Women are the key to a sustainable future in agriculture: this was the message from Copa-Cogeca’s keynote speakers at their Biennial Innovation Award for Women Farmers within the EU, which was held virtually on 10 March.
Copa-Cogeca represents European farmers and their cooperatives. Their Innovation Award for Women Farmers celebrates the work of European women in agriculture. Nazaret Mateos Alvarez; a mushroom farmer from Spain, won the award along with a €10,000 prize, and Immacolata Migliaccio won their Special Achievement Award and was named runner-up. Hailing from Italy, she farms vegetables using sustainable technology.
Speaking with Irish Country Living, a Copa-Cogeca representative says the awards bring attention to the innovative projects being carried out across Europe by women farmers.
“It provides an opportunity to highlight, at EU level, various innovative initiatives and projects that contribute to achieving important EU objectives such as: climate change, biodiversity, etc,” they say.
“The award helps, as well, to increase the visibility of the role of women farmers – not only to enhance the sustainability of the agriculture and forestry sector, but to recognise the important role they are playing for more viable rural areas.
“By providing the platform to highlight these initiatives, we see the women being able to promote their work further, and become prominent figures within the sector,” they continue. “We also hope it inspires other women to continue to invest in and present their initiatives.”
ICL enters the winner of Women & Agriculture Award, two of whom have won the European award. It was said during the ceremony (which was livestreamed and is still available to watch on YouTube) that over 30 applications were received and all were worthy winners; making the jobs of the five judges very difficult.
Acknowledging the generations
Nazaret, whose mushroom farm uses ecological practises based on a local, circular economy and zero-plastic/zero-waste approach, gave honorary mention to the women farmers of the past who have not been recognised for their work and contribution to European agriculture.
“I’m so immensely proud of simply having made it this far – but having been declared the winner is just fantastic,” she said in her speech.
“We have had grandmothers who gave their all and these people have been invisible over the years; fantastic women who fought to make it possible for us to be here and improve the situation in rural areas. If we didn’t make a joint effort, a lot of us would have been left along the way.”
During the award ceremony, MEPs Evelyn Regner (Austria) and Carmen Avram (Romania) both spoke of the benefit that comes along with providing support and encouragement to women farmers.
“Every day, we have to be aware that women [farmers] are doing excellent work,” MEP Regner said. “Women in agriculture are working in more ecological ways, and with social alternatives and innovations. Be aware: you are role models.”
MEP Avram, meanwhile, strongly emphasised the positive effect women farmers are having on efforts to make agriculture more sustainable.
“Mitigating the effects of climate change and green agriculture seems to be designed for women, since their farms are more environmentally friendly,” she said. “Studies show women are just as efficient as men [in farming], [and are] major contributors to local development.”
She refers to findings from the 2019 study on The Professional Status of Rural Women in the EU. The study states:
“[...]women farmers represent 30% of total EU farm managers. They tend to have smaller farms: on average 5.84ha compared with 12.88ha owned by male farm holders. Women take more calculated risks than men, yet it is still difficult for them to access loans. Women’s ideas for innovation are as marketable as men’s, but they are not recognised by predominantly male stakeholders.”
Lack of financing to women farmers, as well as limited access to training and advisory services are some of the reasons why female farming rates are low, both in the European Union and worldwide.
A 2016 working paper from the Political Economy Research Institute in the US suggests women are four times more likely to be the owner of alternative agricultural enterprises (like community farms) than conventional farms. Their lack of land ownership is mainly due to patrilineal inheritance (men passing down the family farm to sons instead of daughters). This creates serious barriers for women farmers, in addition to the pay gap (the paper indicates the gender pay gap in agriculture is among the largest in any occupation).
In 2011, a report from the International Food Policy Research Institute showed women also face serious agricultural accessibility issues, including limited access to high-capital inputs like fertiliser and machinery. By finding solutions for these issues, Copa-Cogeca believe we can move to increased sustainability in European agriculture more quickly.
“Women farmers often have a multifunctional role that can have a more positive impact on helping the agricultural sector meet the [environmental] ambitions of the EU,” the representative says.
“They bring different ideas, models and ways of thinking, which are important when addressing current challenges and opportunities.
“Often, the multifunctional activities being carried out on farms are driven by women, whether it be through innovative approaches to land management, agri tourism, or the direct selling of produce,” they continue.
“These activities not only offer additional income for the farm; they have a strong environmental and social impact on the local community.”
For more information on the awards and finalists, visit womenfarmersaward.eu