Scotland provides a unique example of a country where the Government has committed almost two million Euro to advance gender equality in agriculture. This effort is in response to documented gaps in rural earnings for women. According to the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings 2022, women in remote rural areas had the lowest annual median pay across Scotland and the largest gap between men and women in annual median wages. Following the publication of the Women in Agriculture Taskforce: final report in November 2019, Scottish Government committed funding to deliver solutions to implement change for women in agriculture with programmes to address gender blindness in mainstream organisations and training for women on how to recognise their skills.

Scottish Government Urban – Rural Classification (2020)
Source: Scottish Government

Women-led innovation strategies

The Scottish Government’s Women in Agriculture Development Programme currently supports a range of programmes, including personal development courses, app and web platforms for land-based skills training, funding for practical training and leadership and business skills courses. These programmes both fund and are further supported by a range of enterprise, business and crofting support services, including:

  • Highlands and Islands Enterprise: designed to support small to medium sized enterprises for people living and working in Highland Council areas.
  • Impact Hub Inverness: supports start-up and growth of small businesses and social enterprises in the Highlands and Islands as part of a global network.
  • Farm Advisory Service: provides free advice for crofters and small-holders as well as capital funding schemes.
  • Business Gateway: publicly funded service of free business support.

Living Lab Focus and Goals

The Living Lab (LL) of Scotland will explore how effectively the Women in Agriculture measures enacted by the Scottish Government have reached the remote region of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland by focusing on women crofters. The Scotland Living Lab is co-lead by the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF), an association dedicated to preserving and developing crofting through rural policy engagement, land-based cultural heritage advocacy and training provision.

The Scottish Living Lab is based in the crofting areas of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Crofting is a land tenure system of small-scale food producers unique to this geographical area. It was developed in the 19th Century and has a track record of maintaining populations and economic activity in remote rural areas. Crofting supports local food production while also protecting cultural heritage and the natural environment.

The women in the Lab are spread across the Highlands area including the Islands, each area providing its own unique challenges when it comes to innovation and growing a business. The Lab is augmented by a diverse range of stakeholders, all contributing to supporting the women on their entrepreneurial journey.

Through working with rural women, the goals of the Lab are to:

  • Understand the innovation requirements of rural women crofters, and use this to shape future delivery of innovation support.
  • Enhance rural women’s innovation capability and visibility in their community.
  • Support development of the innovation ecosystem in crofting areas.
  • Develop tools, resources and inspirational case studies to support rural women’s innovation journey.

Activities and innovations being developed

Crofting is the golden thread that joins the women, but their ideas are as diverse as they are; water sports and outdoor recreation delivery, felting, raising livestock and growing vegetables, vegetable seeds, community childcare, tree nursery and wildflower seeds. Many are also involved in some element of community development, which will also benefit from the tools they learn within the Lab, amplifying the impact.

Activity: Felting
Innovation: Use of local sheep fleece which is currently of little financial value and often otherwise wasted.

Activity: Goat Cooperative
Innovation: Set up a cooperative or similar business structure to build on local community interest in care of goats, leading to wider use of the herd by-products and potential tourism development.

Activity: Working Croft
Innovation: Creating an ecological croft, growing native trees and food plus providing affordable tourist accommodation and developing a place of learning and respite.

Activity: Childcare Cooperative/Database
Innovation: Creating somewhere to source childcare provision for those working in rural crofting areas, where suitable and affordable provision is currently lacking.

Activity: Rug weaving
Innovation: Utilising the coarse wool fleeces from own and local flocks, to produce hand-woven floor rugs.

Activity: Working Croft
Innovation: Working with local community to share and enhance crofting practice, community food production and local infrastructure.

Activity: Outdoor Adventure Company
Innovation: Expand an existing water-based business to cover more activities (water and land-based), serving the local and tourist base.

Activity: Seed Production
Innovation: First vegetable seed producer in Scotland.

How the activities fit into the overall GRASS CEILING objectives

The activities in Scotland are women-led socio-ecological innovations in crofting, which is an essential and traditional agricultural practice in rural communities. The process of participating in the Living Lab facilitates co-creation of solutions, with participants engaging directly with each other and key governmental and business support stakeholders on a regular basis. The women participants, like many others, do not always see themselves as being innovative or entrepreneurial. By engaging with the Lab it is hoped that the skills and tools they learn and utilise throughout the three years not only benefit the individuals but also have an impact on their wider communities through knowledge transfer. 

The Scottish Government is actively supportive of the Living Lab to learn from the process to improve policies within and beyond the Women in Agriculture programme and evaluate the efficacy of these measures thus far. 

Living Lab participants

The eight Living Lab participants come from crofting areas of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Some have a clear view of an innovative business idea they wish to build on and others are at the beginning stage of their journey.

Stakeholders include business support organisations and the Scottish Government. Stakeholders currently involved are the Soil Association, Farm Advisory Service, Wester-Ross Biosphere, NatureScot, Crofting Commission and Northern Innovation Hub and the Impact Hub, Inverness.