The Land Girls; Let’s Talk Women in Agriculture
Since the 1990’s, socially disadvantaged and limited resource farmers in the U.S. have been eligible to receive benefits from a number of FarmAct programs. The classifications of who falls within this category are largely dependent on the amount of time a farmer has been operating and the revenues they’ve achieved (i.e. a “Beginning Farmer” is one that has materially and substantially participated in the operation of any farm or ranch for 10 years or less), and the definition for Socially Disadvantaged farmers includes those subject to prejudice in the industry. The USDA further defines these farmers as belonging to the following groups: American Indians or Alaskan Natives, Asians, Blacks or African Americans, Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders, Hispanics… and women.
The barriers to farming successfully around the world are not news to anyone: unpredictable weather, volatile commodity prices, changing consumer preferences, complicated subsidies, low margins, hard labor, and long hours for those running the show. Add to this the complexity of being female in a man’s world, and you have a whole new plethora of gender-linked obstacles to add to the bull ring. Lack of access to land, markets, financing, agricultural training and education, suitable working conditions, and equal treatment put most female farmers at a significant disadvantage before they’ve set foot in the field.
The irony of the Western perception of agriculture being an industry for men is that women have been working the lands for thousands of years too and continue to be the primary agricultural producers across most subsistence or smallholder agriculture in emerging markets. Frustratingly, women-run farms in emerging markets produce 20–30% less than those run by men — a so-called “crop gap” — which has nothing to do with their aptitude for farming and everything to do with gender-specific obstacles. The biggest hurdle is land rights, as in developing countries only 10–20% of landholders are women, and in many countries women still cannot legally own or control land, preventing them from being able to agree to contracts and secure subsidies or other support for their farmland. In the U.S., the story isn’t as foreign as one would expect, with women controlling 7% of U.S. farmland but only accounting for 2% of sales annually.
So how do we change this? In the last 25 years the proportion of U.S. principal farm operators who are women has increased significantly from less than 5%, to over 36%, highlighting that women are slowly taking the reins. In addition to this, some of the biggest U.S. agricultural organizations such as the Almond Board of California are now lead by women, extending this reach from the fields to the boardroom. What we need is a meeting of the minds from women with boots on the ground to those women with significant sway in this globalized industry to elevate the status of women in all parts of these supply chains worldwide and educate the rest of the world on the changing face of agriculture.
Hayley Mole, Senior Associate
The 2017 U.S. Census for Agriculture in the U.S. highlighted that the proportion of women in farming in the U.S. in growing. Conversely (and a topic for another newsletter), the share of African-American farmers has dropped from 14% of all U.S. farmers in 1910, to only 1.6% today, accounting for only 0.45% of the total acreage of farmland in the U.S. To be black and female in the world of farming is no easy task, but farmers like Jamila Norman in Georgia, and Bonita Clements and FarmSIS in South Carolina, are proving that they have what it takes to bring healthy food to their communities.
FarmHer is a photo project and blog created by Marji Guyler-Alaniz, who left the world of corporate agriculture to showcase and inspire women working in the field (no pun intended). Similarly, tired of being told that they “didn’t look like farmers”, these sisters took to Instagram (@thetulepps) to merge their love of fashion with their daily farm lives.
Not all women in agriculture are subsistence or smallholder farmers, or merely farm laborers. From urban growing to nutrition policymaking to raising cattle, global women are tackling every aspect of our food system for the betterment of their communities. Here are 25 examples of the women changing the game in agriculture across the world.
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