Stories tagged: gender gap

Getting More Women into Science Can Help Solve our Food System’s Challenges Faster

On the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Keri Carstens, Global Regulatory Lead – Seed Applied Technologies & Biologicals at Corteva Agriscience, speaks to Farming First about how we can encourage women into agricultural research.

From water scarcity, to pests and diseases that move into new regions and devastate crops, to access to information technology resources, the challenges faced by farmers around the world are complex and ever-evolving.

To solve these problems and enable food production, we need the best and brightest minds working in agricultural research. We need new ideas and diverse viewpoints. The International Day of Women and Girls in Science highlights the great need for women in science, and promotes the impact they can have.

I grew up on a multi-generational farm in Iowa; my family produced corn, soybeans, beef cattle, hogs, sheep, and the occasional hay and oats crop. My dad was a science teacher before he came back to farming full-time. Early on he got me interested in the technical and scientific aspects of farming, by describing the types of equipment and crop protection tools he used, and answering my endless “why” and “how” questions.

For many years, I was certain I would become a veterinarian, so I pursued a pre-veterinary biology degree. One summer during my undergraduate studies, I applied for a Program for Women in Science and Engineering summer research internship. I was accepted and was assigned to a lab that does pesticide toxicology and risk assessment research.

This area of study is the interface between the tools farmers need, like pesticides, and protecting the environment. I fell in love. I have always had a passion for agriculture and the environment, and that area of study sits at the very nexus of the two, helping farmers to make decisions that will protect their harvest and environment at the same time. That summer, I decided that my next steps would be to pursue a Ph.D. in pesticide toxicology, and a career in the field.

I now work at Corteva Agriscience, Agriculture Division of DowDuPont, and I serve as Global Regulatory Lead for Seed Applied Technologies and Biologicals. Around the world, there are special regulatory processes required for each pesticide used as a seed treatment to prevent food loss.

My job is to coordinate with the team of scientists and regulatory specialists around the globe to make sure we do the studies we need to demonstrate safety and efficacy of the seed treatment products, and that we deliver those data to regulators so they can make a decision about the new products we are proposing. In addition to this work, I have the opportunity to lead our company’s engagement around pollinator stewardship.

I love my job. I work at the intersection of agriculture, science and environmental stewardship, with the goal of enriching lives of farmers and consumers, so we all see sustainable progress. And, every day I am amazed at the number of smart, compassionate, fun, diverse people I have the opportunity to work with – all who care about the same things I do.

While barriers remain, I believe the situation for women in science has improved over where it has been historically. Around the world, movements like the International Day of Women and Girls in Science help to highlight the gaps that remain, but more importantly, the achievements of women in STEM fields. These are important steps in the right direction. The old saying “to see is to believe” in many ways applies to inspiring the next generation of scientists; young people need to see people like themselves in careers to feel inspired and empowered to pursue the path.

To overcome the barriers that do remain, I think it boils down to two needs: encouraging fearlessness and building on programming. Mentorship programs and internships are key to bringing more females into STEM fields, but we cannot overlook basic encouragement. At several points in my academic studies and my career, I have benefited from advocates who took a strong interest in me and said “go for it.”

At the same time, that bolstered my initiative to pursue internships, or new roles. One example from my own past that I would highlight – during my undergraduate studies at Wartburg College, I worked in a professor’s biology lab a few hours each week, conducting very basic experiments for some extra money. This man had unbelievable patience with me, while I trialled new CO2 probes and re-ran experiment after experiment for a small-scale study I was conducting.

All along, he encouraged me to try new things and take my time, so that I could learn. What he was teaching me was the basic research process.

To this day, I credit Dr. Ventullo as instilling in me the confidence to apply for the summer Women in Science research internship, which led to my “discovery” of the field of toxicology, which became my career. It can be as simple as one person’s words of encouragement. And, if each of us can play that role for one young woman, we will make a difference.

Featured photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT

Sue Carlson: Rural Women – The Missing Development Demographic

In celebration of the UN International Day of Rural Women today, our guest author, Sue Carlson of the World Farmers Organisation, looks at the status of rural women and their potential for reducing poverty and hunger around the world.

Perhaps more than any other major demographic around the world, rural women have benefitted least from development advancements in the 21st century.

Yet, empowering these rural women not only helps them directly, but also helps them to become powerful agents of change for their communities, the environment and the economy.

Today marks the United Nations’ International Day of Rural Women, which was first held in 2008 to promote “the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.”

In celebration of this day, I am in Lusaka, Zambia for a two-day workshop looking at “investing in rural women to achieve sustainable food systems”, which is being held in parallel with the 108th Annual Congress of the Zambia National Farmers’ Union (ZNFU) as well as the ZNFU Women Farmers’ Forum.

Rural women receive only a fraction of the land, credit, inputs (such as improved seeds and fertilizers), agricultural training and information compared to men.

In Africa, these gaps are particularly pronounced.  Consider these statistics (all of which can be found within Farming First’s “Female Face of Farming” infographic) on African rural women farmers:

  • Only 15% of rural landholders in sub-Saharan Africa are women, yet they represent around 70% of agricultural workers and 80% of the food processors on the continent.
  • Without access or means to alternatives, 75% of smallholder farms are weeded by hand, and women do around 90% of this work – a task which takes between 50-70% of their total time on the farm.
  • Women farmers, on average, receive only around 5% of agricultural extension services, and only 10% of total aid for agriculture goes to women.
  • In most countries, there is a 5%-10% disparity in how many female-headed households can access credit compared to male-led households.

Unfair, you may say? Yes, but this is only one half of the problem.  These discrepanices also contribute to broader declines in well-being in a community.

For instance, an academic study by Hoddinott and Haddad found that a $10 increase to a woman’s income had the same health and nutrition benefit to children as a $110 increase to a man’s income.  In other ways, women are much more likely to use additional income not on themselves but in support of their families.

And broadly speaking, the fact that women receive less training and access to resources means that they are able to produce less on their land and are less able to feed themselves and those around them.  It is estimated that correcting this “gender gap” could result in a 12-17% drop in global malnourishment, as the graphic below illustrates.


Thus, today, on the International Day of Rural Women, let us all take some time to reflect on the importance which rural women play – both as producers and as care-givers – and also on the moral imperative for us all to create equal opportunities for them to thrive.

The World Farmers Organisation works hard to promote the formation and strengthening of women producer organisations and to ensure that women have a voice within mixed organisations. I encourage you all to visit our website on “Women in Agriculture” in order to learn more about this important issue.

Editor’s note:

You can also watch our Farming First TV interview with Sue Carlson, which was filmed onsite at the  2012 United Nations climate change conference, here: