Why Women Choose Organic FarmingThe U.S. census data corresponds with a global trend of increase in both women and organic farmers. Whether the two are linked is not clear, though existing data suggests that women tend to farm smaller plots of land, focus on producing food for their community, and choose organic and sustainable farming models over commodity crop production. Additionally, women tend to farm with fewer machines and more hand tools, and they employ farming models that benefit and promote family, nutrition, community development, and the environment. Not surprisingly, women farmers make less money than their male counterparts, a wage discrepancy that is somewhat mitigated by the higher value of (and therefore greater incentive to grow) organic foods. Rather than an intrinsic quality of femaleness, most of these outcomes may instead be the product of women’s long-time marginalization on the traditional family farm. Farm wives and daughters have historically held a secondary position as “farm helpers,” one that grew increasingly obsolete following WWII and the subsequent industrialization of agriculture. As farming became more and more dependent on specialized equipment and chemical technologies, it required fewer farmers to work the land, pushing women out of the loop. Compounding this trend, farm land and knowledge is traditionally passed down from father to son, further excluding wives and daughters from access to central roles on the farm. With the rise of organic farming, women saw and embraced an alternate way to participate in agriculture. As an emerging industry, organic agriculture’s steep learning curve applied to all new farmers, not just women. Along with the new agricultural model, opportunities grew for everyone outside the fraternity of traditional agriculture – for women, and also land-less or otherwise marginalized men – making for a more inclusive atmosphere of information-sharing, collaboration, and educational opportunities. The organic farming movement proved it was possible to farm intensively on smaller plots, significantly lowering barriers to entry such as access to large tracts of land and expensive machinery with which to work it. It also redefined where farming could take place, opening the door for farming models based in urban and suburban locations, increasing access to farm-generated income into a wider geography of people.
How Women Impact Organic FarmingWhile it’s useful to acknowledge how the organic farming movement has opened doors for women in agriculture, an equally necessary acknowledgement is how the participation of women broadens and deepens the multiple goals of organic and sustainable farming. While it’s important to avoid sweeping generalizations, existing documentation reveals some specific ways in which women approach farming differently than men do, expanding their objectives beyond the goals of traditional economics. Profit is important to women farmers, but so is quality of life, health and safety, community education, social and environmental justice, and civic duty. While one approach isn’t necessarily better than the other, creating a more inclusive and innovative environment for solving some of agriculture’s pressing issues (climate change, soil depletion, and pollinator die-off, to name a few) is essential. The more ideas at the table – from all genders – the sooner we’ll find sustainable solutions. Women farmers who focus on collaboration and community improvment would be good voices to have at that table. Globally, women farmers play an essential role in reducing world hunger. Women entering organic farming as new farmers increase access to food and quality nutrition for their immediate family, as well as families in their community. Similar to findings in North America and Europe, women in developing countries tend to farm with a collaborative spirit, using their leadership positions to increase education, environmental health, and food access in their communities.
Women are the Future of Organic FarmingEvidence that organic farming helps to empower women’s voices across the globe and vice versa is compelling, but the work to give those voices equal value and influence has only just begun. The comprehensive paper, Organic Agriculture and Women’s Empowerment, outlines areas of focus they deem necessary to promoting the role of women in global agriculture:
- Women need to occupy a greater number of agricultural research positions in order to enrich the available body of research with women’s perspectives and self-identified objectives.
- Women need more access to technical training. This includes training with farm equipment, but also a reexamination of how institutions like the U.S.’s extension service support and train farmers.
- Women need access to capital funds for land and equipment, as well as financial support to purchase things like tools, seeds, and other farming inputs.
- Agriculture needs more policies that target a reduction of the gender gap in farming and farm earnings, and supporting action to ensure such policies work toward meaningful change.
- Agriculture needs to cultivate more women leaders, both to inspire a continued increase in women farmers and to steer action, research, and access in a direction that is supportive of and accessible to women.
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