ABARES Outlook 2020 was held in Canberra at the National Convention Centre on 3-4 March 2020, and Currie was privileged to attend. It was also International Women’s Day on 8 March.
Outlook 2020 provided thought provoking sessions and explored the steps to reach $100 billion in farm output by 2030, a target that will take vision, innovation and commitment to meet.
Systemic issues and challenges facing the agriculture industry
It was clear in attending the conference that there are many systemic issues that the agricultural sector is grappling with. Some of the challenges that we heard about are:
- Global trade – slower global trade, US-China trade war, Brexit
- Climate change – less predictable seasons, higher temperatures, lower rainfall, greater reliance on irrigation, more extreme events causing damage
- Sustainability – need sustainable food systems, what we eat impacts the environment and our health, water use, emissions, waste reduction, preventing loss of biodiversity, reducing chemical use
- Drought – water availability, impacts on irrigation, need to enhance water supply,
- Coronavirus – slowdown of economies around the world, countries closing borders, China/Asia significant for Australia
- Biosecurity – international trade and travel threat, new pests/diseases with climate change, plagues with climate change, coronavirus
- Technology – enhanced water use, enhanced crop breeding, impact of big data, satellite imagery, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence on optimisation of crop growth and farm productivity
- Consumer expectations – changing patterns of meat consumption away from red meat and towards poultry increase in plant protein
- Structural change – a trend to larger farms, the impact on small, family farms, and especially women, share of employment falling.
Women’s role in solving big picture problems
Following International Women’s Day, I have been reflecting on the significant role that women have in addressing these big picture, complex and interrelated problems.
In the New York Times, Helen Fisher said:
“Women think contextually, more holistically. That is, they integrate more details of the world around them, details ranging from the nuances of body posture to the position of objects in a room…. They also display more mental flexibility, apply more intuitive and imaginative judgments, and have a greater tendency to plan long term—other aspects of their contextual perspective.”
Some studies have found that while men are likely to take action to solve a problem, women may be better suited to analysing a problem.
Women’s core skills in systems thinking and problem solving are vital to sustainable development in our world, and for solving the challenges we are facing.
Gender equality and the Sustainable Development Goals
Gender equality is Goal 5 in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework to which Australia is a signatory. The SDGs are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. They are applicable to all countries – developing and developed. An important and defining feature to note about this framework is that the goals are interconnected – often the key to success on one involves tackling issues more commonly associated with another.
Goal 5 is “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” and has within it a range of indicators to move the world towards gender equality. The targets cover a broad range of the inequalities including:
- Ensuring equal opportunities in leadership and decision making, and
- Equal rights to economic resources.
Gender equality in Australia
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index was released this month. Australia ranks 44th out of 149. Worse than that, we are 70th for “wage equality for similar work”. Additionally, the report found that it will take almost a century before women can expect to achieve equality with men – no woman alive today will experience gender parity.
In Australia, our gender pay gap currently sits at 14% – and when you consider that women won the right to be paid equally for equal jobs in 1969 (50 years ago!) then it is apparent that not enough progress has been made. Despite all the attention and awareness, it would seem that we continue to undermine and ignore women’s potential and value in the workplace.
The United Nations also recently published a report called Tackling Social Norms. It found that 91% of men and 86% of women show at least one clear bias against gender equality in areas such as politics, economics, education, intimate partner violence and women’s reproductive rights. As such, gender equality is an issue for us all to engage with – not just men or women.
Building our future
So, what do we do? How do we tackle these big problems? How do we face the uncertainty and arrive at solutions, take appropriate action and ensure we sustain life on the planet?
We give women an equal number of seats at the table. We work together to utilise our collective strengths and abilities. We recognise women’s skills and pay them accordingly.
This is what we do.
Women’s strengths and abilities in systems thinking and problem solving are beyond doubt. We need to draw on them to help pave the future for Australian agriculture in an uncertain world.