Women ‘much more open to farm diversification and going beyond productivist thinking’

Women are “much more open to farm diversification and going beyond productivist type of thinking in agriculture”, according to a leading researcher.

Dr. Maura Farrell, lecturer in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Irish Studies at the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG), has highlighted the role women play as the “unsung heroes of the agriculture sector”.

Speaking at yesterday’s (Wednesday, February 3) ‘St Brigid’s Day: A Celebration of Women in Agriculture’ event, a collaboration between NUIG Galway and the Irish embassy in Mexico, Dr. Farrell said that “it’s time to move on from a male-dominated, patriarchal agriculture that we witness in Ireland”.

“If you look within a European context, what you see is women make up slightly more than 50% of the EU population; yet they represent slightly less than 50% of the total working age population in rural areas in the EU,” she explained.

“Across the EU, you have gender segregation of the labour market, where women are more likely to be concentrated in lower paid employment and less senior roles within a rural context.

Educational and training opportunities within rural areas [are] quite difficult for women. Women are also faced with a traditional idealist ideology, particularly in relation to farming.

Dr. Farrell said that women have “huge difficulty” in entering farming.

“It’s not like any other occupation; farms are often handed down from family member to family member, and more often handed down to a son rather than a daughter,” she continued.

“Gender inequality in farm ownership is also an issue for women in agriculture, with 78% of women being the spouse of the holder, rather than the holder of the farm itself.

“We often see that the holder or owner of the farm is the public face of farming, ensuring women are often seen taking a backwards step when it comes to agriculture.”

‘More women also considering farm diversification’

While “there’s an invisibility of women’s farm work” with them not getting credit “for a lot of that work taking place” on family farms, Dr. Farrell said that in researching the issue, she has seen “huge change” over the last five or so years.

“We start to see more young people participating in agricultural education, and women increasingly engaged in agricultural organisations is also taking place. We can actually see this where women are starting up their own women in agriculture organisations,” she said.

More women are also considering farm diversification. In relation to farm diversification, we see within an Irish context that farmers are very reluctant to become entrepreneurs on farms; they’re often welded to productivist models of agriculture and they’re not inclined to diversify.

“Farm women, on the other hand, are much more open to farm diversification and they’re much more open to going beyond that productivist type of thinking in agriculture.

“They are also willing to go beyond the tradition and engage in diversification, giving rise to this idea of a progressive feminism within agriculture for women.

“It’s time to move on from a male-dominated, patriarchal agriculture that we witness here in Ireland.

“We also look for increased access to land for women in agriculture and we’ll also look to encourage and support women wishing to engage in farm diversification and rural entrepreneurship.”

‘And yet, women face many barriers to participation’

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Pippa Hackett also spoke at the event.

“St. Brigid is the Irish patron saint of farmers, brewers and dairy workers,” she said.

In recent years, St. Brigid’s day has been celebrated around the world, as an opportunity to highlight the excellence and important of women across a wide range of sectors – including science, art, literature and, as we are celebrating today, agriculture.

“Ireland and Mexico share many similarities when it comes to our agriculture sectors, with agriculture and secondary processing contributing significantly to both employment and to the economy in both countries.

“Women make up 8% of the farmholders in Mexico, and 13% in Ireland. However, many more women are working in our agricultural sectors as farm workers, unpaid family labourers and rural entrepreneurs.”

The minister added that women are a “vital importance to the rural economy; often solely responsible for important on-farm tasks and for safeguarding knowledge and passing that knowledge and expertise down to the younger generation”.

Women are innovators, offering new opportunities through diversification activities and sustainable production; and contributing valuable off-farm income for the household.

“And yet, women face many barriers to participation.”