Helping Farms Thrive

How Women Power Modern Farming

If you close your eyes and imagine a typical farmer, who comes to mind?

In everything from coloring books to truck ads, you typically see male farmers, with women more often appearing as “the farmer’s wife.” Fortunately, that’s not the whole truth. Around the world, our food supply depends on the brilliance and determination of women.

Women are powering modern farming in both the developed and the developing world. While it’s true that we haven’t reached parity yet in every region, the upward trends are remarkable.

Some Ground Still to Cover

However, women farmers still face challenges.
Lower wages
Women’s wages are typically lower than men’s. While this is changing in higher-income countries, unpaid work for family duties is still an issue. In lower-income countries, the pay gap remains considerable.
Less access to education & training
Competing demands on time can also mean fewer opportunities for formal education and training, less access to advice and extension services, or lower participation in farmer organizations — all chances for life-long learning.
Limited ownership and access to assets
Women are the productive force behind many of the millions of smallholder farms across Africa and Asia. But they often do not have rights to the land they cultivate or the same level of access to credit or equipment as their male counterparts.
Barriers to participation in business decisions
In developing countries, men often dominate the marketing and commercial aspects of farm produce. Empowering rural women to be involved in the business of farming and giving them access to crop markets will be key to true equality.

Real Experiences

What is the reality of working in agriculture as a woman today? Six women from around the world share their perspectives:

Ruth Kajuju

There’s nothing small about Africa’s smallholder farmers. Meet Ruth Kajuju, who runs a small farm in Kenya, growing potatoes, corn, and other vegetables.

“We come together to farm and help each other,” Ruth says. “For example, we help out when someone doesn’t have money to hire casual laborers. We also formed a women's group that bought a calf for each woman, and today, these calves are mature cows.”

In managing their plots, Ruth and her community deal with changing climate patterns, the need for stable water resources, approaches to improving soil health, and access to markets. Together, they are rising to these challenges — and progressing step by step.

Henriette Keuffel

Henriette Keuffel has deep roots in farming, and she’s excited to chart a future in agriculture, as well.

“Farming’s multifacetedness always fascinated me,” she says. “I grew up on a farm in Germany, so at some stage I’ve always been a country girl surrounded by cows, pigs, horses and crops. However, during my teenage years, I lost sight of farming and agriculture. But during my Business Administration studies a few years ago, I interned on a dairy farm in New Zealand, and all my childhood memories of how great yet personally challenging life in ag is, came back.”

Today, Henriette is pursuing an Agribusiness Master’s Degree, bringing her passions for farming and economics together.

“From my point of view, the future career perspectives for university graduates in our sector are so broad,” she says. “I’m not too sure, where my path will lead me — becoming a consultant, a product manager or even managing my own farm one day. But one thing I know for sure: I never want to lose proximity to practical farming because that’s where I found my true calling assuming responsibility.”

Risper Njagi

Today Risper Njagi, is studying law, but she grew up in a farming family in central Kenya.

“My mom has always been a small-scale farmer, so I’ve been directly involved in agriculture my whole life,” she says. “In Kenya, young people want to be engineers, bankers, or doctors — not farmers. Yet at the same time, Kenya is a very young nation, and our young people have the most energy and modern knowledge. They have the know-how to improve agriculture, but they often won’t do it because it’s a stigmatized sector.”

She’s seen first-hand the challenges women face in farming, as well as the tremendous strength they bring.

“Small-scale farming in Kenya is mostly done by women like my mother,” she says. “That’s how it has always been. But it’s subsistence farming, and not enough to feed a whole country. We use the most traditional methods — the same old tools, the same old seeds. Female farmers need tools to enable them to be better agricultural practitioners. But I’m optimistic that the future for women in agriculture will improve.”

Katarina Sasse

Katarina Sasse works alongside her parents and one of her sisters to manage Leichhardt Fields, a farm that grows winter wheat, canola, and lupin. She’s excited about big changes coming to farming.

“In my lifetime, I have seen massive changes to the way we farm,” she says. “When you look at it, we are now on the brink of one of the most fascinating eras of modern technology and there are so many opportunities for young women who come back to their family business.”

Farming is also getting media visibility, with role models of women in farming who are shifting daughters’ perspectives.

“The good thing is, daughters aren’t walking onto the property with pre-conceived ideas of what and how things should be done,” she says. “Rather, they are learning from scratch and bringing a completely fresh way of looking at things.”

Jinyi Chen

As a PhD student at the School of Agriculture and Environment at the University of Western Australia, Jinyi Chen is studying herbicide resistance, a critical area in advancing the science of farming.

“It’s enriching to study in such a multicultural country,” she says. “We are all advancing each other’s knowledge.”

She’s eager to see more young people in her native China get involved in agriculture.

“In China, young people don’t see agriculture as a promising career,” she says. “I want to give agricultural careers a better image and make consumers notice how farming benefits their lives.”

Annie Dee

For Annie Dee, family is the heart of farming.

“I’ve come a long way from painting and sanding the gates on my parents’ farm,” she says. “As a mother, I hope that the hard work we’re doing now will help the next generation keep our farm going better than ever. Our legacy is in the land that we protect and grow.”

On her family farm in Aliceville, Alabama, Annie continually looks for new approaches and tools to grow and improve.

“Investing in technology plays an incredible role in growing food that’s sustainable and profitable,” she says. “We’ve integrated technology into so many aspects of our farm. From the grain bin manager that automatically regulates temperature and moisture to the state-of-the-art irrigation pumps that ensure no excess energy wasted, technology makes our operation more efficient. Pumps and pivots for irrigation are controlled with a click of a button.”

Farming’s Future Is Female

Empowering women in farming isn’t just a matter of principle. The UN calculates that fully involving women in farming in low-income countries will bring big economic benefits across the board. Crop yields are predicted to increase by 20-30 percent once women farmers are fully empowered in these regions.

Not only will this involve a positive ripple effect for the broader economy and society, but it will also set us up to meet the food demands of today and tomorrow. The future is bright!