I see young women attending the events we host for young farmers to introduce them to our organizations and to help empower them in the farming sector.

We must continue to make them feel welcome and valued. We must encourage women (and young men too) to consider primary agriculture as a viable,  rewarding career.  

Through agri-food education, the Local Food Act, through advocating for a National Food Strategy we can help empower our new generation of farmers, both men and women. 

The OFA, CFA and other farm organizations in Canada help this effort by respecting and nurturing their involvement at county, provincial, national and international levels.  In 2006 Laura Johnston Monchuk wrote a report for CFA and it contains information still quite credible today:"Many farm women hold full-time jobs, both on and off the farm,while continuing to be the primary caregivers of children and elderly relatives," according to Professor Belinda Leach, University of Guelph’s Chair in Rural Gender Studies. 

The report also quotes Statistics Canada numbers that show that while small, the number of women farm operators continues to grow.

There is a new trend in Canadian agriculture which is seeing young city women getting into the sector.  They of course face the same high startup costs, but armed with a business and ag education and an entrepreneurial spirit second to none.

We need youth to sustain our industry and if they trends of more women and more youth in general are showing an interest, thanks in part, to improved commodity prices, things are starting to look more positive for farming. 

A 2013 CTV news report detailed the growing number of young people entering farming. Those numbers were in decline in the last decade, but are up 35%. 

Women are seen as more comfortable and confident on various industry boards, and are not content to toil behind the scenes any more.  The industry is becoming a lot more inclusive and that's good news for everyone.


The challenges facing women and youth in agriculture are different by country but there are some underlying factors across the developed and developing world. In the UK, farming women who are now in their eighties and older faced deep-seated institutional inequality because of:

lack of access to agricultural education, (many educational institutions were male only or women in farming communities were expected to develop the home skills because they fed so much of the workforce),

social structure, (women were expected to give up work and care for their husband and children when they married),

rural society (womens’ unpaid contribution runs much of the structure of rural society, especially as a result of rural isolation from welfare services e.g. through informal systems centred around the church, pastoral people care systems, and civil networks such as the Women’s Institute and other women’s groups) and

access to the capital asset itself (If the capital asset of a farm is reduced it impacts on the ability to have a viable farming unit as is seen in many parts of Europe where inheritance laws are different to say the UK) as male offspring were seen as the natural inheritors.

There are other technological challenges in that generation manual labour (the difference in physical stamina for some women meant they were unable to do certain jobs at the same productivity level), the introduction of electricity reducing the drudgery of some household chores compared to the start of their lives.

Women in their late fifties and sixties in UK agriculture faced a different set of challenges. Lack of viability in agriculture meant that the businesses had to find an alternative source of income. In short, women had skills the non-farming labour market would buy. Therefore many women worked off the farm as well as contributing to the running of the farm business itself or ran an alternative enterprise on the farm. Many of their children grew up in farming families and saw what their parents had to do to keep their businesses afloat and often just standing still in the 1990s. Increasing legislation, and administration demands in many small family businesses also fell to the women and at the time there were little in the way of computerization to support. Agricultural family businesses would have collapsed over that time period if women had not taken up the gauntlet that was thrown down to them. Generally women (and men) involved in agriculture across the 1990s/early 2000s simply said to their children who were in their late teens onwards – don’t be involved in farming get a good job which pays well in the towns and cities. Thus in the UK, a whole farming generation looked for other jobs, which meant many agricultural colleges closed and the circle of gloom in agriculture perpetuated and the average age of farmers remained high. This female response is true in the developing world too where many women see the real opportunities for their children as being away from rural areas.  

Until women see a better life for their children at home in rural areas they will still give the message – go where the grass is greener.

However in some agricultural sectors profitability turned a corner in the UK, and subsidies at least meant the family farming business broke even whilst the farm asset kept rising in value, as did the opportunities increase through technology – improved equipment, computers, reduced number of farm workers so less of an onus on women in the farming business to feed them daily, access to agricultural education for women and a desire to be the “farmer” as opposed to the farmer’s wife.

There is a resurgence of youth reentering agriculture with men and women in equal numbers. What they need above all as with all young people entering a career in any field is mentoring and support. They also need people to give them opportunity and this presents a challenge because very often they enter an industry where career progression is not well mapped, they have low experience, low asset base and are seen as high risk in a low margin environment. Therefore they need to be underwritten by their own families or a sponsor and there may not be a willingness to do this.

Access to finance is the biggest challenge and whilst margins remain low so does financial viability in agriculture and the ability to pay back loans.

Empowerment and equal rights

The question to ask first is whether there is greater empowerment of women and youth in agriculture compared to other business sectors? If not why should agriculture be a special case or be able to break the general mould of the number of women leading business sectors?  The question also that needs to be asked is whether women in leadership roles in policy organisations or food/farming related businesses in the supply chain reflect the empowerment of women in actual agricultural businesses.

In the UK, overall women account for only 17% of all business owners. That does not mean that they are not highly involved in the business they are just not identified as the owner. Between 2008 and 2011 women accounted for 80% of the new self-employed. (Labour Force Survey, Office of National Statistics 2013). This is at a time when statistics also note a rise in the number of women identified as the main farmer in farm businesses. The rise in women business owners is a trend therefore across all industries. Self-employment offers far greater opportunity for women than employment because they themselves are setting the structures and dynamics within their businesses and in doing so will drive greater personal empowerment compared to the dynamics of employment. Also as they are self-employed, at a certain stage in their lives an employer does not have to face the cost of their childbearing so potential “clients” might offer them greater sub-contracted opportunity as there is less risk to their business of carrying maternity costs.

Women involved in farming businesses across the world face a challenge between their contribution to the business (physical and mental) and their role of carrying and birthing children. The demands of the family farming business does not stop just because of giving birth on any given day. Many women involved in farming businesses have to give birth literally between job tasks and carry on. This requires great mental and physical resource within the women themselves, and the integration of their partners and extended family to look at how childcare is shared amongst them so that the women can continue to actively contribute in the role they have chosen. Many of the women in agriculture now in their eighties empowered the women in their fifties by providing childcare so they were free to earn income on and off the farm. Those women in turn will struggle to continue to work full time, care for their grandchildren to empower their own daughters and daughters-in-law to continue to provide income and also care for the elderly members of their family. This is further compounded by an expectation that women will still deliver the unpaid social and cultural support on which the rural areas depend.

There are many developing societies across the world where the children are being cared for by grandparents, whilst their mothers are hundreds or thousands or miles away earning cash to support the families. Within farming operations at least women are not geographically isolated from their children.

The most important mechanism for engagement of young people and women in agriculture is for more of the value of the food to be retained at the farm gate.  This will encourage more parents to believe there is a future for their children in agriculture. Fathers across the world need to believe that daughters can run viable farming businesses so that they see them as a part of their succession plans and not just their sons. The example of their own wives and mothers and what they have delivered to agricultural businesses over the last four decades is now changing perceptions in the developed world, but old attitudes are still entrenched because of the need to retain the capital in one individual to make a viable farming operation. On marriage women’s farming businesses need not to be seen as becoming part of a husband’s wider property asset rather that women retain ownership and control and many young women at agricultural universities and colleges will expect this in the future. There are a number of cultural challenges to this becoming the status quo. Credit and financial support agencies needs to consider the wider challenges of property rights and how women can assess funds.

Organisations need to recognise that collectively women have far more opportunity to take an active, engaged role in agriculture in family businesses, self-employment and smaller scale business models than they do in large agribusiness operations. However, women will also continue to do much of the repetitive labour in the developing world unless technology replaces those activities as it has done in the developed world thus enabled men and women alike to progress their businesses and increase productivity.    

Mildred Cashmere

Jamaica Network of Rural Women Producers

What measures can family farmers’ organizations, governments, development organizations, the private sector take to ensure empowerment and equal rights of  women and youth in agriculture?

Jamaica Network of Rural Women Producers acknowledge IYFF and encourages an increased effort to refocus on social capital as a key element in rural women development. Social capital is one medium rural women uses to aid the resilience process when combating Climate change

Within the Caribbean (SIDS), these islands are more vulnerable as the risk of natural disasters due to climate change is frequent. A large percentage of these rural women are head of household and in order to have successful businesses they have combined family efforts for income generation.

As a national rural organization in Jamaica for rural women, this case study of rural woman and her family who came together to propose activities for income generation and it has such impressive effect as it is structured to benefit her family, and the Jamaica Diaspora in several countries outside Jamaica. “The Sunday Dinner Project 2014; Strengthening Caribbean Families through Food, Conversation and Community” will highlight rural women’s indigenous knowledge in food preparation, healthy lifestyle, share ideas that can reduce the food import bill and creating better and happier family life through conversations. This can be followed further at www.sundaydinnerproject.org

The overarching goal of THE SUNDAY DINNER PROJECT is to strengthen Caribbean families across the globe using the medium of food, which for us, is more than a source of nourishment. Traditionally,  food is used to express our appreciation for our loved ones, for celebrating milestones, as a healing technique and for building community.

 Our objective is to expand on this tradition by mobilizing Caribbean people in the Region and the Diaspora to sit down to Sunday Dinner with family and friends beginning on September 28, 2014. While sharing this meal, we hope that family and friends will (re)connect and initiate a family conversation about important issues such as identifying family history and how it will be transferred from one generation to the next; acknowledge family hurts and the need for healing conversations that can begin to identify strategies for overcoming them as well as how family resources will be preserved, expanded and acquired.

 We recognize that generally, these issues cannot be resolved at a single meal and that these conversations may even generate tension. This is the reason that the project includes building a network of family and healing experts that individuals and families will be able to access during the period leading up to, during, and after the official launch of THE SUNDAY DINNER PROJECT.

In addition, our promotion of this family conversation will encourage the eating of indigenous and healthy foods as a contribution to promoting regional food security, healthy lifestyles and increasing employment. For these reasons we consider THE SUNDAY DINNER PROJECT a win-win situation for multiple sectors, families, individuals and businesses.


Tanya Robbins

United Kingdom

A perspective from the United Kingdom (UK)

In the United Kingdom (UK) women are finally reaching significant places in the agricultural world such as Minette Batters recently elected as Deputy President of the National Farmers Union, (NFU), Christine Tacon, CBE,  appointed by our Government as the first Groceries Code Adjudicator having run the Co-Operative Groups farming business for 11 years and Kate Allum is the Chief Executive of First Milk, the largest dairy farmer co-operative in the UK.  Caroline Drummond is the Chief Executive of LEAF - Linking Environment and Farming - which is the leading organisation promoting sustainable food and farming.  This organisation runs Open Farm Sunday where on a Sunday in June each year farmers welcome the general public onto their farms, usually free of charge, to show them how their food is grown, how farmers take care of the rural environment and take the opportunity to talk to people.  This year 375 farms took part and 205,000 visitors enjoyed a great day out on a farm.  Initiatives like this are vital to re-connect a mainly urban population with how their food is produced.  We were very proud to open our farm this year and look forward to taking part in the future.  Christine & Caroline were part of a small group of women involved in agriculture that realized the significance of their role within UK agricultural and formed 'Ladies in Agriculture'.  Three times a year this group meets at The Farmers Club in London where members invite a guest, as I was last year, who then automatically become a member of this group themselves, and invite further guests so the membership is growing rapidly.  Business issues are discussed, support provided to each other and the younger generation are particularly encouraged to join.  At the last meeting in March of this year, 60 women attended and Government minister George Eustice, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Farming, Food and Marine Environment addressed the group and was then questioned and challenged on a variety of issues.

There is a national television programme shown on a Sunday evening called 'Countryfile' where presenters focus on a different county of the UK each week showcasing what is happening in rural life.  The programme used to be on during the day but since moving to this prime slot in 2009 the presenters have become household names.  This is certainly helping to encourage young people into a career in agriculture with a significant rise in applications to study at agricultural colleges and universities.  At Harper Adams, one of our major agricultural universities, the percentage of female students has risen by 5% since 2009.  Most of the female students take animal welfare courses and the male students predominantly study agricultural engineering.  Advances in technology have significantly helped with less hard labour required than two generations ago - machinery is nowadays used for working the soil, harvesting, milking and cleaning out barns, etc.  These can be operated by women or men but it is still usual for men to drive the big machinery and women to care for livestock and have charge of the farm paperwork.  The use of modern technology in our homes, from electricity and running water to washing machines, dishwashers and vacuum cleaners have meant women are no longer having to spend most of the day on housework but are out working on the farm.

On national radio we have an early morning show 'Farming Today' that discusses the latest news on farming, food and the countryside and the presenters and producers are all female at the moment. The two main national weekly newspapers for the farming industry are both edited by women - Emma Penny at the Farmers Guardian and Jane King at the Farmers Weekly.  A recent survey by the Farmers Weekly on the role of women on farms has revealed a ground swell of a positive attitude to the role women have in UK agriculture - now only 4% of women consider it harder for girls to start a career in farming compared to when they themselves began but the survey does show women still consider they are not treated fairly on family farm succession.  The major banks I have spoken to do not hold records on the gender of their agricultural clients and I am told there are less sole trader accounts nowadays as most are partnerships or corporate style accounts.   

The Young Farmers Clubs (YFC) of England and Wales are one of the main organisations for our rural youth.  They have 25,000 members from the age of 10 to 26 making up 644 clubs.  Each club is led by the young people organising their own meetings and social activities.  They have the opportunity to take part in varied competitions from public speaking to judging livestock such as sheep and cattle and a huge selection of arts and crafts competitions in teams or individually.  Each year they have a campaign and this year it is to ‘Beat Rural Isolation and Tackle Mental Health Issues’.   The National Farmers Union offers free membership to students and YFC members and the Next Generation Policy Forum of NFU is a recent innovation.  Sixteen younger farming members from all over England Wales are nominated by the counties and their views are taken into account for current policy developments.   Most of the main sector and organisational boards within NFU have women representing members but men still form the overwhelming majority.

The UK Government 'Farm Practices' Survey Autumn 2012 for England shows that almost three quarters of farms were long-established family farms and now officially there are 23,000 female farmers compared to hardly any ten years ago. These figures are for small hobby farms as well as commercial holdings.  Often the women are the driving force to diversify farm businesses; they work on the farm, bring up a family and often work off the farm as well.  To the general public the perception is still of the 'farmer' being the man of the household supported by his hardworking wife, but this is changing.  For example, Bec inherited her family farm and has diversified by converting redundant old farm buildings into rented business premises such as a micro-brewery, Caroline has invested in top of the range luxury hideaway retreats for the tourism trade and Claire made sure their newly built broiler chicken units had viewing platforms so that members of the public can see exactly how they rear chicken for supermarkets.

I have had the opportunity to meet some of these amazing women involved in UK agriculture having been awarded a UK Nuffield Farming Trust Scholarship. Currently there are six nations with Nuffield programmes - UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and France, with the Netherlands, India and Brazil working towards membership.  Lord Nuffield was a forward thinking businessman who realized that to travel abroad and seek out best practice in your chosen area is instrumental in bringing in innovation with the exchange of ideas and in your own personal development.  As part of my study on 'Innovative Women in Today's Agriculture' I have travelled to Isle of Man, Ireland, Canada, Norway, Kenya, Uganda and India.  We have so much to learn from women farming in Africa and India - I feel very humbled and honoured to have had the opportunity to meet incredibly hardworking, inspiring, caring women leaders such as Christine at Kitui in Kenya, Victoria Kakoko Sebagereka in Uganda and Nagalakshmi in India.  I would like to see the Nuffield programme embraced by Scandinavian countries, support given to rekindle the link with Kenya and start to find ways of bringing in other developing countries such as Uganda.

Education and connections worldwide are enhancing our support of each other and with this comes greater confidence to use modern techniques for the survival and enhancement of our family farms.

Thank you for this opportunity to contribute to this debate. 

Tanya Robbins, NSch – June 2014

Dear colleagues,

On behalf of CEJA, European Young Farmers, and as a follow-up to President Matteo Bartolini's previous contribution (see here: http://www.fao.org/fsnforum/sites/default/files/resources/CEJA%20Contrib...), CEJA Vice-President Paola Del Castillo has also contributed to the subject above.

Please find Ms Del Castillo's contribution below.

For more information or if you have any questions, feel free to email [email protected].

Kind regards,

European Young Farmers (CEJA)