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Respect: Advancing Women in Agriculture 

When you think about agriculture and food, women are involved in every aspect.  We represent most of the world’s smallholder farmers, livestock keepers, grocery buyers, and household cooks. So if women are a vast part of every aspect of producing and serving our food, why is there a dearth of them in leadership in agriculture? 

Last week, I had the honour of discussing that with 30 great women working in agriculture in Singapore. @WOMAGasia regularly brings together women and men to talk about new issues in agriculture.  This is important because building networks, getting training, and the need for gender equity is a conversation that needs to happen with women and men together.   

But on this night, they took the time to have a special, frank conversation about what are the challenges we face in getting women into leadership roles in agriculture. It was cathartic and empowering as we talked about how to get mentors, the challenges of imposter syndrome, and how to deal with work-life balance. There was great advice from around the table and collectively our insights helped us all think of ways to navigate a male-dominated world.  

From time to time it was even a bit depressing as we faced the realities that all of us (me included) had been put in socially inappropriate situations and some #MeToo moments. However, strength comes from numbers and 30 women discussing how to manage these situations certainly left us all with new tools and a wonderful sense of solidarity. As more of us come into leadership roles, I hope we will find the incidence of these problems begin to drop away. In addition, I’ve always found that a great aspect of men in agriculture is that they tend to have grown up on farms and have a strong sense of community and family. They don’t want their daughters in those situations, and they can be an important force for social adjustment in agriculture. 

One male farmer was smart enough to raise that we need a daycare service at major farm shows like FarmTech to make it easier for women to attend the meetings. That’s a great idea. As a matter of fact, it was a group of men at Duxton Asset Management who had the idea to host this event in Singapore and sponsored it at Straits Wine Company.  

We also need to think about how to proactively engage women in industry conferences, advance them to boards, and recognize their accomplishments. I remain deeply touched by being inducted into the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame, but so conscious that there are only 8 women among 210 men.  There is no way this gap reflects the efforts of my mother, my grandmothers, and my great-grandmothers in rural Canada and all the other women who have been the backbone of agriculture.  The fault of this does not lie at the door of men. We, as a society, need to be thinking about recognizing women more often – and we women should be at the front lines of thinking of great female talent to propose. Because, together we are stronger.  

Women throughout agriculture can do more to band together and help each other. I hope a new “Old girls’ network” will come to co-exist with the “Old boys’ network” that will be fully diverse and inclusive. I hope that soon we’ll just be people equitably sharing leadership roles. We are half the world’s population and one of these days I hope we will #FilltheGap to become half of agricultural leadership. 

Happy International Women’s Day!










Robynne Anderson

Robynne has extensive experience in the agriculture and food sector, working throughout the value chain – from basic inputs to farmers in the field to the grocery store shelf. She works internationally in the sector, including speaking at the United Nations on agriculture and food issues, and representing the International Agri-Food Network at the UN.Throughout her career she has worked with farm organisations like the Prairie Oat Growers Association, the National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi and the Himalayan Farmers Association, as well as global groups, to further the voice of agriculture in the food debate. She has also worked with Fortune 500 companies growing worldwide businesses to assist them with issues management and strategy decisions.

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