GRASS CEILING Lithuanian Living Lab gains insight into marketing and the circular economy in the agro-food sector

In 2024, the second meeting of the GRASS CEILING Living Lab took place in Zapyškis, Lithuania, featuring eight women innovators (Karališka Uoga, Šeimos ūkis “Geltoni botai”, Bačkonių ekologinis ūkis, Rasa Prusakova, 50 Arų. Darbo ir džiaugsmo, Saldūs žiedai, Justė Jankauskienė, Šamūkis, Gurkė, Justina Gikniūtė Kočetova, Rūta Aliukonienė, Lina Vysniauskaite, Aliejus- sveikatai ir grožiui) and two experts in marketing and the circular economy.

Greta Stasiulevičienė, a marketing consultant, delivered a presentation on social networks and advertising opportunities for small businesses. She introduced us to concepts such as warm/cool audiences and how to shape the format of advertising, budgeting, and management. We also learned about the potential of free advertising.

Virginija Kargytė, a lecturer at the Vytautas Magnus University VDU Bioekonomikos plėtros fakultetas and representative of Lithuania BIO, presented the key insights from the ongoing study “Circular Economy Development in the Agro-food Sector: the Potential of Industrial Symbiosis”, which creates future opportunities for cooperation among farms based on the management of material flows, involving local authorities, communities, and other businesses. Industrial symbiosis is presented as a process whereby one producer’s material residue becomes another producer’s resource.

We received a warm and hospitable welcome in Zapyškis, near St. Peter’s Church Senoji Zapyškio bažnyčia, by the “Stuba, House of Activity and Creativity”. Its founder and director, Daiva Vaišnorienė, presented the activities of the women-founded organisation and shared her experience.

EU CAP Network workshop ‘Women-led innovations in agriculture and rural areas’

The EU CAP Network workshop ‘Women-led innovations in agriculture and rural areas’ will take place in Krakow, Poland from Wednesday 17 April to Thursday 18 April 2024.

Women play a vital role in civil society and economic growth in rural areas. They are at the helm of viable farm businesses, and vibrant rural areas and communities. Women are key actors in the rural economy as farmers and other entrepreneurs engaged in off-farm work in multiple sectors. Additionally, women often assume responsibility for the care and welfare of their family members. Yet, despite their crucial contribution, many women suffer from a rather ‘invisible role’, facing numerous challenges such as discrimination and difficulties in accessing the labour market. This situation is exacerbated by the prevalence of rural women participating in informal and vulnerable employment. Often, such employment is inadequately compensated and lacks connections to social protection or pension schemes, which could potentially leave women vulnerable to increased levels of poverty (OECD, 2019).

Women make up 51% of the EU population and, in 2021, 67.3% of all working age women (20-64 years) were employed in rural areas, yet the gender pay gap still stands at 12.7% (Eurostat, 2022). What’s more, in almost all Member States, the gender gap in employment rates is higher in rural areas than urban ones.

In particular, farming is viewed as a male-dominated profession, with women making up 31.6% of EU farmers (Eurostat, 2022). Additionally, women in farming face issues around access to land, training and education, and equal treatment from financial and farming organisations. To counteract this, gender mainstreaming has become an important principle in the CAP. The CAP Strategic Plans (2023-2027) promote the increased participation of women in farming and require a gender equality approach in addition to the assessment of the position of women in agriculture, forestry and rural areas, and the challenges they face.

Various projects, supported by different EU programmes show how barriers to the empowerment of women in rural areas can be mitigated or overcome, with socio-economic benefits through social and other types of innovations. Moreover, women represent a significant driving force for prosperity and social inclusion in rural areas, notably through innovative actions and entrepreneurship. This has been recognised by the European Commission in A Union of Equality: Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025, which is committed to empowering women by supporting gender equality and entrepreneurship in Europe, including rural areas.

Taking into account the above, the EU CAP Network support unit for Innovation and Knowledge exchange | EIP-AGRI is organising a workshop on women-led innovations to demonstrate that farming and rural areas can be attractive places for women, especially for developing their business ideas and applying their innovative approaches.


The overall aim of the workshop is to empower women in farming and rural areas by exchanging knowledge, identifying successful initiatives and projects led by female innovators, and networking.

Specific objectives:

  • Explore opportunities offered under different EU programmes to support women in agriculture and rural areas.
  • Showcase innovative initiatives, businesses and start-ups led by women entrepreneurs in rural areas with a particular focus on innovative farming practices and farm diversification strategies.
  • Identify the needs of and barriers to women entrepreneurs to develop their businesses in rural areas.
  • Promote women-friendly entrepreneurship ecosystems within local rural communities.
  • Activate networking among workshop participants in order to support women-driven innovation and entrepreneurship in rural areas.

The main target groups:

This workshop will focus on good practices of women-led initiatives from EU rural areas, at different stages of development. This includes, but is not limited to, farming, forestry, and environmental productions and services. Other participants that we are looking for include advisors, researchers, representatives from farmers associations, chambers of agriculture, industry, managing bodies, local authorities, press, etc. from across Europe.

Eglė Valuckaitė-Stašauskienė wins the ‘Created in Kėdainiai district’ Award

Congratulations to Eglė Valuckaitė-Stašauskienė, a participant of the Lithuanian Living Labaratory, who won the competition “Created in Kėdainiai district”, organised by the Kėdainiai branch of the Kaunas Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Crafts in cooperation with the Kėdainiai district municipality. According to Eglė, she submitted 4 of her products for evaluation. The tomato crisps „Paduok pomidorų„ (in English „Pass the tomatoes“) and „Paduok aštrumo“ (in English „Pass the spiciness“) created on her farm were the winners.

This is the farm’s newest product, one of 74 available. It was created out of a desire to create a healthy, tasty snack with no added sugar, suitable for both children and adults – colourful and full of flavours. The crisps come in three different flavours and are made exclusively from the different varieties of tomatoes and herbs grown on the farm: with green tomatoes and basil; with red tomatoes, garlic and chilli peppers (for adults); with yellow tomatoes and garlic.

This type of appreciation encourages the development of other exceptional products. It encourages you to improve, to move forward and to keep going. It gives us confidence, but it also gives our customers confidence, because it means that the products are worth trying and tasting.

Rasa Prusakova wins the Future Rural Creators Award

This year we would like to congratulate Rasa Prusakova, a participant of the Lithuanian Living Lab, and her family farm for winning the Future Rural Creators Awards presented by the Lithuanian Rural Network, which unites state and local self-government institutions, bodies and public legal entities involved in rural development processes related to agriculture, food, forestry and rural development. Here, the farm was recognised as the second best “Progressive Farm” for introducing innovations in agriculture.

This is not the only award for Rasa’s farm this year. Her family farm was also the winner of the “Good Farmer” championship. The championship is an initiative that brings together and showcases examples of farmers who farm in harmony with nature. Farmers are nominated by the public, then a panel of organisers selects the farms they visit and chooses them as ambassadors of the “Good Farmer” Championship. Rasa Prusakova’s farm, a participant in the Living Laboratory in Lithuania, has been nominated as one of the three Good Farmer Ambassadors for 2023 for its nature-friendly farming principles. The farm also won the event’s special nomination “Audience’s Sympathy”, i.e. Rasa’s farm received the most support from the voting public. The 40 hectare certified organic farm combines crop and livestock farming with a wide range of vegetables, chickens, turkeys and Highland cows. The farm’s aim is to create a food basket of healthy food for sale, primarily dominated by what they would love to eat themselves. Rasa says that taking part in competitions is like getting free advertisement, her family’s farm has become recognisable and new customers want to get to know and taste the products they grow.

The prize is presented to Rasa’s farm by the patron of the championship, Beata Nicholson, a culinary and environmental enthusiast.

Supporting rural communities by improving women’s access to financial services

  • The UN theme for this year’s International Day of Rural Women is “Financing for rural women’s empowerment”.
  • 15 October recognises the work of rural women in the food systems of the world, and claims rural areas with equal opportunities for all.

The International Day of Rural Women is an opportunity to celebrate women and girls who play a key role in rural areas, developing innovations in response to socio-ecological challenges and strengthening the resilience of rural areas.

According to the Committee on World Food Security (CFS, 2023), the lack of financial capital and financial inclusion are significant constraints to women’s entrepreneurial activities and engagement all along the food system and value chains, from investment in land to agrifood businesses. Structural constraints to women’s access to financial services such as credit and insurance are often based on restricted access to assets, including land and property, that could be used as collateral for loans; family indebtedness; limited knowledge and training of financial services; restricted availability of appropriate loan products for women led micro, small, medium businesses and smallholders; statutory and customary laws that are discriminatory and/or do not respond adequately to women’s needs and priorities; and negative social norms that prevent women from developing and growing their enterprises and productivity. At the same time, fair and equitable access to financial services is a prerequisite for overall societal economic security and prosperity.

While women often lead on socio-ecological transitions and progressive farming methods, they often face significant discrimination when it comes to land ownership, equal pay, participation in decision-making entities, and access to resources, credit and markets. GRASS CEILING is working with women socio-ecological innovators across nine European countries and facilitating interactions with bank managers, agricultural advisers and entrepreneurial experts, and on the occasion of this International Day the project would like to showcase the women in the Living Labs who are breaking new ground, developing innovations and co-learning through mutual support. They are sowing the seeds for future generations of women to lead rural development and agriculture innovations by sharing their stories on how they have overcome challenges accessing financial services:

Birgit Boljun, owner of Val Madorso olive farm in Istria (Croatia) decided to continue the family tradition of olive oil production and was faced with several challenges when trying to raise the necessary funds. Since the bank could not support her, and she did not have sufficient resources for investment, Birgit looked for other funding opportunities and finally decided to apply for an EU project. Based on her experience, she recommends setting multi-year goals, planning well in advance, making adjustments to be eligible to obtain EU funding, as it usually takes a long time to fulfil the tender conditions, reviewing past year’s tenders to see what is generally needed, continuing the basic work to avoid being left without income until the obstacles are overcome, and not being disappointed when things take longer and don’t go according to plan. According to Birgit, it is important to have a vision and be realistic about physical and financial possibilities and set a series of smaller attainable goals.

Letizia Cuonzo took over the family business Azienda Agricola Cuonzo in Puglia (Italy) and used subsidised finance and bank credit tools to expand and transform the company. The major challenges she faced were related to the lengthy bureaucratic procedures, but she was lucky to count on the support of the bank; in her experience, many institutional entities, even at the regional level, now support women’s entrepreneurship and startups, but nonetheless she recommends trying to secure funds by networking with other businesses and building synergies with competent people and entities who can guide entrepreneurs towards the best solutions. The success criteria for addressing and overcoming the main barriers in accessing financial instruments are, in her opinion: developing financial skills and literacy and being able to engage competent people who can provide advice in fields where their specific skills are needed.

Annalisa Pellegrini decided in 2020 to recover an unused family plot and grow lavender to produce essential oils. Her company, Lavanda Ruvo di Puglia, is also based in Puglia (Italy) and focuses on environmental sustainability and circular economy. In her experience, having had access to technical information on production earlier and more easily would have helped her to optimise the timing of the project. As she didn’t meet the age requirements, Annalisa was not able to use most public funds, and thus suggests exploring these options, especially if own initial capital is not available. For her, having a good business plan helps, as well as support from professionals, who know how to navigate public funding programmes. In her opinion, the fundamental criterion for securing economic resources should be the ethicality of the project, its commitment to the environment, respect for biodiversity, and reliability.

Daiva Šinkevičienė has been running the organic blueberry farm Karališka uoga in Lithuania for the past 10 years. She cultivates 14 varieties of royal berries on a four-hectare plot. Over this time span, Daiva has received 15,000 euro support under a single measure of the CAP. Access to the support is still complicated as the farm is small and it is hard to meet the eligibility criteria for the support measures. The major source of the investments and, hence farm growth, is her own investment. Each year, Daiva allocates 40 % of her income for investments. She considers financial planning, budgeting, and saving as the core elements in achieving the goals of the activities. She provides an example of preventing birds from picking at the harvest, where acquiring a drone appeared to be a viable solution.

Sonja van Uden is the founder of the Landdrift Foundation in the Netherlands and has used her experience as an entrepreneur and manager in various industries and countries to develop a concept for multifunctional land use that promotes biodiversity. In her opinion, it is challenging to access any form of financial services when the innovation does not fit the standard model of economic value creation, which is the case for the multifunctional land use concept of Landdrift. She talks of the difficulty in obtaining funds and raising interest among potential investors in Landdrift, especially when it involves explaining that there is no economic return on investment within the Landdrift concept. She shows inspiring examples of combined land use in other parts of the world and how these projects have created much value for the natural environment and the people in these areas. Sonja suggests refraining from allowing dreams or visions for a better future to be diluted by the difficulties faced regarding access to financial services, and keep searching for the needles in the haystack! When encountering a challenge, she always tries to think out of the box to find a solution and adapt to the situation. A success criterion for Sonja is to stay flexible and open throughout the entrepreneurship journey.

Torunn Hernes Bjerkem owns Bjerkem Farm, an organic farm in Norway growing ancient heirloom grains, making healthy food, healthy soils, healthy plants, and healthy environments. The biggest challenge is that the farm is organised as a sole proprietorship. Because of the old Norwegian property law, where the oldest child in the family inherits the farm (called ‘odel’), any investment in a big project is dependent on the individual; the sole proprietor. For that reason she doesn’t have access to the big funds in agriculture and farming. According to the sole proprietorship system, people wishing to expand their business have to put their farm on the line for bigger loans and investments, which makes them very vulnerable, so Torunn opted for organising the farm into a Limited Liability Company. She considers that people who create jobs in rural areas shouldn’t have to take the risk all by themselves: They ought to be supported by a network where they can find solutions together. This is the case of Øyna Kulturlandskapshotell, a sustainable hotel wedged into nature overlooking the ocean, serving local food and beverages, a project in which owners have partnered with other collaborators so that they can take care of the natural resources, create jobs and livelihoods, and build a dream together.

Marta Llorente manages a family-owned intensive pig farm located in Zazuar (Burgos, Spain), in an integrated system with over 60 hectares of crop land and 20 hectares of vineyards. One of the issues she considers most relevant when embarking upon innovative projects within the livestock sector are the high costs that must be assumed. In her case, she did not have problems obtaining a loan from the bank, but points out the need for a prior analysis of profitability. There are public financial tools, such as subsidised interest loans, but on many occasions these require complying with numerous conditions and bureaucratic procedures, making it challenging to benefit from them. Her recommendation to women looking to make an investment to improve their farm is to conduct an analysis of the expenses and income that the improvement will entail in advance, to assess its profitability. Detailed administrative and financial management of the agricultural enterprise, as with any other business, is essential. The advice of consultants in this field is crucial to assist in making economic and financial decisions.

Further reading

CFS (2023). Voluntary Guidelines on Gender Equality and Women’s and Girls’ Empowerment in the Context of Food Security and Nutrition, agreed by the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Gender Equality and Women’s and Girls’ Empowerment.

FAO (2019). Women’s access to rural finance: challenges and opportunities. Rome. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

First meeting of the GRASS CEILING Living Lab in Lithuania

On June 12th, the Lithuanian Centre for Social Sciences and AgriFood Lithuania organised the first session of the Living Lab established under the Horizon Europe project GRASS CEILING. The Living Lab has eight women farmers engaged in agricultural and rural innovations.

Male farmers also took part in this session and contributed to revealing the differences between men and women regarding innovation. The participants conducted a focus group exercise to identify the role of women innovators in agriculture and rural areas and discuss the major drivers and expectations. The results will be compared across the countries represented in the GRASS CEILING project to develop policy recommendations for EU agriculture and rural development.