Female/male farmers. An outlook on women in Flemish agriculture and horticulture

Geertrui Cazaux

October 2011

This pilot study seeks to provide an insight into the role and the position of women in Flemish agriculture and horticulture. It will perform a gender-specific division based on available statistics. The data will be supplemented with comments from five interviewed experts on the role and position of women in Flemish agriculture and horticulture and possible bottlenecks.

Female farmers and growers are largely invisible in research and studies on Flemish agriculture and horticulture. Although two agricultural organisations in Flanders indeed have a women's section (KVLV-Agra = Catholic Educational Association for Rural Women/Agricultural division, and Vrouwen-ABS = Women's section of the General Farmers Union), there are no studies about the contribution of women to agricultural organisations or agricultural policy. Until today, very little research has been conducted into the role and position of women in agricultural and horticultural businesses in Flanders.

We will review a few characteristics of managers in professional agriculture and horticulture and distinguish according to their gender (male/female) (SSU?4). In 2009, of a total of 18,731 managers, 2,041 were female, which means that 11% of managers are female and 89% are male. However, the percentages fluctuate according to production sectors. The most significant deviations are found in the production sectors 'other grazing animals' (22% female v. 78% male), 'granivores' (18% v. 82%) and 'mixed livestock farms' (5% v. 95%).

The average manager's age is on the rise for both men and women: from 46.18 years in 1999 to 49.44 years in 2009. Women's average age is somewhat higher than men's and increased from 46.45 years in 1999 to 50.29 in 2009. If all businesses are taken into consideration (including SSU<4), the average age is higher (53.9 years), and even considerably higher for women than for men: 56.44 v. 53.47 years. Looking at all businesses in 2009 an SSU<4 applied to 34% of the male managers as compared to 50% of the female managers. A different gender ratio among managers also applies in this case: 86% male managers vs. 14% female managers.

The distribution of the self-employed population per business sector shows an underrepresentation of women in agriculture. In agriculture, women represent only 29% of the self-employed population against a general average of almost 34%. It should be noted that this data also includes persons carrying the status of 'cooperating spouse'. The interviewed experts also point at the lower percentage of female managers in the agricultural and horticultural sector as compared to other sectors. Perhaps more than in other industries here it is still considered 'obvious' that companies are registered in the name of the husband.

In 2009, 77% of female managers against 82% of male managers run a one man business. More often than men, women fulfil a manager's job at a bigger company (men 11%, women 19%).

The shares of male and female managers who are married or divorced appear to be practically equal: around 80% are married and 2% divorced. Men have a far greater share in the category of unmarried managers than women: 15% against 6%. On the other hand, the number of widows (10%) far outdoes the number of widowers (1%). An equal proportion of men and women state that they have a successor for their business.

Education levels of male and female managers are distributed as follows: practical experience only: 38% v. 69%; basic education 28% v. 21%; full agricultural education: 34% vs. 11%. These figures involve agricultural education only and hence do not include any other education. Slightly more male than female managers appear to be using a PC.

In total, 63% of the regularly employed people in Flemish agriculture and horticulture (SSU?4) are men against 37% women. The 'spouse of the manager' category has the largest proportion of women as compared to men: 59% women against 3% men. In 2009, 29% of all women carrying the status of 'cooperating spouse' work in the agricultural sector, and in this sector, 97% of the cooperating spouses are female. For the aggregate sectors the figure is 91%.

The number of industrial accidents among wage earners in the agricultural industry is lower for women than for men. In 27% of the industrial accidents the injured person is female against 73% of male victims.

We make a gender-specific split in relation to the direct support in the scope of Pillar I of the Common Agricultural Policy. An analysis of the distribution of paid out (common and special) payment entitlements between men, women, groups and legal entities shows that of all the businesses receiving payment entitlements, 73% have a male and 12% a female manager. Groups and legal entities take up the remainder of the payment entitlements. This male/female ratio approximates the male/female ratio among managers. However, female managers receive only 7% of the value of the payment entitlements.

The 2009 annual report of the Flemish Rural Development Programme (PDPO) 2007-2013 gives an overview of the proportion of women in various PDPO measures. Participations or applications by women for each PDPO measure are as follows: 37% of the courses and traineeships; 29% of short training programmes; 17% of young farmers' establishment; 6% of investment support; 8% of diversification support; 74% of intermediate service provision and 31% of Leader. The large share of women in the measure 'intermediate service provision' (education and training in rural entrepreneurship) is mainly due to the fact that KVLV activities fall in this category.

In this study we have asked experts to indicate bottlenecks with respect to the position of women in Flemish agriculture and horticulture. This resulted in the following recurring issues: 

  • In the agricultural and horticultural sectors, women are clearly underrepresented in management functions as compared to other. This could be a result of the rather traditional and family-related nature of the industries. 
  • In recent years women increasingly have taken up paid employment. This could be a result of the crisis in the sector and hence would be based on financial necessity. Although it could be considered as a sign of emancipation, it does not serve the female cause if the reason is merely a financial one. 
  • It is assumed that women usually perform the administrative tasks at the company; this provides them with a good insight into the health of the business and allows them to oversee the implications of the crisis. 
  • Although 'cooperating spouse' status has been laid down in law, this does not necessarily imply a better position for women in agriculture. The number of people carrying this status has diminished over recent years. Also, the interpretation of the status raises plenty of questions: what about low incomes? Would a fully fledged co-entrepreneurship be preferable? 
  • Perhaps more than in other sectors, good knowledge and awareness of the opportunities and implications of matrimonial property law, inheritance law, company law, fiscal issues, etc., bear great significance in agriculture and horticulture. Women often lack full insight into the business and seem reluctant to discuss their situation. More often than not, expert advisors of farmers and growers also lack the bigger picture.

Neither a gender-specific distinction with respect to characteristics of managers or employees in agriculture and horticulture, nor gender statistics offer an unambiguous response to the question whether or not women in agriculture and horticulture have equal opportunities, let alone on how women experience this. Nevertheless, a gender-specific distinction is the first step that has to be taken in order to get a clear view of the position of women in Flemish agriculture and horticulture. This report has provided the opening move. It is an initial step for further gender research in Flemish agriculture and horticulture.


Original version:



Geertrui Cazaux (2011)
Boerin/boer. Een venster op de vrouw in de Vlaamse land- en tuinbouw
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Division for Agricultural Policy Analysis.



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