NFU celebrates International Day of Rural Women

Farm Forum

WASHINGTON – The United Nations’ has declared October 15 the International Day of Rural Women. In celebration, women farmers gathered for a conference in Lusaka, Zambia, themed “Investing in Rural Women to Achieve Sustainable Food Systems.” The event was hosted by the World Farmers Organization (WFO), of which National Farmers Union is a member, in collaboration with Zambia National Farmers Union.

“NFU is honored to have participated in the event held in Zambia today through our participation in WFO,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “Having Erin Schneider and Sue Carlson on the WFO Women’s Committee is an opportunity for us to ensure that the needs of all our family farmers, regardless of gender, are addressed on a global level. Women play a vital role in agriculture around the world.”

Erin Schneider, farmer and co-owner of Hilltop Community Farm, a diversified CSA operation and orchard in La Valle, Wis., and member of Wisconsin Farmers Union, serves on the WFO Women’s Committee on behalf of NFU. She is one of two U.S. delegates in attendance at the meeting in Zambia.

“Farming, wherever you are in the world, is a social act,” said Schneider. “From composting to community building, we produce food for a huge market of people whether in our backyards or stockyards. It’s in institutions like Farmers Union and the World Farmers Organization, and through gatherings such as the International Day of Rural Women, that we’re reminded how much we rely on one another to make a living stewarding the land, and doing so with dignity. These opportunities for farm women can only be fully realized when we are empowered as decision makers and have access to resources and knowledge. This happens through direct connection, knowledge – sharing and exchange that the gathering in Zambia offers.”

The role of women in agriculture is fundamental to achieving food security and nutrition goals. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates, women are responsible for more than 50 percent of food production worldwide. This includes up to 80 percent of food production in African countries, 60 percent in Asia and 35 percent in South America. For fruits and vegetables the average numbers are higher, with 70 percent of production done by women on an average of two acres or less of land.

In the United States, the story is similar. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the number of ranches and farms operated by women doubled in the last 30 years, with 30 percent (1 million) women farmers recognized as primary operators. A 2013 USDA report found that many of these women are electing small-scale, sustainable methods of farming, especially when getting started in farming. Nearly half specialize in grazing livestock and raising poultry, with others growing diversified crops. Very few are involved in traditional large commodity farming and many diversify their farms through on-farm education, events, and process and learn in community.