Laura, a Spanish poultry farmer, happily surrounded by hundreds of happy hens

Laura has found happiness among hundreds of hens, who are also happy thanks to her. This is not the beginning of a children’s story. It is the real story of Laura Polo, a Spanish woman who decided to swap the hustle and bustle of the big city, Bilbao, for the noisy clucking of lots and lots of hens.

She is one of the participants in the GRASS CEILING Spanish Living Lab, an initially self-taught entrepreneur who later trained in agriculture and livestock farming to be able to set up her happy hen farm. However, she claims that there is still not enough training in poultry farming for those who, like her, want to earn a living by raising hens.

Her company is called Avicultura Granja Pepín and it is located in a small village in the province of Palencia, called Alba de Cerrato. “Hens are my passion,” she told the Spanish public television programme “La Aventura del Saber” (La 2 TVE), “and they must be given the care they deserve.”

Her hens eat noble cereals such as wheat, barley, corn, and sunflower seeds, when there is no soya. They do not consume animal or vegetable fats, nor do they consume colourants or palm oil. And as a supplement, they eat vegetable waste from the family garden that Laura tends with her husband. “The eggs that our hens produce have the quality seal that comes from the way we care for them: good food, respect and a large natural space where they can move around. The hens know us and that shows in the flavour of the eggs,” says Laura.

Laura has learned to live without a clock, although she works from dawn to dusk. “We use sunlight as a natural clock.”

In 2017 she opened her first shed with 500 hens. Four months later she set up the second shed with 740 hens. In 2018 the third shed arrived to house another 450 hens. In 2019 she reached maximum capacity: a fourth shed where she halted expansion. “We don’t want to lose the essence of the care and craftsmanship of our final product. With this number of hens we can earn a good living, manage the farm and care for our animals.

She says that GRASS CEILING is providing a great opportunity for the voices of rural women to be heard in European institutions. She has met other women in the sector with similar problems, and sharing their experiences helps them to find joint solutions. “We must continue to enhance the visibility of rural women. We are gradually making progress, but there is still much to be done”. However, the main drawbacks they have are the low population density in rural areas and the limited services available. “It is essential that small towns have access to basic services that allow us the quality of life we deserve. This would attract new residents and entrepreneurs”, Laura says.

“I hope, at least, that we can continue to make a living and our brand can become well-known… I am happy here … no one can change that”.

New meeting for GRASS CEILING Living Lab Spain to discuss various support actions for women in agriculture

A group of women participating in the Spanish Living Lab of the Grass Ceiling project met on March 8th with representatives from various national, regional, and local public institutions, and members of agricultural organisations. The meeting aimed to make a critical examination of the key action measures being implemented to assist women farmers and to support and promote equality policies. Eight women participated in the meeting, along with a group of external stakeholders and regular collaborators of the project’s working groups.

The meeting fostered debate on the measures being taken by the responsible entities to enhance the situation of rural women. It also emphasized the importance of maintaining active networks for sharing different perspectives, opinions, knowledge, and experiences, given the need for comprehensive analyses. The meeting has enabled participants to generate synergies and promote joint actions that will benefit rural women, especially those working in the primary sector.

The event was attended by representatives of public institutions such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Government of Spain), Department of Agriculture, Livestock and Food (Government of Aragon), Department of Rural Environment and Agrarian Policy (Government of the Principality of Asturias), Territorial Service of Agriculture, Livestock and Rural Development in the Province of Palencia (Government of Castile and León) and private entities such as Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture Association and Agrifood Cooperatives of Spain.

GRASS CEILING features on Spanish TV programme “La Aventura del Saber”

In an in-depth interview, the coordinators explain the objectives and methodology of this European project that supports rural women in their innovative proposals.

The TV show included the report “Demolishing the Glass Ceiling in the Rural World” that follows eight Spanish women farmers throughout their participation in the project.

The Spanish TV programme “La Aventura del Saber”, wanted to showcase the often-invisible work of women in the rural world, and devoted a large part of yesterday’s episode to the European project GRASS CEILING.

The European Union launched the GRASS CEILING project in March 2023 to address the need to empower rural women and support the sustainable innovation initiatives they are leading in agriculture and livestock farming. Including Spain, nine EU countries are taking part in the project, which involves the creation of Living Labs engaging innovative rural women. Sixty women are participating in these Labs, eight of whom are from Spain.

“La Aventura del Saber” (the Adventure of Knowledge), is one of the longest-running programmes of Spain’s state-owned television station. The producers were keen to feature the GRASS CEILING project and interviewed two of the coordinators in the studio: Margarita Rico González, lecturer at the Higher Technical School of Agricultural Engineers of the University of Valladolid (Palencia Campus) and Carmen Martínez Ramiro, head of the Equality Department of Agrifood Cooperatives in Spain. During the interview both spoke about gender barriers and the main challenges that women face every day on their farms. They highlighted the importance of education, training and knowledge-sharing in order to progress towards sustainable, balanced and competitive rural development.

After the interview, the programme transmitted the report “Demolishing the Glass Ceiling in the Rural World” thatlooks intothe project’s objectives and progress in Spain and follows the work of eight women farmers in the autonomous communities of Asturias, Aragon, and Castile and León.

The daily programme “La Aventura del Saber” has been running for over thirty years, exploring the world of education, environment, science and technology. Focusing on training and outreach, the programme aims to be entertaining and educational through in-depth interviews and investigative reports.

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.

GRASS CEILING Living Lab Spain celebrates a new meeting in Palencia

The Grass Ceiling Project, academically coordinated by the Palencia Campus of the University of Valladolid (UVa), continues its journey, celebrating an interesting meeting where the main challenges faced by women working in agriculture were discussed. The University Campus of Palencia has once again hosted the third meeting of the Grass Ceiling Project. The objective of the working session was to identify the main challenges, barriers, and limitations that women face daily in their agricultural and livestock operations, from personal, sectoral, regulatory, and rural environment perspectives.

To achieve this, the eight women participating permanently in the project and a diverse group of external agents from the associative and cooperative sector, the public sector, local action groups, and several male farmers, have participated in various work dynamics. The research team from the Palencia Campus, led by Professor Margarita Rico, along with several members of the Agri-food Cooperatives of Spain, organized and moderated the event.

The main problems detected are mainly related to the excessive and convoluted bureaucracy that professionals in the field must comply with, often redundant and unnecessary, which takes away time that could be devoted to their own farmers. Other limitations are related to the poor living conditions in smaller municipalities, especially regarding the scarcity of health, education, care, cultural, and leisure services. The scarcity of public transportation and inefficient internet and mobile phone connectivity were also cited as significant barriers. Finally, sector-specific issues inherent to agriculture also pose important obstacles, such as high production costs, limited influence over prices, sector undervaluation, and low representation of women in leadership positions in various representative organizations.

Ultimately, the last discussion focused on proposing an exploratory plan for possible generic action strategies to overcome the identified barriers in the preceding work dynamics. The project concludes its first year of work, with very positive results in terms of conclusions drawn and the participation and commitment of the eight women involved in the experiential laboratory, as well as other collaborating agents. The creation of the working and support network generated around the project itself, constitutes an innovation in supporting women actively working in agrarian activities.

Second meeting of the Spanish Living Lab about women and innovation in agriculture and livestock

The main topic of the meeting was the analysis of innovative initiatives by participating female farmers and livestock keepers, their objectives, the support they have received, and the various barriers they face.

Continuing with the task agenda of the European Project Grass Ceiling, the second meeting of the Spanish Living Lab was held, with the participation of eight female farmers and livestock keepers from Castilla y León, Aragón, and Asturias. This time, the meeting took place virtually, and over the course of five hours, discussions revolved around the innovative initiatives of each participant. The research team from the Campus of Palencia at the University of Valladolid and Agri-food Cooperatives were responsible for conducting the meeting.

The innovations these women are implementing are related to improvements in the production processes of their respective farms, as well as other social activities aimed at supporting the visibility of women in the sector, creating networks, and acquiring training and information. The main barriers they face are primarily related to numerous and complex bureaucratic procedures and regulations they must comply with, which reduce the time they can dedicate to productive work. Other limitations are related to gender stereotypes, lack of guidance, connectivity issues, and rural decline, which they also consider significant.

Therefore, the proposed action measures to improve the current situation of women in the agricultural sector are related to continuing education, especially in digitalization, showcasing their work and the experiences of influential women, creating networks of mutual support, improving the living conditions in rural areas, strengthening the support role of associations and cooperatives, and promoting their representation in political and decision-making bodies.

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.

Debate session on the role of women in agriculture and livestock at the University Campus of Palencia

The event was organised by GRASS CEILING’s Spanish Living Lab, which aims to support innovative initiatives led by women in the agricultural sector. The session was hosted by a team of professors from the Palencia Campus of the University of Valladolid.

On June 12th, the first in-person meeting of the Living Lab took place on the University Campus of Palencia of the University of Valladolid (UVa), coordinated by the academic team of the University of Valladolid and Cooperativas Agro-Alimentarias de España. Eight women farmers from Castilla y León, Aragón, and Asturias took part in the session, together with nine external stakeholders related to the project’s theme.

Participants initiated the session by reflecting upon the concept of agricultural innovation, perceived as taking progressive and transformative steps aimed at generating value in both products and processes. This extends beyond production and englobes various aspects such as commercial, organisational, environmental, social, and business and institutional management scales.

The debate then focused on analysing the positive and negative factors currently influencing women when adopting leadership roles in the agricultural sector and explored potential actions that would give the work of women farmers and livestock breeders greater visibility.

The session received a high positive evaluation from all participants. They agreed on the importance of using participatory methodologies and networking approaches to analyse such a broad and complex reality and appreciated the opportunity to strengthen support networks and exchange perspectives, knowledge, and best practices. The project will conclude in December 2025 and continues to gather the necessary information to achieve the established milestones. The next LL meeting is scheduled for September.