How can women’s potential be utilized in the agri-food sector? Małgorzata Bojańczyk, Director of the Association for Sustainable Agriculture & Food in Poland, and Karolina Tarnawska, Vice-President of the Management Board at the Association
Małgorzata Bojańczyk, Director of the Association for Sustainable Agriculture & Food in Poland, and Karolina Tarnawska, Vice-President of the Management Board at the Association, discuss its new initiative, aimed at strengthening the role of women in both agriculture and food production industry.
Where did the idea for Agro Woman come from?
Małgorzata Bojańczyk: The use of women’s potential in agriculture and their broader inclusion in decision-making processes represent a significant opportunity for the growth of the entire sector. Rural areas cannot exist without women, who have been an integral part of agriculture for centuries – not only in Poland, but throughout Europe. Today, women make up almost 50% of the agricultural workforce in the EU, so it is high time for their role to be more prominently reflected both in the way the industry makes decisions, as well as in the decisions themselves. This is particularly important also due to the fact that even though women living in rural areas are statistically better educated than men, the former group is not given the adequate conditions for professional development in the countryside. As a result, women often opt for careers in the cities, which constitutes a major loss of competence for the agricultural sector, depriving it of a diverse perspective on current issues.
That is why I believe that we are in a unique position to change this situation and join forces to support the transformation we want to see in our industry. Above all, such transformation involves climate protection, pro-environmental activities and actions aimed at increasing the sustainability of food production. As part of the initiative, we also want to help women achieve success – today and in the future.
Karolina Tarnawska: Naturally, empowering women and strengthening their influence on activities within the agricultural environment are not the only goals of our initiative. Bearing in mind the challenges faced by women in the rural environment, it is very important for us to encourage them to remain in the countryside and tie their future, both professional and private, with it. I cannot imagine the world of agriculture, including the lives of farmers, without the support of women who, in addition to being wives, partners and mothers, more and more often take on the role of managers, financial officers and logistic directors at farms, run together with men.
Nowadays, women are better educated than their grandmothers or mothers. Social media and new technologies have improved access to information and people’s lifestyles are changing – all this should lead to the countryside becoming an attractive environment for women. It is crucial to ensure that those who decide to live in the rural areas do not feel cut off from the opportunities created for women by the modern business world.
Fostering women’s entrepreneurship, as well as promoting their image, role and leadership, not only at the farms, but also in organisations and companies across the entire food responsibility chain, which constitutes an integral part of agriculture, are very high on Agro Woman’s agenda. In fact, new guidelines, “The European Women on Boards Directive”, which were adopted by the EU in December 2022, deal with strategies for gender equality. The aim of the Directive is to ensure said equality among directors of listed companies, including those within the agri-food sector. As Poland is currently ranked 18th in the EU in terms of the number of women holding executive positions1, there is a lot of work ahead of us.
Małgorzata Bojańczyk: Helping people recognise the importance of women’s role in agriculture can lead to the better understanding of agricultural ecosystems and the challenges they face. And there are quite a lot of them – the dynamic transformation process currently taking place in the agri-food sector applies to both the market and the agricultural producers. One of the most significant challenges is the need to comply with the new regulations of the EU on sustainable food chains, which includes the obligation to report the environmental and climate impacts of food production at every stage of the process. Therefore, as part of the Agro Woman initiative, we want to both create a platform for women to share their experiences and stories, as well as provide a tool and space to discuss the role of sustainability in agriculture and food production, innovation, technology, management and the challenges the future may bring.
Karolina Tarnawska: Supporting women in the agricultural sector is important for several reasons. Firstly, women represent a significant part of the agricultural workforce, especially in developing countries. Backing the work of such women leads to increased food production and food security. Secondly, allowing women to be fully involved in agricultural processes and take part in decision-making at the farms generates social and economic benefits. Women have knowledge and skills that contribute to diversified production, better quality of products and sustainable use of natural resources. Said support can include ensuring access to education, training and information on modern agricultural practices. It is also important to provide women with economic knowledge and access to loans, land, agricultural tools and markets in order to enable more efficient operations. The achievement of gender equality and the removal of cultural barriers also plays a vital role in this process, being beneficial not only to women themselves but also to local communities by, among others, increasing food production, improving living conditions in rural areas and fostering sustainable development.
I believe that for most of us, the image of a Polish woman from the rural environment is associated solely with the activities of the farmer’s wives’ associations. As we strive to move beyond this long‑established pattern and offer women the opportunity to learn from others, we are delighted that the Agro Woman’s Programme Board comprises of women with such a wide range of experience – from those with scientific and business backgrounds to embassy representatives.
Małgorzata Bojańczyk: We find it extremely important for the discussion on the role of women and sustainability in the agri-food sector to be as broad as possible, taking various perspectives and experiences into account. Together we can achieve more. Therefore, we have decided that one of our first undertakings will be a programme aimed at supporting active women from rural areas in facing the challenges associated with running a business. We are already inviting such women to apply for our mentoring programme – detailed information will be soon published on our website: agrowoman.pl. In addition, within the Programme Board, we have begun preparing a series of conferences on topics related to challenges in rural areas. The first conference will take place this year and will focus on well-being and professional burnout among the rural community.
Last Updated on January 15, 2024 by Anastazja Lach