Agriculture as a Career of Choice – For Women


My father heard it all the time: Your girls can’t run the family farm.

He had four daughters, including me. We don’t have a brother.

Everybody in town seemed to have a reason for why a farm run by women was not possible. My dad heard it all: We live in a man’s world, whatever that means. Or women lack the skills to manage a farm. Or women can’t work well with male employees.

The people who offered these opinions were concerned and thought they were giving good advice.

But every day, we’re proving them wrong—because for the last 33 years, I’ve been a fourth-generation farmer here in Portugal. By training, I’m an agronomist, which involves the science of keeping soil healthy and raising great crops. My sister joined us 10 years ago. She has a background in management.

We’re doing just fine.

So are millions of other women who farm—and we make up about 43 percent of the global workforce in agriculture, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

As we approach International Women’s Day on March 8, I’d like to share a few thoughts about my life as a female farmer.

When I was growing up, there were few women farmers—just two in our area, in fact. Yet they enjoyed reputations as the best farmers in the region. I don’t know what special challenges they faced as women, but I’ve always known that they were good at what they did.

Today, I don’t think women have it worse than men as farmers. We just do our jobs. So much of our success comes down to character rather than gender. You must make good decisions about what to plant and when to harvest. You must know how to motivate workers. Women may even have a small edge here. In my experience, women who run farms often treat their employees with a softer touch—and the employees respond favorably to this approach.

The biggest problems farmers face have nothing to do with whether we are male or female. The weather affects us all. Last year, we suffered from a drought. Then came a rainy autumn and winter, which made the soil heavy and delayed our sowing schedule in February. All of this affected my neighbors who are male farmers. None of it had a worse effect on me.

We share in other difficulties regardless of whether we are women or men. Farmers must contend with politicians who have no idea about what it takes to farm. Too many of them don’t even care to learn.

They don’t know that we need to sell a lot of what we grow to customers in foreign countries, and therefore we need smart trade agreements that lower barriers rather than raise them. We also must enjoy access to the world’s best technologies, from seed genetics to water efficiencies to crop-protection products that allow us to defeat weeds, pests, and diseases.

The biggest hardship for women who farm may be on our emotional lives. In many areas, daughters of farmers marry men who are themselves farmers. This can solve problems of inheritance, allowing farms to remain in families across generations, no matter whether farmers have daughters or sons or both.

Women who take over farms, however, are sometimes seen as less available for marriage because agriculture is demanding. It requires a large amount of time and effort. It also ties you to a specific place, often in a rural area that is far from cities and other professional opportunities. Many men see these commitments as obstacles to the lives they want to have.

It’s not just women, though. Young men have told me that marriage is difficult for them, too, because a lot of women simply don’t want to live on farms.

Perhaps it just shows that farming has additional challenges, often in ways we never expected.

I’m just glad that my father was so open minded, especially for his age.

When people questioned his plan to let his daughters take over the family farm, he used to laugh and say: “One day, women will run the world!”

We’ll see if that ever happens. In the meantime, I’m happy to be a farmer and do my best to motivate young people – boys and girls – to go into farming. It is my career of choice.

Maria Gabriela Cruz

Maria Gabriela Cruz

Gabriela Cruz, an agronomist engineer, is managing the farm in Elvas, Portugal that has been in her family for more than 110 years with her sister. Using conservation practices and efficient water use they are growing wheat, barley, green peas, clover, maize and biodiversed pastures for raising beef cattle and Iberian pigs in Portugal. Gabriela was recognized as the 2010 GFN Kleckner Global Farm Leader award recipient.

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