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AHS August Blog: Female Empowerment in Agriculture at NC State

The Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences publishes a monthly blog written by students, alumni and faculty sharing important topics and helpful resources related to the fields of agricultural, extension and human science. In the August blog post, Agricultural Science Major Alisa Andrews, brings focus to the need of female empowerment in agriculture at NC State.

Alisa Andrews

As I look ahead to my final year at North Carolina State University, I am reminded of why I chose this institution for my undergraduate education. I wanted to be a part of an innovative university that seeks to serve others with the knowledge and research that we create. I was drawn towards the vision that we promote: NC State will be known as a diverse, equitable and inclusive community that has a transformative impact on society and advances the greater good. I believe that NC State has many pathways to carry out this two-fold vision, beginning with its students.

How can we have a transformative impact on society? 

I believe that NC State can transform the lives of North Carolinians and beyond through helping advance female empowerment, specifically in agriculture. I recently came across the topic of female empowerment in agriculture while serving as an undergraduate teaching assistant for Dr. Bob Patterson’s World Population and Food Prospects courses. I was preparing lecture materials about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and was struck by how many of the goals had one thing in common: the status of women. I prepared a series of lecture slides about global female empowerment for the students and then began to reflect on what that could look like locally on NC State’s campus. Female empowerment at its core “requires addressing structural issues such as unfair social norms and attitudes as well as developing progressive legal frameworks that promote equality between women and men” (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, 2020). Many experts have been advocating for the inclusion of women in agriculture as a way to help overcome obstacles and constraints in food production. Prior to Covid-19, we were seeing food insecurity rates rise globally and the pandemic is an additional threat to food systems. In North Carolina alone, 1,245,870 people are facing hunger – and of them 394,300 are children (Feeding America, 2020). 

The expansion of female education in agriculture can help combat these challenges. In the past few years, NC State has been enrolling slightly more women than men. This trend is also present within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). But admission alone will not promote female empowerment. We must also elevate female voices in the classroom and share opportunities for professional development. As a university that is in a state of constant improvement, I hope that we can continue to provide expanded opportunities for women in agriculture. I intend for this blog post to be a call to action for CALS faculty and students to consider who they are including in their programs, classes, and organizations. Are we uplifting marginalized identities on a local level? Are we including all backgrounds and perspectives in our interactions on campus? I do not hold perfect answers to these questions but I believe that principled reflection on this matter and opening the conversation is an important start. 

How does one advance the greater good? 

Paul Farmer, a physician and global health advocate, once said “with rare exceptions, all of your most important achievements on this planet will come from working with others — or, in a word, partnership”. I believe that we must invite more people into the conversation. NC State can build powerful partnerships with women and marginalized identities in agriculture. According to University Communications in May 2022, the university anticipates an approximate 19% increase in enrollment by first-year underrepresented students compared to the previous class. These initiatives need to be coupled with strong networks of support for females pursuing higher education degrees in agriculture. What are the ways that we can make our classrooms more equitable? How can we encourage women and serve as allies to all genders that are pursuing an education in agriculture? How can we better reach populations that are not applying to our CALS programs? 

Female empowerment in agriculture is critical social justice work that can combat global hunger and promote sustainable development. The university system has opportunities in our NC Cooperative Extension services, student organizations, professional relationships, and research agendas. NC State has historically promoted many female voices in CALS and I believe that we can do even more. The inclusion of women can make our food systems more resilient and equitable locally. We can each play a role in uplifting marginalized voices on a local level and I hope to see that more allyship at NC State as a leading agricultural institution. NC State has been supporting women in CALS and I hope to see more initiatives emerge moving forward to create strength and solidarity for the inclusion and empowerment all genders in agriculture. 

About The Author: 

Alisa Andrews is a rising Senior from Morganton, North Carolina. She is pursuing a Bachelors of Science in Agricultural Science and a Bachelors of Art in Science, Technology, and Society with a specialty in community health. She is a member of several communities on campus: The Thomas Jefferson Scholars, The Caldwell Fellows, University Ambassadors, and The University Honors program.