The 1st Women in Food and Agriculture Summit

women in food and agriculture summit panel discussion amsterdam 2019

Who run the world?……3 female Connecterrians attended the 1st Women in Food and Agriculture Summit, held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. A glimpse of what was said in the room of 250 agricultural and food experts, of which 99% women.

Food activist and founder of Spare Rib, Rosie Boycott kicked off the event by saying that the food system is broken. “1000 calories of healthy food cost 7.50 UK pounds, compared to 2.30 UK pounds to for unhealthy food. If the food is cheap, the wages are cheap, and people will eat the wrong food and become obese and ill. This tells us that capitalism is really bad if u apply it to food”, Rosie addressed. “But there are solutions such as carbon taxes and more money in the chain”. And this is what is happening already, as mentioned by Jackie Applegate from Bayer Crop Science. “We have never seen so much venture money going into agriculture then ever before”, said Jackie. 

Closing the gender gap

Mark Lyons, president and CEO of animal nutrition company Alltech addressed the need to  have technology and innovation to move agriculture forward. He also mentioned that the challenge in agriculture is to keep on telling positive stories and put effort in connecting consumers. Alltech  very much encourages the a fair representation by women in the food and agriculture industry and Mark therefore presented the results of a survey that was carried out to explore the barriers holding women back, and what the industry can do to further the fight for equality.

For the most part, the survey shows that the industry is making great progress in closing the gender gap and employees are feeling positive about the future. 58% feel that women are well-represented in the industry and 79% agree that their organization is becoming more inclusive. One point of interest is that only 39% of women knew of their company’s diversity and inclusion policy and that a further 40% were not aware if one existed. With a vast majority, 97%, of women indicating their confidence in their ability to positively impact the future of our industry, organizations have an opportunity to create a path that leads to better inclusion today and empowers the leaders of tomorrow. Mark: “The Women in Food and Agriculture survey revealed a great deal about where the agri-food sector stands on gender diversity and illuminated where we need to collaborate to affect positive change. There are challenges to overcome, yet there are several steps organizations can start to take and proven examples of how to bring about success”.

Importance of innovation and tech

During one of the break out sessions on ‘Innovation Approaches to Feed the World’,  Nicky Deasy, managing partner at the Yield Lab Europe highlighted that we see lots of new technologies popping up around plant science, animal health, soil health, irrigation, alternative protein and robotics, all changing the way we produce food. Next to the technology itself, also more data science is taking place in the food chain. Lynsey Chapman from Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock addresses the importance of working with the right data. “Let’s get the numbers right. By using new measurement tools and technology we can do this, and ensure that everyone buys in on the same measures, and everyone works with the same numbers. Promote the best practices, start at farm level and further scale out this throughout the whole chain”.

Anna Osann further addressed in this session that technology is needed to glue all the challenges we have in agriculture together. “We are all aiming for climate smart farming, meaning that we have to increase production in a sustainable way, increase resilience and cut down emissions. Can these three go together? Yes, I think that is certainly possible by the use of technology. So let’s use it!”, Anna said.

Shorter food chains

Lizelle Alberts, founder of Frutem stated that where more women work, economies grow. At the same time, women only represent 12.8% of global land owners. “But women have a higher output per hectare than men. We therefore need women to feed the world and the food system needs to change”, Lizelle addressed. The need for change was also mentioned clearly by Barbara Baarsma, CEO of Rabobank Amsterdam. “The Netherlands wants to move to circular agriculture and to make this happen it should be mandatory for all supply chain partners to supply data. Also for foreign companies operating in the Netherlands. Also shorter supply chains can help. By selling fruit, potatoes and eggs for example, 30-40 percent more margins can be gained by the producers. But shorter supply chains are not perfect. It is not the end conclusion to our problems”, Baarsma noted.

Don’t be a lady, be a legend

“Every person in the world has a story that the world needs to hear. If you speak to people with this attitude you learn so much from that person.” Lynda McDonald Senior Executive at DeLaval International said at the second day of the conference. Some of the attendees posted their take home messages on Twitter.