• Of the 137,500 farms in Ireland, 12% are in female ownership while 4% have joint male/female owners (Irish Farmers Association, 2019)
  • In Ireland, women are more likely to access land ownership through marriage rather than inheritance (Shortall, 2017)
  • The longstanding difficulties faced by women in accessing land ownership, especially of larger lands, impact the kind of socio-ecological innovations rural women produce (Shortall and Marangudakis, forthcoming).
  • More women are graduating from agricultural colleges, but they often work in farm-related activities afterwards (Shortall and Marangudakis, forthcoming).
  • A positive income stream developed for rural women innovators is the ACORNS programme (Accelerating the Creation of Rural Nascent Start-ups), funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine through the Rural Innovation and Development Fund since 2014 (Ní Fhlatharta and Farrell, 2017).
  • Joint Farming Ventures (JFT), through which women can access co-management if not co-ownership of land, are studied as a potential way for rural women to develop a leadership position on farms (Cush, Macken-Walsh and Byrne, 2018).
  • The National Women’s Council (NWCI) has identified areas for further developments to promote innovations among rural women including incubation spaces and digital hubs with onsite childcare (National Women’s Council, 2021)

Population distribution by six-way urban/rural
classification using Census 2026 results (2019)
Source: Central Statistics Office Ireland (CSO)

Women-led innovation strategies

  • Rural women have reported several drivers to becoming innovators including necessity and the need to contribute to the sustainability of family farms; environmental values; the desire to develop a potentially profitable business idea conceptualised during “off-farm” work and business education (McFadden and Gorman, 2016; Shortall and Marangudakis, forthcoming)
  • Where women are involved in farm-related innovations, they often develop two or three simultaneously (McFadden and Gorman, 2016)
  • Women work on smaller, often rented, farms where they engage in organic and greener practices (Shortall and Marangudakis, forthcoming)
  • Women working on smaller farms are often more likely to pursue innovations as they are often less bound by conservative practices which tend to dominate on larger farms following patriarchal legacies and traditions (Shortall and Marangudakis, forthcoming).
  • The innovations produced by women are influenced by and contribute to the culture of the region in which they are developed (Ní Fhlatharta and Farrell, 2017).
  • Target markets for women innovators are generally local with shorter supply chains (Ní Fhlatharta and Farrell, 2017).
  • Key barriers include low financial resources, lack of training opportunities and the inability to access professional networks due to high costs and low confidence (Ní Fhlatharta and Farrell, 2017).
  • Women innovators are more likely to access training opportunities when they are female-led (Shortall, 2017).

Living Lab Focus and Goals

The Irish Living Lab comprises women innovators in the southeast region interested in the pursuit of agri- and rural socio-ecological innovations drawing on ‘the local’ through a sustainable lens.

During the first meeting, the women shared examples of numerous innovative activities they are engaged in throughout the region. During the discussion, they highlighted several challenges to successful innovation: limitations on resources (including time, finance and human resources) that constrain their innovation potential; gender-specific barriers that impact on their confidence as innovators and their success in getting support for new ideas for business development; a lack of vision on the part of support agencies for new/innovative approaches; a lack of joined-up thinking and processes between some rural and business support services. This creates a replication of paperwork and administration for women seeking business support.

Suggestions to support the work of rural women include greater visibility of champions; a change of language about the rural environment and rural women in the media; shared graduate placement models and work hubs offering diverse professional skills to underpin innovation in situ; and, increased engagement of young women with agri- and rural innovation advisory services.

The Living Lab has the following objectives:

  • Engage rural women at early and more advanced stages of innovation and rural business experience.
  • Understand their innovation requirements through the exploration of local sustainable models of rural innovation/development.
  • Enhance their innovation capability and visibility.
  • Support their innovation journeys by embedding them in an innovation ecosystem.
  • Map key insights from the Irish Living Lab to enhance young women’s ability to innovate within their rural setting.

Living Lab Ireland will draw on Macra Na Feirme’s young rural members, and on SETU’s eco-innovation experience in the agri sector to support these goals. Living Lab Ireland will support women as innovation champions in our rural communities.

Activities and innovations being developed

Living Lab Ireland will explore group and individual rural business innovations through the GRASS CEILING project’s innovation process. In meeting 2 (Oct 2023) we will begin to explore a group innovation potentially focusing on a ‘brand rural Ireland’ cooperative product and/or service. Individual innovations being discussed and planned include:

  • Educational offering: Small farms as hubs of environmental protection and education which support the retention of traditional skills.
  • Sustainable horticulture underpinned by local short supply chains.
  • The nutritional development of horticulture products.
  • Agri-tech and AI-focused rural marketing and PR services.
  • Dairy farm diversification – local handmade products using traditional processes, and biodegradable, compostable packaging.
  • Artisan Irish rural product development rooted in excellence, craftsmanship and traditional techniques.

How the activities fit into the overall GRASS CEILING objectives

  • Increasing women-led socio-ecological innovations in farming, the rural economy and in rural communities
  • Understanding and leveraging the innovators’ existing social capital and streghtening their networks to further support innovations, including training delivery
  • Supporting ecological values through the pursuit of sustainable business innovations
  • Supporting innovator identity development and visibility
  • Enhancing innovation capability
  • Co-creating tools for the Irish LL and wider LL context which can be used and built upon by future innovators
  • Better understanding and reflecting rural women’s needs through active stakeholder network engagement
  • Collecting LL Ireland insights that will help to identify different and common features between and within countries and develop a vision for women’s future role in transitioning to resilient farms and rural areas in 2040.

Living Lab participants

Lab participants are women at early and later stages of innovation and rural business experience. Some are aspiring entrepreneurs while others have been actively engaged in innovative business start-up and development activities for several years.

Many of our participants have successfully brought their local product/service offerings to national retailers and markets. Some participants have been involved in the ACORNS programme and several others have been recipients of prestigious awards and bursaries including the Irish Government Circular Economy Innovation Grant Scheme.

The innovative rural business offerings include diverse dairy-based products and services, artisan sustainable chocolate products and services, local short supply chain horticulture products and rural marketing and PR services for leading agri-business clients.