Cultivating change: celebrating women’s vital role in the food supply chain

Posted on 25 Apr 2024 by Joe Bush

While agriculture has traditionally been seen as a male-dominated industry, in recent years there has been a dramatic rise in female farmers, with a ten percent increase in women joining the industry over the last decade. Women in particular are involved in leading the transition to more sustainable farming practices, with many working on farms that are adopting regenerative agriculture techniques to enhance their supply chain.

Amanda Crook, Lead Agronomist – Western North America and Jess McGhie, Senior Global Sustainability Manager – McCain Foods, the world’s largest manufacturer of frozen potato products explain further.

Despite this increase, and the leadership and technological triumphs of women in food and agriculture, many still face barriers when starting or building their careers in the industry.

As climate change continues to shift the way we approach farming, there is a growing need for more women to enter the agriculture sector and offer different perspectives. This intensifying issue along with the current geopolitical landscape has led to food, energy and cost-of-living crises across the globe, revealing the fragility of our food systems.

In March 2023, the IPCC predicted that we’re likely to surpass 15°C warming by 2030, with the global food system, including agriculture, production, packaging and distribution, causing approximately one-third of greenhouse gas emissions.

Women have a key role to play in combating climate change – a more diverse agriculture workforce will bring fresh perspectives, increase creativity and drive innovation. Closing the gender gap in agriculture needs to be made a priority.

Thankfully, more women are becoming involved with organisations that are leading the transition to sustainable farming practices, with many working on farms that are adopting regenerative agriculture techniques.

It’s crucial to shine a spotlight on the remarkable contributions women make in sustainable farming, the food industry and the transition to regenerative agriculture.

The promise of regenerative agriculture

Amanda commented: “I wanted to join the agriculture industry from an early age having grown up in ‘Wheat City’ Brandon, Manitoba. It was through a summer internship that I was first captivated by the potato industry. I have now worked in the industry for 13 years, holding titles including farm agronomist, regional agronomist, research agronomist and my current title as lead agronomist for Western North America at McCain.

My role at McCain involves working with our local regional agronomists across Western North America to offer variety management guidance, agronomic extension services, and support for our farm partners adopting regenerative ag practices at commercial scale. The principles of the regenerative ag practices aim to improve soil health, increase carbon sequestration, reduce emissions, enhance crop diversity, optimise inputs, and reduce pesticide applications all while sustaining crop yield and quality.

“Transitioning to regenerative agriculture is highly important for the future of farming. In many growing regions, our potato growers are already experiencing climate variability which could really change the future of food. We must play our part in addressing this issue and help shape a smart and sustainable farming future.

“I try to share my experience as a female professional in agriculture when I can, to inspire other non-traditional colleagues to embrace opportunities given to them in this often masculine-facing industry.

“I hope to be a positive force for women by working in a way that helps people expand their perspective on what women in the agriculture industry can do. I’ve been lucky enough to work with many great women in the past who have inspired me to make a difference in the industry. It’s always rewarding to see how my work honours those who have come before me and opens doors for women in agriculture who will come after me.”

Insights into women’s vital role in the sustainable farming supply chain

Jess added: “I’ve worked in sustainability for nearly a decade across the corporate sector and was driven by the opportunity to create faster change through the power of business and its supply chains – in fact it was one lecture in my Geography degree on this point which sparked my interest! In my current role as McCain’s Senior Global Sustainability Manager, I partner with teams across the business to help achieve our sustainability targets, including our commitment to implement 100% regenerative agriculture across our potato acreage by 2030. I also manage McCain’s sustainability reporting strategy, multi-stakeholder partnerships and commercial engagement.

I’ve always been inspired by the ability of agriculture to drive change in the food system. We know it’s part of the problem, but also the solution. Having worked across different industries, to have the opportunity to work in agriculture and get out in the field to hear from the people who keep us fed and are on the front lines of climate change is a humbling experience.  It’s also critical, especially in roles like mine, to be a “translator”- finding ways to translate the experiences, challenges and opportunities to a variety of audiences, whether that’s customers, governments, NGOs or others.

“I’ve also seen first-hand the work being done to help make farming more sustainable and regenerative, both within McCain and in the many organisations we work in partnership with. A big part of my role is participating in multi-stakeholder coalitions which act as great platforms for collaboration; new forms of pre-competitive collaboration in the space are not easy but will be increasingly critical for scale.

“Women’s leadership, innovation, and resilience are crucial for accelerating this positive change across the farming landscape, fostering food security, and preserving our planet’s precious resources. I’ve worked with many inspirational women during my career who have provided opportunities for growth and development, given valuable feedback, and set the bar high. We need to create space for all and challenge outdated perceptions and barriers.

“We have the choice to make a difference and bring about positive change for the food system – from the farm to the consumer and every stakeholder and partner in between. As businesses, we must set an example through sustained change – there are no quick fixes. Only then can we collectively tackle the climate and nature crisis facing our planet.”

Agriculture is changing and women can provide vital new perspectives to transform the future of food supply chain

 Women play a pivotal role in shaping the food industry, contributing significantly to its success and resilience. Their active role drives better business performance and fosters positive societal impact.

As climate change shifts the way we approach sustainable farming, women’s contributions are vital to protect the future of food. Businesses need to ensure that women feel empowered in their roles and that support is available to help them flourish.

McCain is helping women employees grow within the businesswomen currently make up 35% of global leadership roles, and we are on track to meet our target of women in 40% of global leadership roles by 2026. Women’s coaching sessions and personal development opportunities enable female employees to feel heard and be encouraged, while a hybrid working model for the brand’s corporate workers allow more flexibility for parents and caregivers. But our work will not stop there. Building a culture and environment where everyone can thrive, is supported and can show up as their authentic self will be an ongoing effort, and is central to our diversity, equity and inclusion journey.

As McCain continues on its journey of regenerative agriculture, the women in its workforce will bring a unique perspective to regenerative agriculture research, offering innovative solutions which focus on sustainability and resilience. Empowering women across all levels of the supply chain, from farms to head office, and incorporating their insights into agricultural practices will help to foster food systems that are better equipped to adapt to the challenges posed by climate change.

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