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HomeBeef‘Women have a right to equal participation’ – sheep farmer
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘Women have a right to equal participation’ – sheep farmer

Some Talamh Beo women left their farms early last Friday morning (October 15th) to bring their concerns to Dublin.

October 15th, United Nations’ Rural Women’s Day, celebrates the role and contribution of women in producing food and building agricultural and rural development worldwide.

Breda Larkin, who shares a suckler herd number with her father in Ballinasloe, Co. Galway and is completing her Green Cert, said:

“We are organic, regenerative, holistic, and permaculture farmers – farming without chemical sprays and chemical fertilisers where we can.”

“We focus on regenerating soils to feed healthy plants, which, in turn, feeds healthy livestock, poultry and people.”

Talamh Beo

Talamh Beo supports a just transition to agroecological farming systems. The group explained this is where the farmer, the community and the land are the primary focus rather than industry, agribusiness, growth and global export markets.

“What’s the use of adding billions of euros to the Irish economy from exports if we lose our family farms and the health of our land, water and air?”

“What’s the use of exporting all our farming products while we import all our food – especially seasonal fruit and vegetables that are easy to grow in Ireland?”

“Surely the first thing Irish agriculture should be doing with Irish taxpayer’s money is to feed the Irish nation.”

The group want to see a future and livelihoods for family farms and desires to build resilient and thriving ecosystems and communities.

“We work with nature as we know there will be no agriculture if our ecosystems start collapsing.”

Women at leadership and policy level

The DAFM is currently drawing up the next CAP with participation from the established farm representative bodies.

“However, women are few and far between at leadership and policy level in these organisations,” the group said.

“Talamh Beo’s leadership is 50 / 50 male / female. It is the only farming organisation in the country to have this level of gender balance.”

As with organic farming, Talamh Beo claims to have a high number of women farmers. “Nearly 40% of our membership are women farming in their own right,” it said.

“Women seem naturally drawn to food and farming systems that work with nature and are geared towards delivering chemical-free, nutrient-dense food and milk to local consumers.”

Agroecological farming and gender mainstreaming

Provision is made for agroecological farming under the rules for the new National Strategic Plans from Brussels, from starting with regenerating the soil to agroforestry models where trees are part of a grazing or tillage field.

“These trees provide a valuable service, drawing nutrients from deep in the soil and depositing them back at the surface to rot into the soil when their leaves fall in the winter.”

“The tree’s deep roots also allow rainwater to penetrate back deep into the ground, replenishing water tables and preventing run-off and flooding.”

However, the group believes there is no organisation at the social partner’s stakeholder table that “represents or champions” this agroecological perspective.

Provision is also made in the CAP for gender mainstreaming – how to get more women involved in food and farming and identify what supports are necessary to incentivise gender equality.

The group added: “Although there are women from academia, from Teagasc and from the commercial and private sector, there is not one female farmer on committees like the Agri-Food Strategy Committee, or the CAP consultative committee speaking from experience to what opportunities and supports are needed to help women farmers diversify and thrive.”

Get women to decision making-tables

Bridget Murphy, a hill sheep farmer and long-time human rights activist from Co. Sligo added:

“It is well accepted that allowing women in broadens the perspectives and understanding of issues. It increases creativity and innovation, diversifies the pool of talents and knowledge, and generally improves the process of decision-making.”

“We are here today, voicing our concerns that our rights to equal participation in the processes and decision-making forums that will determine our future and our livelihoods are not recognised.”

“We have no route to those forums or tables. Women have a right to equal participation.”

She said this is a “key” approach in the Sustainable Development Goals, and Ireland needs to find a way to build it into the agricultural sector.

“We are speaking with the Ministers of Agriculture (McConalogue, Hackett and Heydon), and any TDs and senators and political parties who are prepared to support our call, to find a way to get woman farmers and their different perspectives to decision-making tables.”

She said politicians are responding positively. “However, they are also stating that we just don’t have the numbers to be considered a social partner.”

“Given organic farming makes up less than 2% of agricultural land in Ireland, our pool of farmers is not huge.”

“We are thus appealing to all farmers and consumers who support agroecological practices (organic, regenerative, permaculture, holistic etc.) and who support the equal participation of women in agriculture to visit Talamh Beo’s website at and join up. Help us grow our numbers so we can take our place at the table.”

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