INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY - PAMELA RONALD AND THE IMPACT OF WOMEN IN AGRICULTURE
(Photograph via Deanne Fitzmaurice/National Geographic)
International Women’s Day is a perfect time to profile a prominent woman in the agricultural realm and discuss the importance of women in world agriculture.
One of the most notable women in agriculture is 54 year old American Pamela Ronald, a plant pathologist and geneticist.
Pamela is a University of California, Davis professor whose research has isolated genes from rice to resist floods and disease. In 2014, around four million farmers in seven countries used her genetically modified rice and fed millions of people.
She has spent recent years trying to use her expertise to mend the widening gap between organic and conventional agriculture.
Her mother an environmentalist and her father a Holocaust survivor, Ronald was taught empathy from a very early age – which is why she was drawn to the field of plant genetics. When it comes to staple crops like rice (her specialization), even the smallest advances can affect enormous amounts of people.
She now wants to take it even further, and change agriculture for every single person in the world. She wants to combine the successful facets of both practices to feed the world’s growing population. She contends that we can both feed the world and protect the planet’s natural resources at the same time. A major tool she uses to do this is genetic modification.
She is quick to point out that virtually all food has been genetically improved in some way.
However, as she sees it, those who plant GM crops and organic farmers are not enemies. With her husband who is an organic farmer himself, Raoul Adamchak, she wrote “Tomorrow’s Tale: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food,” a book praised by Bill Gates and Michael Pollan.
She hasn’t just been acting as an agent of change recently though, and has helped diversify the entire atmosphere of her industry. When she began her work in the 1980s, one thing was obvious: there were not many women working in “STEM” jobs – or those in science, technology, engineering, or math.
Now, around 25% of STEM jobs are filled by women and 40% of science and engineering degrees in the U.S. go to women.
To get a better understanding of her work and impact on the overall agricultural community, you can watch her Ted Talk, here.
The impact of women does not stop at one or two countries though. As a whole, women make up 43% of the agricultural labor force in developing countries. Also, according to UN studies, in some sub-Saharan African countries women can make up to 70-90% of the workforce, obviously vital to the food security of those nations.
When it comes to livestock production, women in developing nations dominate the sector – making up an average of two-thirds of the workforce.
As it stands today, women are absolutely imperative to food production. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. In fisheries and aquaculture women only make up 12% of the workforce, and in crop production they could increase yields enough to feed an additional 100-150 million people if they were given the same resources as their male counterparts. As time goes on the more we will rely on and enhance the participation of women in agriculture, and the more food we will produce and the better this world will be.
Today is a day to appreciate women, and we cannot express enough how thankful we are for the countless women who have dedicated their lives to agriculture and feeding the world. As statistics show, developing nations would have zero chance of food security without women, and nations are benefiting more and more from women like Pamela Ronald who are advancing food technology in unprecedented ways.
Happy International Women’s Day everyone!