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G20 Women’s Empowerment: the Dawn of Women in Agriculture

This week, Italy hosted a central event. A cornerstone for the G20, for the global agri-food system, and for the urgent need for inclusion and equity: the first G20 conference on women’s empowerment.

On that occasion, the Italian Minister for Equal Opportunities and Family, Elena Bonetti, has been reached by the Ministers of gender equality from all the G20 countries, international organizations, researchers, and representatives of the civil society to resonate and put the preconditions for a more just and fair world. A world where all workers are considered decently, where school and digital literacy are not only limited to men, where women are also recognized and seen in all their aspects of life, including a fair work-life balance.

Especially in the agri-food system, women play a crucial role.

All over the world and specifically in developing countries, women process and store food from the fields, take care of the livestock with care and protection, clean, process, and sell seafood. From the 30% of formal female engagement in the agri-food system in Europe, up to peaks of 50%, 60%, and even 90% in some developing countries, still too many women within the agri-food system work informally. This makes female inequality in agriculture one of the more significant areas of gender disparity worldwide.

In a web of complexity in which the increasing phenomenon of feminization of poverty intersects with gender inequality in the workforce, informal work, unequal access to resources, education, technology, and financial tools compared to men, empowering the role of women in agriculture is a crucial step to achieve more equitable and inclusive food systems, as I have already stressed in this article here.

For this exact reason, the Future Food Institute, in collaboration with MoooFarm, dedicated a UN Food Systems Summit Independent Dialogue to the role of women in agriculture on the 2nd of July, focusing specifically on the role of technology as an enabling tool to ensure food security and food justice. Coordinated under Project DAWN (Dairy, Agriculture, Women, Nutrition), a flagship initiative of MoooFarm (India), the Dialogue aimed at both empowering small-scale women farmers and sharing global perspectives rooted in a local vision: a two-way approach that is central to embracing gl-ocal solutions in a perspective of multistakeholderism.

The dialogue included an outstanding panel of keynote speakers: Gerda Verburg, UN Assistant Secretary-General, and Coordinator of the UN Scaling-Up Nutrition Movement, Diana Battaggia, Director UNIDO ITPO Italy, and Danielle Nierenberg, President of Food Tank, who shared their insights on women empowerment and entitlement. Thanks to the experience and best practices disclosed by UNIDO, women are proven agents of change and custodians of knowledge to regenerate the current agrifood system. This should require more consideration and respect among the food system actors. In addition to being frequently denied access to land, credit, and education, women are often ignored as pair interlocutors, hindering not only the possibility to reach leadership positions but also dampening their voice at the family level.

“Empowerment of women in agriculture starts at home.” — Gerda Verburg

The presence of Sunil Dutt, President Devices Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, and Shri Anoop Kumar, Ias, Principal Secretary, Department of Animal, Husbandry, Dairy & Fisheries and Agricultural Marketing, Government of Maharashtra, also gave participants a high-level perspective on India, a country that counts 60 million women engaged in smallholder dairy activities, which represent between 70–92% of the total livestock workforce. Many people in rural India, mostly women, lack access to connectivity, which is crucial to increasing productivity in the house and the field, and maximizing their contribution to society. Technologies are a great help in empowering women through eco participation, better capacity building, and green entrepreneurship. From the concrete example in Maharashtra, guaranteeing widespread female access to smartphones has generated extensive access to services for women.

“When will we witness the DAWN of women driving tractors? The dark night is too long looking at the gender disparities.” — Shri Anoop Kumar.

After the insights of the keynote speakers, the dialogue broke down into six discussion groups, designed to tackle the diverse nuances of this larger topic and promote a solution-oriented approach. Gathering leaders from large corporations, small-holder farmers, climate shapers, and researchers into the same virtual rooms, each group gave rise to a mixed voice, the voice of civil society as a whole.


How might technology enable women in agriculture to be included in decision-making for their family thus ensuring equal representation and overall progress for the family?

Equal inclusion of women in agriculture starts with female access to school, making the way training is conceived and provided amongst the most urgent actions. It is widely known that in many developing countries education, and most importantly basic education, is still male-oriented. National policies and programs should accelerate the pathway towards access and new structures on which education is conceived, considering both female physical inclusion and the broader ecosystem around them.

Technology can accelerate the broader and better representation of women in society. Besides being at the kitchen table, women are needed in leadership positions: communication, decision-making, agricultural meetings, farmers gathering, all traditionally represented by men.


How might technology enable women to own farm resources thus boosting their agricultural productivity and profitability?

Often women own farm resources yet remain invisible as small-holder farmers. To work in the long run, actions, programs, and technology should be designed around women’s real needs: this means embracing better gender-based solutions.

Exemplification can be given by the creation of a new interface design conceived to facilitate the use of technology for women and new tools shaped around their position and daily activities. But it also means introducing programs and solutions tailor-made to the specific role that women have within the family. Higher involvement of women in the design process is crucial to increasing productivity, profitability, and adaptability to specific contexts. To empower women to stand for themselves, female farmers should be able to decide which technology they want to use according to their interests and concrete roles, before making sure they could benefit from such tools. This can range from hyper technologized tools to more traditional strategies, such as access and use of herbal medicine to improve animal health.


How might we enable women in agriculture to achieve digital literacy to help them utilize technology to its maximum potential thus making them independent?

Access to land and technology are urgent actions when dealing with gender inequalities in the agricultural system. If for land, the issue starts with ownership, for technology the challenge deals with both access and ability to use. This explains why digital literacy should be considered as a crucial, fundamental right to ensure efficiency in the agricultural sector and gender equality.

Among the most needed activities, participants stressed a systematic use of technology, touching both the housing dimension and farming activities. In fact, incentivizing the use of smartphones within families can deliver economic returns for women when also associated with housing activities (such as using smartphones to pay the bills). This means that digital literacy, just as for basic education, should also be designed to embrace the whole environment characterizing women’s daily activities.


How might technology enable women in agriculture to break down market barriers (like market access and financial advisory) thus encouraging local food systems?

The role of women in agriculture is often hindered by strong market barriers. Whether it is lack of access to micro-credit, lack of sufficient education, or inability to be seen by investors, technology can play a crucial role, especially in the form of platforms in ensuring peer-to-peer support.

Supporting women to form groups, to share information, and to work together is crucial not only to spread best practices on female agro-preneurship but also to better ensure access to microfinance. Microfinance is not just about technology and financial tools, it is also about networks. Success is the best tool to assess progress, not income itself, because when female farmers are successful, other women are keen on learning from their example.


What would 2030 look like if ALL women small-scale dairy farmers have access to technology?

The current old mindset, based on a rigid patriarchal approach, is neither working nor beneficial for the whole community. Women, and especially women farmers, are proven to be keener on learning from each other, exchanging knowledge, and being more trusted by institutions. Overcoming this anachronistic attitude characterized by supposed weakness and exclusion from decision-making is more urgent than ever. If all women small-scale dairy farmers would have access to technology, the world would appear a more caring place.

Livestock is the ideal setting for women’s skills because it implies taking care, continuing life, breeding. To achieve this precious goal, technology along with capacity building should be better implemented for women. This means including parameters that simultaneously increase the income while decreasing the costs, counteracting typical patriarchal attitudes.


How might we enable women to be catalyzers of sustainable practices in agriculture and achieve increased carbon sequestration and neutrality?

Women can become precious catalyzers of sustainable agriculture practices. However, together with severe forms of gender inequality in agriculture, causing women to be ignored, and underestimated in their approaches, emergent markets often undervalue the issue of carbon sequestration in favor of productivity maximization.

To invert this trend, multilevel partnership and collaborations are pivotal. omen empowerment occurs in three different stages: individual level, turning women into more confident and self-reliant decision-makers; community-level, recognizing and acknowledging women as champions in sustainable practices; and policy level. Technology could be central, especially in handling information and sharing knowledge. Special attention should be given to technology implementation to avoid further marginalization of women.

Food is not only the result of our natural ecosystem, but it is also an important nexus of society. To accelerate the needed transition, empowering women is strategic: women are the connectors within communities.

With no distinction between the North and South of the globe, the urgency of ensuring food security, and consequently food justice, must address more effective forms of equity and inclusion.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Therefore, we need different perspectives and solutions with the continued interest in smallholders, women, youth, and indigenous people.” stressed the UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina J. Mohammed, at the Pre-Summit of the UN Food Systems Summit held in Rome at the end of July.

We live in a world where both men and women are required. We need all their talents and skills, we urge everyone to be represented in their voices and rights.

The dawn of women in agriculture has to start now.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

The Future Food Institute is an international ecosystem that believes climate change is at the end of your fork. By harnessing the power of its global ecosystem of partners, innovators, researchers, educators, and entrepreneurs, FFI aims to sustainably improve life on Earth through transformation of global food systems.

By training the next generation of changemakers, empowering communities, and engaging government and industry in actionable innovation, FFI catalyzes progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Learn more at www.futurefoodinsitute.org, join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or YouTube. Or attend a program through the FutureFood.Academy




Future Food is an ecosystem of innovators committed to generating a global positive impact by empowering the ever growing community of young entrepreneurs, farmers and food innovators with disruptive ideas, and supporting corps and institutions on their path to open innovation.

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