International Women’s Day: Highlighting Women in Agriculture

by Joan Conrow

March 7, 2016

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it’s important to note the critical contributions of women to farming and agricultural science around the world.

Women engaged in commercial and subsistence crop and livestock production comprise 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing nations. In some regions, this figure is much higher: Almost 70 percent of employed women in Southern Asia and more than 60 percent of employed women in sub-Saharan Africa work in agriculture, according to statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

But even these numbers may underestimate the full role played by women, who work, on average, longer hours than men.

Dr. Susan Miyasaka, agronomist from the University of Hawaii (Photo credit, Cornell Alliance for Science)

Though women continue to advance in the agricultural sciences, they still do not participate on a level playing field, writes Vicki Wilde, Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Bringing more women into scientific careers serves to do more than symbolically close a gender gap. It brings a wider variety of experiences and views that can greatly benefit scientific research and development as well as society.

Kathryn Boor, who grew up on a New York state dairy farm and now serves as the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is a strong advocate for women in farming and science. In a recent plenary panel discussion at the USDA s 92nd Annual Agricultural Outlook Forum, Dean Boor spoke of the need to develop a new agricultural workforce to succeed the current generation of farmers.

Simultaneously, we need to address the national shortage of those with college-level or higher education who are excited about careers in agriculture, Boor said. Attention must also be given to nontraditional audiences, including veterans, refugees from rural backgrounds, migrant farm workers, and women, she said.

Over the past year, the Cornell Alliance for Science has featured the work of many outstanding scientists and farmers who also happen to be women, including Dr. Sampa Dass, Farm Babe Michelle Miller, Pam Ronald, Lydia Garas and the 2015 Fellows of the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development.

In this issue, we mark International Women’s Day by profiling three women working directly with plants and animals: Ethiopian farmer Makida Mohammed; Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam, a Cooperative Extension Specialist in Animal Genomics and Biotechnology at the University of California at Davis; and Dr. Susan Miyasaka, an agronomist with the University of Hawaii at Manoa s Komohana Research and Extension Service.