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Aussies kick goals for team farming

By Nicole Baxter

The 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup has raised the profile of women in sports, but there are many areas where women are starting to play a bigger role

Australia's Matildas team before a 2023 Women's World Cup match. Women are in gold jerseys in a huddle.
Australia's 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup team.

While Australia’s fourth-place position in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup was a historic achievement, the team’s progress through the competition reminded me of another team kicking winning goals with life-changing outcomes.

Recently, I wrote an article for Partners magazine about Family Farm Team – a training program backed by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the Australian Government’s specialised agricultural research-for-development agency.

Social science researchers from The University of Canberra developed Family Farm Team in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to improve the welfare of women and families.

Thanks to Coretext group editor Catherine Norwood this, for me, was a break from writing about Australian grains research to discover what is happening on small landholder farms in the Pacific region.

A group of Pacific Islanders with tee shirts that say Family Farm Team. The shirts are blue and green.
A Family Farm Team workshop in progress.

While writing the story, I was nonetheless prompted to reflect on my own farming family and whether we worked as a team.

While the scale and technologies vary greatly, from a people perspective, family farms are much the same worldwide. We are all challenged by universal realities – the weather, soil health issues, pests, diseases, market access, labour, and the never-ending cost-price squeeze.

As a child growing up on my family’s farm in southern New South Wales, one of my earliest memories was of my brother and I helping my mother, father, grandmother and grandfather in the sheep yards. Three generations together at work. We could, on that level, have been anywhere.

Even now, my father takes a cooperative approach to decision-making on the farm, where all team members have input. But this is where human resources, and especially cultural circumstances, can contrast.

For example, before ACIAR’s Family Farm Teams program was developed in PNG, researchers from the University of Canberra noted that although women farmers were key to the livelihoods of PNG families, most faced:

“limited access to productive resources, restricted mobility, unequal divisions of labour and low levels of schooling.”

What is heartening, however, is the community's willingness to address this disparity when the benefits of greater equality are demonstrated.

Through four workshops that included drawing and role play, PNG women and men came together to consider the benefits of jointly planning their workdays and sharing the rewards of their efforts.

Additionally, the Family Farm Team workshops encourage women and men to pair up to teach others. This spreads knowledge learned through the program to others in their villages.

Professor Barbara Pamphilon, the developer of Family Farm Teams, says that when women and men work together to share knowledge, the activity helps to raise women's status and makes more visible the workloads of women and children and the need for effective, non-violent communication.

“This creates a family environment where women and girls can grow and develop. It enables gender teamwork.”

A woman farmer from the Solomon Islands harvesting in a green shirt.
Farmer Mrs Florence Veloa, a beneficiary of Family Farm Teams training, harvesting produce before a market day. Photo: ACIAR

Recently, Associate Professor Deborah Hill, also from the University of Canberra, adapted Family Farm Teams and worked with in-country partners to deliver the course to people in the remote north-eastern Solomon Islands district of Longgu.

She told me the program had a similar impact in the Solomon Islands. This breaking down of gender barriers and stereotypes has led to increased food production, higher quality nutrition, enhanced access to education for children and superior health’: all life-changing results.

Three members of the Matildas football team celebrating after winning a game. The women are in yellow shirts with mouths open and hands in the air.
Australia's 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup Matildas football team.

So, back to our beloved Matildas. The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup has not just been a football tournament. It has been a showcase of ability and prowess at the elite level, a showcase of equality and the power of teamwork.

Teamwork is fantastic to see in sports. But even more fantastic is when the same approach is applied to sustainable farming and food production, which is elevated exponentially when equality and a team approach are applied.

Go Matildas! Go, women farmers of the world!

You can check here to hear the thoughts of Solomon Islander farmer Mrs Florence Veloa, who participated in Family Farm Teams and said seeing the family work as a team has greatly improved their lives.

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Thanks Nicole : Inspired sharing for empowerment that matters!

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