WOMEN IN THE AGRIFOOD INDUSTRY – How cross-gender collaboration impacts a successful transformation of the sector

On March 8, 2023, in a debate organized jointly with the European media network, EIT Food raised the topic of gender diversity and invited experts to discuss why cooperation between women and men is important and how it can have a positive impact on the future of the agri-food sector. Women in Agrifood Summit 2023 is a continuation of this theme, in which the need for gender equality and joint action for the future of our planet is going to be strongly highlighted.

You can watch the debate in the recording.

Agrifood sector contributes to a great extent to climate change – 1/3 of all food purchased is wasted, 1/3 of all GHG emissions comes from the food industry and only 1/3 of the freshwater withdrawals are attributed to other sectors of the economy. We need to rethink our food system and in order to do that in a successful way we should value innovators coming from various backgrounds that will provide unique solutions with mutual respect towards each other’s capabilities, skills and experiences. Diversity is a prerequisite of the innovative food system transformation.

The 2023 International Women’s Day brought a chance to talk about equality and its substantial meaning for innovation in agrifood sector. According to European Commission (1) both women and men are involved in agriculture throughout the world, although the roles they play differ significantly by region and are changing rapidly. Gender influences access to productive resources and opportunities, cutting across many assets, inputs, and services—land, livestock, labor, technology, education, extension, and financial services, with women having less access to these across a wide range of contexts. These gender differences in resources and opportunities shape the agricultural sector, both within smallholder agricultural farming systems and within larger commercial systems. Thus, to understand how primary production works, we must understand the gender dynamics within agriculture.

This difficult but very important topic was addressed in an online debate organized by EIT Food on March 8, 2023 with EURACTIV as Media Partner. Among the experts participating in the meeting were: Marja Liisa Meurice, Director of EIT Food CLC North-East, Moa Westman, Gender Specialist at European Investment Bank (EIB), Miro Hegedić, Founding Board Member at Lean Startup Croatia, Giedre Kesiunaite, EIT Food programme’s participant including Empowering Women in Agrifood programme participant from 2021 and Maarten van der Kamp, Director of Education at EIT Food. 

The panellists unanimously admitted that there is an undeniable need for cooperation between women and men, using their unique skills in an equal battle for a better agri-food system, especially in times of crisis that Europe has been facing recently. 

It was confirmed during debate by Giedre Kesiunaite, participant of EWA programme in 2021, who highlighted that in the startup world women solve problems differently than men. In this case diversity could bring much more benefits than competing about who takes bigger part in decision making. What is more, according to Miro Hegedić, Founding Board Member at Lean Startup Croatia, which implemented EWA programme in Croatia in 2022 women are more motivated and focused on analyzing risks and target groups of their business ideas. Thanks to that they are able to achieve long term results that bring better outcomes in comparison to brave but often chaotic approach of men. However, let’s imagine combining courage with a well-thought-out plan of action and business development –  sounds like a perfect plan!

According to European Investment Bank (2) companies with a gender diverse leadership have greater returns on equity and lower operating costs, among other benefits. What is more, having women in the boardroom and upper management is associated with greater financial returns and lower risk taking. Yet, In October 2021, only 30.6% of board members and 8.5% of board chairs in the European Union as a whole were women, a figure that varies greatly among EU Member States. It may resonate well with the statement of  Maarten van der Kamp, Director of Education at EIT Food, who mentioned that there are still many institutional barriers that we need to overcome. What is needed is creativity to realize what are those barriers and how to overcome them. This is a responsibility of us all and this is something that we are all invited to be involved in.

“Gender equality is not a women’s issue, it is a human issue” – said Miro Hegedić. Meanwhile, Marja Liisa MeuriceDirector of EIT Food CLC North-East confirmed that we definitely need more programmes supporting female entrepreneurs, but “[…] let’s do that together!”. Especially that Moa Westman, Gender Specialist at European Investment Bank (EIB) highlighted that there is a definite difference between Europe and other countries in terms of availability of data about women’s activity in agrifood sector. Europe lacks thereof, which contributes to slower movement towards equality in this area. 

Recording of the whole debate is available to watch and listen both on EURACTIV.com (here) and YouTube (here).