DUBAI: From Farmer to Boss Lady: Developing a Gender-Equitable Agricultural Sector’, Expo 2020 Dubai’s latest Women’s World Majlis event, today (21 February) at the Women’s Pavilion played host to a panel of formidable females who confronted barriers impeding equality in the agricultural sector, as part of Food, Agriculture & Livelihoods Week, . 

Data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows that women comprise about 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force globally yet women make up less than 20 per cent of the world's landholders.

Aside from lack of access to land and rural finance, other blockades include access to training and information, and the need to link women to agricultural value chains, from production all the way to processing and marketing.

Hind Alowais, Senior Vice President, IP Management, Expo 2020 Dubai, stressed the time was ripe to address the issues in this sector through “a gender lens”.

Jamie Beyer – a farmer and female leader who farms soybeans, corn, alfalfa, sugar beets on 3,500 acres in west central Minnesota and north-eastern South Dakota with her husband, mother-in-law and two full-time employees – also works as an administrator to help landowners address water quantity and qualities. While her foray into farming only began seven years ago, Beyer believes that, with the right training, more women can – and should – become leaders in the field.

Jamie Beyer said: “My goal is to get more women into the boardroom. As women in agriculture, we sell ourselves short in terms of the skills and knowledge we have. It’s great to be discussing these issues at Expo 2020 Dubai’s Women’s Pavilion, but I hope in a few years we will have it at the People’s Pavilion.”

Lauren M Phillips, Deputy Director, Inclusive Rural Transformation and Gender Equality, FAO, Italy said: “In seven years’ time, when we're running up against a deadline on the Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] – 2030 – we’d like to double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, and to narrow the metrics on food insecurity between men and women. We’d also love to see more improvement on the land indicators, which make up part of SDG 5 [Gender Equality], to end all forms of discrimination against women and girls to close the gap in agriculture and livestock.”

Dr Marie Lisa M Dacanay, Founding President, Institute for Social Entrepreneurship in Asia, said: “Women need to be recognised as stakeholders in agricultural value chains and to benefit equally from agriculture, not only as producers on the ground, but also as providers and processors.”

Elizabeth Nsimadala, President of Eastern Africa Farmers Federation, Uganda, is a Ugandan “agriprenuer” and smallholder farmer. While conceding that change is happening at different speeds in Africa, she identifies access to land, and issues with land ownership, as being the biggest obstacles for women in agriculture, and believes the solution lies in empowerment through learning and upskilling.

Elizabeth Nsimadala said: “Through education, women can build their own careers, and earn money to buy their own land and secure their title deeds.”

Dr Varsha Bhagat-Ganguly, Professor, Nirma University and Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy of Administration, India, weighed in on land issues in her country – something the author has been writing about for the past 35 years: “We have to expand women’s land rights regimes. There may be state schemes in places, such as entitlement through inheritance, but we need to explore and expand upon newly developed strategies and approaches. Women coalitions and collectives should focus on group farming for females – using common and public lands for group farming.

“One of the major constraints that women in agriculture face is unpaid care work: an inclusive economy that actually addresses your work would do wonders in enabling women in agriculture to become proper stakeholders.”

With the huge strides made in technology and the industry’s emphasis no longer on manpower and heavy lifting, Beyer believes the future can be rosy for future female farmers, with the right mentoring and support.

Beyer said: “[I’ve] got three girls aged 16, 14 and 13, and we’re exposing them to all the different sides of agriculture. They understand what planting and harvesting is, and they know how to operate the equipment, but we are also teaching them about marketing, navigating stock markets, and understanding and mitigating risks. There are so many facets to this industry, and there is definitely room in it for more female leaders.”

‘From Farmer to Boss Lady’ is part of Expo 2020 Dubai’s wider commitment to women. To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, Expo 2020 Dubai will host a three-day global gathering with a diverse programme that reflects the 2022 theme #BreakTheBias – where differences are valued and a gender-equal world is forged.


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