Sweden

GRASS CEILING Living Lab Sweden fourth meeting with women rural innovators

The Swedish Living Lab held its fourth meeting February 6th at our participant Elin Skörde’s home and forest farm. The Lab’s co-leads Siv Lindén, Hela Sverige ska leva, and Dr Katarina Pettersson, SLU, introduced the meeting, and thanked Elin for having us. Then Dr Flora Hajdu, SLU, who is also part of the SLU GRASS Ceiling-team presented research on Sweden’s changing agriculture, that she has been part of doing Please find more information here (in Swedish). The research found that farmers use various strategies and resources, and make use of welfare systems. During the presentation the participating women were asked to reflect and discuss the findings – to see if they, for example, use a ‘maximization strategy’, an ‘optimization strategy’, or perhaps a ‘diversification strategy’.

The participants also discussed issues of social sustainability and social welfare systems, including parental leave and pensions, and how they have or may potentially use them in the future. In the afternoon Science Park Jönköping’s Emilia Sundberg joined us and introduced us to this stakeholder’s activities and offers to entrepreneurs and innovators. She also led the participants in an exercise to think creatively around new ideas when looking at two photos – one of a drone and one of a cheese. Different interesting and somewhat ‘crazy’ ideas came up – the point being nothing is too crazy and you should not filter away any ideas when being creative. We concluded the meeting with a discussion among the participants on what they want to do in the future Living lab workshops. The fifth Living lab workshop is planned to take place April 29th, 2024.

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.

Objectives

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 Sweden second and third meetings with women rural innovators

The Swedish Living Lab held its second meeting September 4th at our participant Sandra Levinsson’s farm café – Flättinge Gårdscafé – which she pursues on her family farm with her two sisters. The Lab’s co-leads Siv Lindén, Hela Sverige ska leva, and Dr Katarina Pettersson, SLU, led the participants to discuss how the women pursue their various rural and farm businesses. The participants prepared short presentations of their businesses, motivations, support – and then shared their experiences of their business development, including reflections on conditions and difficulties for development. For lunch we were served a lovely vegan burger produced of lupin beans grown at the farm.

The co-leads also led a focus group discussion with the women on innovation. We discussed if they do view themselves as innovators and what comes to mind when thinking about the concept ‘innovator’. For some of the women the general opinion is that an innovator is someone who invents something brand new, and that the women in the focus group rather are ‘entrepreneurs’. The concept of ‘innovation’ is associated with technology. For others being an innovator is the same as being an entrepreneur: which is about having an open mind to absorb new ideas on how to improve how they work and to have goals for what they do, and to become more effective – that this is what it means to be an entrepreneur. The women discussed that they have established rural companies that focus on other things that traditional farming, which could be seen as innovations only that they are unable to see it that way. The understanding in the group was that women and couples, to larger extent than men alone, establish new kinds of companies in rural areas, in particular in tourism and hospitality, and in the horse industry.

The third Living lab meeting was performed November 14th at Emma Hartelius’ farm – Grimstorps Gård – where she is producing ecologically certified beef from natural pasture fed cattle. The focus at this meeting was for the participants to get more knowledge on support opportunities in relation to the Regional Food Strategy as well as the Regional Tourism and Hospitality Strategy. We had stakeholders Bella Rådberg from the County Administrative Board in Jönköping; Christina Odén and Katrin Löwe from the Region Jönköping County (A Region is a self-governing local authority in Sweden. There are 21 regional councils each corresponding to a county in Sweden) with us and they presented theory work and available support for entrepreneurship and innovation. The participants engaged in feed-back and discussions on how their businesses can be better supported. At the workshop a couple of the participants also presented their businesses, as they had not had the opportunity to do so previously. Elin Skörde also presented her experiences from representing the Swedish team in Brussels for the show case event in September.

The fourth Living lab workshop is planned to take place February 6th, 2024, with a focus on business advice and support, and where a couple of stakeholders will be invited.

GRASS CEILING Living Lab Sweden first meeting of women rural innovators

The first meeting of the Swedish Living Lab took place on May 3rd, at the Administrative Board of Jonkoping. The meeting was hosted by the Nina Elmsjö, Head of the Division of Rural development, at the County Administrative Board. The Lab’s co-leads Siv Lindén, Hela Sverige ska leva, and Dr Katarina Pettersson, SLU, welcomed seven, of eight, participants to the event. The women pursue various rural and farm businesses, at various stages of innovation. The women have different backgrounds and their entrepreneurial endeavors include a forest garden; a boarding house for retired milk cows; a farm café and vegetarian protein production; farm shops; natural pasture meet production; locally produced pork; and organic milk production; horse activities – and an on-farm dairy producing cheese.

Nina Elmsjö, extended a warm invitation to the women, and stressed their importance for the viable development of the county of Jönköping, and she described the County Administrative Board’s work, including available support for farmers and rural entrepreneurs. During the event a series of discussions and exercises were performed – with the overarching aim of creating a shared understanding of the GRASS CEILING project, the living lab participatory methodology and getting to know each other. The participants and co-leads also initiated discussions on gender equality, innovation, sustainability and rural development, which enabled them to exchange experiences and reflections. The participants’ all shared a strong commitment for contributing to sustainable rural development – and the importance of women’s entrepreneurship for such a development.

During an exercise called ‘The headlines’ the women were encouraged to make visions for the future – imagining what they and the Lab will have achieved during the course of the GRASS CEILING project, and beyond. Thoughts on the Lab’s achievements comprised it having contributed to the creation conditions for thriving rural areas – including well-functioning social and child care service –  more rural women pursuing rural businesses and a larger degree of self-sufficiency in food production.  The next meeting is scheduled for September, to be held at the farm café, owned by one of the participants. The focus will be on sharing more in-depth experiences of the respective woman’s business development, including reflections on conditions and difficulties for development.