In partnership with Corteva Agriscience we invited young people in agriculture to share with us their journey to a career in the agriculture sector. We asked them to show us what they stood for and if they could wave a magic wand what would they change.
Today we meet Francesca Earp who shares with us her
- Belief that gender inclusivity is the future of food security.
- Young people can contribute to international agriculture
- Empowering women benefits everyone
The is Francesca’s story ……
In November of 2018, less than a week after my final exam for my undergraduate degree, I packed my bags and moved to Laos. As my friends prepared for a uni free summer, I purchased a pair of zip-off pants. While my classmates worried about their final exam results, I worried about the waterproofing of my steel-capped boots. When everyone else my age was wondering what they were going to do with their lives, I unbeknownst to myself had already started.
I don’t think it was a surprise to anyone when I decided to enrol in my Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Bioscience, even though the closest I’d gotten to livestock was milking a cow at the Easter show. Despite my lack of experience, I’d somewhat made a name for myself as the girl who loved adventure and getting her hands dirty. During my degree, I spent my holidays in South Africa at a White Shark research centre or as a farmhand at a Goat farm in Rural NSW
Francesca on a Rural placement on a goat farm in Wellington, NSW.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my degree, but I did know I was interested in the relationships between communities and their farming culture. I also loved travel and had been hooked since a service trip to Nepal in my high school years
Francesca and girls from the Dream Centre in Kathmandu, Nepal
So, it also came as no surprise when I decided to complete my honours project in Laos, investigating the cost of foot-and-mouth disease control. Just weeks after returning from my trip to Laos, my supervisor asked if I’d be interested in returning to Laos full time. This time as the in-country implementation officer for two agricultural development programs. It was a no brainer.
I flew to Luang Prabang in November of 2018, determined to make a difference. I worked with farmers, government and university staff. It wasn’t until six months into my time in Laos that I realised what I was genuinely passionate about. I noticed that the female farmers sat at the back of the room during training, that they answered on behalf of their husband in surveys and that I was one of the only females in my team. I noticed female farmer exclusion and disempowerment. After that, I knew what I wanted to do. I became dedicated to the inclusion and empowerment of female farmers in a culturally appropriate manner. I designed non-verbal training tools such as board games and activity books to accommodate for the higher rates of illiteracy due to limited schooling
Female farmers in Xayabuli, Laos playing the board game designed by Francesca
I ran female only training sessions. I became a PhD candidate, investigating the impact of socio-cultural factors on the uptake of agricultural development training programs, with a emphasis on the female farmer. My focus and passions go beyond the empowerment of female farmers in Laos. Just as food security is a global problem, so too is the exclusion of the female farming community. Female farmers in Australia still suffer the effects of gendered disempowerment themselves. With Australian women only becoming legally recognised as farmers as late as 1994.
Gendered poverty, traditional gender roles and patriarchal perceptions of female leadership all result in female disempowerment. Globally women are more likely to conclude formal education early, be victims of violence and displacement and often bear the responsibility of household management. In many counties, ‘ women are more susceptible to disease, malnourishment and the impacts of climate change.
The disempowerment of females results from long-standing and pervasive gendered marginalisation.
The experience of female farmers is a result of the socio-cultural factors of her community.
It is shaped by:
- her age
- her ethnicity
- her community and
- her beliefs.
For that reason, we need to tailor our gender empowerment strategies to our beneficiary groups.
Success comes from:
- acknowledging the intersectionality of the female experience
- being sensitive to the role of the female farmer in her own community.
- learning to ask the right questions.
- ensuring that development is custom-made to each community we apply it to.
- being vigilant that the empowerment of marginalised groups is self-directed.
- putting these women in the position that they can define their own empowerment.
Once we learn to do that, we will be empowering women the world over. Learning to tailor extension programs in Laos can teach us how to empower our own female farming communities here in Australia. Its an answer to a much bigger question.
Back in Australia, after a year and a half of living in Laos, I am still dedicated to the empowerment of the female farmer. To achieve my goals in gender development, I have devoted my studies to learn more about gender, sustainable development and agricultural extension. This has meant I had to make many changes to my original study plans, which saw me move to Cairns to complete my Masters of Global Development at James Cook University. For this Masters program, I am writing a thesis investigating the role of academics from the Asian region in creating feminist theory and scholarship. I am also completing a Master of Philosophy (science) at the University of Sydney, exploring the engagement of female farmers in gender-sensitive agricultural development projects in Laos. I will then begin my PhD at James Cook University in 2022, investigating the tensions between Western academic understandings of culturally sensitive female empowerment and its implementation in agricultural development programs.
I believe that we need to understand and recognise the cultural script of beneficiary communities so that we can tailor agricultural extension programs to these socio-cultural factors. More importantly, I believe in the power of the female farmer. I believe that inclusivity in agricultural extension programs will improve their equality and their successes. I believe that gender inclusivity is the future of food security.
Young Farming Champion Dr Anika Molesworth recently interviewed Francesca for our Leadership is Language series. You can watch the interview here
Read Francesca’s blog “Things my father taught me ” here
Connect with Francesca: LinkedIn and on Twitter
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