Thursday, 15 July 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
15. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the articles of the new CAP he plans to avail of in order to increase the number of female farmers in Ireland, the additional measures he plans to put in place in order to address the low level of female farm ownership and the manner and type of supports that will be provided. [38159/21]
I am sure the Minister will agree that there are many female farmers across the country. The difficulty is that very few of them are recognised as such. The level of female farm ownership is pitifully low. I would like to hear the Minister's thoughts and proposals on how the next CAP plan and other measures can try to address that.
I thank the Deputy for this very important question. Gender equality is a key priority of my Department, one of the founding values of the European Union and a key objective of the United Nations sustainable development goals. The programme for Government includes commitments to develop and implement a new national strategy for women and girls and to act on the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on gender equality. The Department will represent the interests of the agrifood sector in policy development on these commitments. The recently published draft agrifood strategy to 2030 recognises the importance of gender balance to the long-term sustainable future for primary producers and includes actions to promote and improve gender balance at all levels, including at senior management and board level.
The Central Statistic Office, CSO, labour force survey 2019 showed that 13% of workers in the primary agriculture, forestry and fishing sector were female. For 2020, the figure was 15%, the highest since 2010. The CSO’s 2016 farm structure survey recorded 71,700 women working on farms, of whom fewer than one quarter, or 16,100, were farm holders. In a European context, the number of women in farming has been slowly increasing and data from 2016 suggest that, on average, approximately 30% of farms across the EU are managed by women. That is significantly higher than the figure for Ireland, albeit with some considerable differences across countries.
The development of the CAP strategic plan, CSP, involves a number of stages, including a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, SWOT analysis and a needs assessment. The SWOT analysis in preparation for Ireland’s CSP identified gender inequality and the low levels of female participation in the agri-food sector, especially in leadership roles, as weaknesses, while the economic benefits of increasing female participation were identified as an opportunity. The needs assessment for the CSP points to the need to increase opportunities for women in agriculture and business development. A number of interventions were identified for consideration. They are LEADER programme-----
I thank the Minister for his reply. I am glad to hear that he is considering this matter an important one that needs to be addressed. If we are to have a farm structure process across the country that is reflective of the reality on the ground, it must involve culture change and policy changes. A draft CAP plan was published on 11 June in terms of negotiations and contained two articles.
Article 72a states:
1. Member States shall adopt specific actions focused on promoting a greater inclusion of women in the rural economy, through interventions in line with the current regulation with the aim of contributing to the objectives... [and]
2. Member States may, in their CAP Strategic Plans, grant support to promote the involvement of women, inter alia, in knowledge transfer and information actions, advisory services, investments in physical assets, farm and rural business start-up and development, installation of digital technologies and co-operation.
They were removed from the final CAP agreement. The Minister may be able to shed some light as to why. Will he ensure that at a domestic level, those measures are included in our plan?
I again thank Deputy Carthy for putting this matter on the agenda. It is a matter we need to ensure is addressed as part of our CAP plan. Earlier, I outlined some of the interventions that were identified for consideration. The LEADER programme, CPD for advisers, knowledge transfer programme and national supports, including the ACORNS programme have been identified as opportunities here.
Under the rural innovation and development fund, the Department has provided funding support for the ACORNS programme for several years. This has been successful in supporting female entrepreneurs living in rural areas to start new businesses or who have recently started a business, through peer support and collaboration to develop and expand them.
I have continued to engage extensively with stakeholders on the future of CAP, including supports to promote gender equality. Consultations on that are ongoing and will continue. I welcome any ideas or initiatives anyone may have in this regard. We need to make significant progress on the matter on which we are underperforming to the detriment of our agriculture sector. I am very much open to working collaboratively on any suggestions to improve the situation.
I thank the Minister for his response. Just as we need more young people to enter farming, we also need more women, which will make farming a more successful endeavour and ensure it makes an even more positive contribution to our society. The evidence we have seen in other sectors is that statutory bodies such as Teagasc must be obliged to ensure that women enter training and education programmes, along with other measures. The CAP can play a role by providing financial supports and encouragement. We all have a role to play in encouraging farm families to move beyond the notion that it is the eldest son or another son who automatically takes over the farm. Farms can become richer and better places if a broad spectrum of young people and women are entering that process.
Thankfully we have seen improvement in recent years. It has been refreshing for the sector to see an increasing number of women take up leadership roles, including running and managing farms. Some of the most high-profile, innovative, productive and passionate farmers are women and are leading the charge in that regard. Much of the generational renewal that is happening now is bringing significant improvement in that regard. It is important to bring balance and more gender equality throughout the agrifood sector, particularly at primary producer level. I am very happy to work together to facilitate bringing about that cultural change which will bring real benefit for the agrifood sector.