October 12, 2023

Empowering rural women: The transformative role of female agronomists

In the global battle against hunger and the pursuit of sustainable food systems, rural women play a pivotal, yet often unrecognized, role. Through the voices of dedicated women agronomists and rural farmers from East Africa, Myanmar, and Colombia, we dive into the crucial role of rural women, and the transformative power of initiatives such as Yara's Women in Agronomy (WiA) program.

Female agronomist and female farmer in oil palm crop, in Colombia
Martha España Guecha and Elizabeth Silva, in Colombia
Female agronomist and female farmer in oil palm crop, in Colombia
Martha España Guecha and Elizabeth Silva, in Colombia

Rural women make up nearly half (43%) of the global agricultural workforce and are the backbone of rural economies. They also perform the bulk of unpaid care and domestic work within families and households, ensuring food security and nutrition for communities. 

Yet, despite these indispensable contributions, rural women face significant discrimination in land and livestock ownership, equal pay, participation in decision-making, and access to resources, credit and market. 

The latest UN report on the status of women in agrifood systems reveals that the gender gap in land productivity between female- and male-managed farms of the same size is 24 percent. On average, women engaged in wage employment in agriculture earn 82 cents for every dollar that men earn.  

In addition, the higher burden of unpaid care and domestic work restricts rural women’s access to knowledge, employment and social networks. 

“It’s difficult to be a mother and to take care of our crops. Balancing crop management with childcare is a constant challenge.” 

Elizabeth Silva, smallholder oil palm farmer from Sabana De Torres, Santander, Colombia

Closing the gap 

Yara's Women in Agronomy program is designed to address these challenges through a global network driven by women, for women, in agriculture. The program aims to develop, retain, and attract more women to agronomy-related fields. To date, it has graduated over 240 women. 

The network offers female agronomists a unique opportunity to gain support and take agency for the future of gender equality in the industry. Through networking groups, they create safe spaces for discussion, knowledge-sharing, and building connections with fellow women. 

Elizabeth highlights her relationship with Martha España Guecha, a Technical Agronomist in Colombia, and the support they offer each other: "With Martha, I share the joys of my production. It's a mutually supportive relationship. She is the person who supports and empowers me." 

Creating safe spaces 

The expertise of female agronomists extends beyond agriculture- it includes a deep understanding of the challenges faced by rural women in their daily lives. They provide crucial knowledge, while navigating and addressing the social norms and rigid gender roles that affect women’s participation in agriculture.

Zar Zar Win and female farmer in Myanmar
Zar Zar Win and female farmer, in Myanmar

"Female agronomists create an open and safe space for female farmers. Some rural women feel more comfortable discussing family or women's health matters with a female counterpart, as well as challenges and barriers in their productivity. As a female agronomist, I can navigate and respect these cultural and gender norms while sharing crucial knowledge,” says Zar Zar Win, Senior Agronomist in Myanmar. 

Empowering agents of change 

The Women in Agronomy program empowers female agronomists to become agents of change within their teams and communities. This empowerment, in turn, has a positive ripple effect on other women, and for future generations, improving working conditions for women, livelihoods for female farmers, and overall prosperity for society.

Ann Gachanja and Irene in East Africa
Ann Gachanja and Irene, in East Africa

"One special memory I cherish is when Irene, a lead farmer, organized a training event at her farm and invited me to conduct the training. Her commitment to educating fellow farmers has been commendable," shares Ann Njambi Gachanja, Sales Agronomist in East Africa. 

Challenging traditional gender roles 

The presence of female agronomists in the field challenges traditional gender norms and encourages greater female participation in agriculture. Their visible presence as experts in the field sends a powerful message: women are not just as capable; they are also indispensable contributors to the agricultural sector.

Winjoy Kendi and female farmer in East Africa
Winjoy Kendi and female farmer, in East Africa

Winjoy Kendi, a Customer Relations Representative in East Africa, reflects on her journey: "When I enrolled for a degree in agriculture, many women thought it was a waste of time and it wasn't a good career choice. It wasn't until after graduating, that I got a job as a field agronomist and went back to support the community in smart farming and improving their agricultural practices. Then, many began to appreciate my work and were inspired to venture into the same field and do better." 

Empowering women for a Nature-Positive Food Future 

Empowering women in agriculture is not just about achieving gender equality; it has far-reaching benefits for society as a whole.  

Research shows that closing the gender gap in farm productivity and agrifood employment would increase global gross domestic product by 1 percent (nearly USD 1 trillion). This would reduce global food insecurity by 2 percent and reduce the number of food-insecure people by 45 million (The Status of Women in Agrifood Systems, 2023).  

Additionally, when women have equal access to knowledge and skills, they can promote sustainable farming practices that reduce field emissions, improve soil health, and increase nutrient and resource use efficiency.  

“The presence of women in agriculture is essential to promote sustainable agricultural practices and food security. Women bring a unique perspective and approach to agricultural care and sustainability,” says Martha Guecha 

Programs like Yara's Women in Agronomy empower female agronomists and rural women to overcome challenges, support each other, and inspire positive change. By recognizing and addressing the unique struggles faced by women in rural areas, we can create more inclusive and sustainable food systems, paving the way for a Nature-Positive Food Future. 

The Courage to Be

Book cover The Courage to be

Celebrating 43 remarkable women in agriculture

In 2022, the Women in Agronomy program launched “The Courage to Be,” a groundbreaking book that celebrates the achievements of 43 women, challenging stereotypes and promoting diverse career paths in agronomy. Explore some of their stories by downloading the book below.

Download the e-book 'The Courage to Be' (pdf, 9.3 MB)