Women in Organic Farming
Despite women making up 55% of England and Wales’s farming workforce, farming is still widely regarded as a men’s profession. This international women’s day, we’re celebrating women in organic farming and recognising their efforts and achievements.
Traditionally and historically, agriculture has been a male dominated industry, with women’s part in farming overlooked, allocated the role of ‘farmer’s wife’ or ‘farmers daughter’ but never the farmer themselves.
Thankfully in modern times, the perception of women in farming is changing as more and more women are choosing a career in agriculture and paving their own way in the industry, with over 25000 women ran farms in the UK. However there is still work to be done to ensure this momentum continues and to make sure women’s voices are prominently featured in farming policy debates.
As it's international women’s day, we’re shedding light on the important role women play in the farming sector and celebrating women in agriculture and organic, all around the world.
Inspirational Women in Organic
There’s so much to celebrate regarding the achievements and contributions of women to organic farming. Here are the stories of two women we find particularly inspirational, who have dedicated their lives to organic farming in the pursuit of sustainability.
Lady Eve Balfour (1898 – 1990)
Founder of The Soil Association, Lady Eve Balfour was a pioneer in the world of organic farming and an incredibly inspirational woman. At 17 she defied expectations at the time, becoming the first woman ever to study agriculture at Reading University and went on to buy her own farm in Suffolk at 21. In 1939 she began an experiment called The Haughley Experiment to distinguish whether there truly was a difference between organic and intensive farming. These experiments helped garner more respect and public knowledge of the benefits of organic farming, which previously had been widely disregarded in an era of agricultural intensification where chemicals were becoming more and more popular.
In 1943 she published her book ‘The Living Soil’ which contained her initial findings and farming testament. The book was a revelation and led to Lady Eve founding The Soil Association in 1946, aiming to connect those who knew about sustainable organic farming methods with people who wanted to know more, such as farmers and policymakers. It is Lady Eve’s determination that has helped shape organic farming today, with her legacy inspiring organic farmers across the globe to this day.
We spoke to the Policy Director of the Soil Association, Jo Lewis, about Lady Eve's legacy on farming and the organisation itself. She said:
"Lady Eve was not just a great farmer – she helped spearhead the organic movement, and her early warnings around the risks of industrialised farming continues to be felt to this day.
Her wisdom on the importance of soil and the links between healthy soils, healthy food and healthy people continues to feel relevant and inform modern attitudes to farming, and the climate and nature crisis."
Mary Mead, co-founder of Yeo Valley, is truly an inspiration to women in farming. Mary and her husband Roger bought their farm back in 1961 and began making yoghurt in 1972, what they would later become a household name for.
Tragically in 1990 Roger passed away, leaving Mary determined to carry on the work they had been doing, keeping true to their original vision of creating a successful farm that works in harmony with nature.
Using regenerative farming methods such as mob grazing, diverse cropping composting and agroforestry, for Mary farming is just as much about sustainability as it is yield, and in 2008 after years of hard work to get the farm up to organic standards it was certified by The Soil Association.
Mary has remained an advocated for agroecology throughout her life and career, and as a result has received several accolades over the years including Farmer of the Year, an honorary degree from the University of Bristol and an OBE for services to sustainable dairy farming.
How Empowering Women in Farming Could Help Feed the World
Outside of the UK, in developing countries women make up around 43% of farming labour, however despite being a large part of the workforce they produce 20-30% less yield due to exclusionary factors which hold them back more than their male counterparts. These include laws which prevent women from gaining land rights and securing bank loans, as well as gendered expectations that require women to work just as hard as men, whilst raising a family and carrying out domestic activities.
Image: Empowering women in farming across the globe could be the key to feeding the future.
These barriers stop women from achieving their full potential in farming, and thus reduce the amount of food grown globally. The impact is so drastic that the Food and Agriculture Organisation (US) estimates that if women’s rights in farming were on the same level as men’s, global food production could increase by up to 30%.
It is important that we work to fight against the gender bias in farming globally to help this goal be realised, with the solution to feeding the future right in front of us.