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.

Kick-starting journey of rural innovation in Scotland

Eight women with links to crofting started their journey of rural innovation at the first UK Living Lab of Grass Ceiling in Scotland.

Held in Ullapool on 29 June, the event brought together women from across the vast remote area of the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

Crofting’ is a form of land tenure and small-scale food production unique to this area of Scotland.

The women have a mix of backgrounds and experience – some rear livestock, keep poultry and grow produce on their crofts, while others have diversified by opening businesses in water sports and wildflowers seeds.

Every one of them, however, is bursting with ideas and enthusiasm to innovate and grow their business.

The day began with everyone sharing a ‘sparkling moment’ in pairs to enable their partners to tell the group two strengths or qualities they saw in them.

Melanie Thompson-Glen, of the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE) which is leading the Living Lab with the Centre for Rural Economy at Newcastle University, said: “The ‘sparkling moment’ was the perfect ice-breaker for the day.

“This was before formal introductions were made and it was an excellent way of getting to know each other. There was so much positivity in the room, and it was also very emotional as the women learnt they have more confidence and contribution to make than they realised.”

After formal introductions, the participants then used Lego to build a model of a ‘rural innovator’ before explaining their thinking to the group.

The morning session concluded with roundtable discussions on the types of innovation women are undertaking on crofts and in rural businesses and how business support/initiatives can be better shaped to support rural women innovators.

Many stakeholders involved in this project gave presentations to the group in the afternoon, namely: Scottish Government, Soil Association, SAC Consulting, Wester-Ross Biosphere, NatureScot, Crofting Commission, Impact Hub, Northern Innovation Hub and Scottish Crofting Federation.

Melanie added: “It was great to meet the women, and the organisations involved, and get the project underway. We look forward to very exciting times ahead.”

For more information about the Grass Ceiling project, visit the NICRE project page and GRASS CEILING EU project page.