The Women Who Feed The World

This International Women’s Day we’re putting a spotlight on the women in agriculture and rural enterprises from Britain to Africa.

In the UK, the number of female farmers has risen by nearly 10% to more than 25,000 between 2010 and 2013, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). That means 28% of the British agricultural workforce is female.

Women are incredibly optimistic about the role they will play on farms and in shaping UK agriculture over the next decade.

In the most recent, and only, survey about farming involved 2,000 British women and the results were pretty amazing. It showed a huge shift in mindset: 59% suggest agriculture is either the same or better than other industries in terms of offering equal opportunities – and when asked to predict what the situation would be like in 10 years’ time, this figure rose to 87%.

South Devon farmer Rebecca Hosking, and co-owner of Village Farm, is passionate about high welfare food with 100% traceability. Rebecca believes women are equally good farmers as men.

“I don’t feel any disadvantage as a female farmer. Farming is such a broad discipline with so many skills I actually don’t think there’s much of a divide between the sexes, gone are the days of women in farming being ‘the farmers wife”. But I guess I have no macho ego to live up to, which can be present in agriculture. My farming style is intuitive, I listen to my gut and follow my instincts. I do the best I can by my animals, all the time,” says Rebecca.

Many of the people I work with are also women, and they are so great at what they do. My sheep shearer is the only professional female sheep shearer in southern England. I’m constantly amazed by her skill and knowledge, she’s is just incredible.”

Some women are redefining what it means to be a farmer in Britain today. As the number of British female farmers doubles, Sophie Priest, 30-year-old pig farmer has some insights on this, especially when it comes to what we believe farmers should or shouldn’t be.

“When I say what I do, I get the usual ‘You don’t look like a pig farmer!’ To which I ask, ‘Well what is a pig farmer supposed to look like?’” Sophie told the BBC recently.  “That puts them on the back foot because they don’t want to be politically incorrect.”

 –Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 10 Pig farmer Sophie Priest hopes more women will follow in her footsteps into agriculture

Does more need to be done to encourage women to work in the UK sector? The answers from recent reports appears to be ‘yes’, although it is widely acknowledged that the industry is significantly more attractive to women than ever before. In the UK women studying agricultural-related courses at universities and colleges attracted 25% more women than men in 2015, the latest enrolment figures from Defra show.

It’s not just British female farmers that are redefining farming in the world. The majority of smallholder farmers in Africa are women, and with the right support women could be responsible for ending world poverty.

But unlike Britain, there are more gender-sensitive issues that are unresolved.

“Women are the solution to improving food security and helping alleviate hunger and poverty”, says Food Tank’s Danielle Nierenberg.

“It’s more than a little absurd, if you think about it, which I do all the time: women make up more than half the world’s population and women farmers produce half of all of the world’s food. And yet, the contributions of all of these women agricultural producers and food system workers are unnoticed and almost universally ignored.”

According to the UN Food and Agriculture, if women farmers had the same access to resources – land, credit, education, extension services – these workers could increase food production by 20 to 30 percent and lift as many as 150 million people out of hunger and food insecurity.

Bigger issue
Gender discrimination isn’t just a social issue, it impacts everyone – in particular for equality, poverty and climate change.

So, today, we welcome Women’s International Day and all the women farmers out there. And ask you, where ever you are, to support women in farming. There are also many things we can do to help around the world, and in Britain too.

Check out the following:

Oxfam’s #Remember Her Rights Campaign celebrates the impact of women’s rights advocates around the world.

HeForShe is a solidarity movement that encourages all men to stand up for the equal rights of women to create a better world for all.

1% for Women promotes and works with businesses that commit 1% of their net profit to microcredit loans for women in agriculture around the world.

FarmHer is a project by Marji Guyler-Alaniz, who documents women in agriculture through photography in order to promote their cause.

The Female Farmer Project chronicles the rise of women in agriculture by recording and sharing the stories of female farmers who are leaders in the food movement.

Women’s Earth Alliance (WEA) invests in grassroots women’s leadership to create solutions to our most critical ecological is – water, food, land, and climate. WEA believes that by investing in women farmers, they are investing in whole communities.



Katie Roche

Katie Roche

Katie is editor of The Food Assembly blog. She enjoys writing about community, food, sustainability and how it all fits together.


  1. Well done and thank you Kate for a very interesting and inspiring article on Women Farmers. It gives valuable knowledge and encouragement to all young ladies, not only of the local area, but nationally and internationally. I have shared this article with my daughter and I hope many other mums do the same.

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