Hungary: International Women’s Day – Hungarian Women in Agriculture
What are women’s challenges and opportunities in Hungarian agriculture today? We asked women professionals.
When I search for photos of farmers for articles, the staple stock photo-esque illustration I find is of a middle-aged man in denim and checkered flannel, standing in a field of wheat or maize. Holding an ear of corn in his hand, he looks on with a thoughtful expression to the middle distance with an aura of off-brand Americana. It’s not surprising. Agriculture is often thought of as a very man-dominated industry. A 2019 study by the European Parliament found that while the share of self-employed women in rural areas is 38% on average in Europe, the gender gap in the employment rate in the (then) EU-28 was 11.6%. In the EU, an average 30% of farms are managed by women, and the numbers are increasing.
Today is International Women’s Day, and we celebrate women’s contributions to science, industry, culture and society as a whole as well as draw attention to the difficulties and challenges women face today.
Women entrepreneurs, innovators, business leaders, researchers, farmers play just as an important role in agriculture as men. What does the situation look like in Hungary? We asked women with experience in these sectors to share their insight.
Balancing business and family life
The role of women in leading enterprises in agriculture, the balance between family and business, the role of new technologies – There is so much to ask and Andrea Nemes-Nagyné Vas is the first to answer my questions. Mrs. Nemes-Nagyné Vas is active in Hungarian horticulture. She runs their family company, Nemeskert Kft. together with her husband and is also a manager at a farmers’ collective, Trivega Kft. “I think that’s how we ladies share in leadership in Hungary today,” she says, “together with our husbands. We divide the tasks but still discuss everything. In cardinal decisions, we make the calls together. I think this is how it’s supposed to be.”
Today, the world is moving forward at a fast pace. Innovations and new technologies keep popping up in horticulture too. But how do these technologies change the workplace for women? The business of the Nemes-Nagy family works hand in hand with Dutch partners in the adoption of the newest innovations. “Our glasshouses are always constructed in line with the standards of the most modern technologies,” Mrs. Nemes-Nagyné Vas answers, “and we strive to incorporate digitalization and automation in our greenhouses as well as in the logistical center of Trivega. Together with my husband and colleagues, we rely on all of these applications that can help with the daily work. That’s how we get more space, more time for other things, for private affairs. You must also know how hard it is to find time for yourself – With these innovations, we can consciously make time.”
But how does a Hungarian woman entrepreneur do it all? What challenges does she face? “As a mother of four, it isn’t easy to find the balance, the “golden mean.” Both in my work, an in raising the children, I have to be at a 100%, sometimes the 24 hours in a day just aren’t enough. Sometimes it’s hard to find the boundaries,” she answers. “I do my work with dedication and curiosity. Our work isn’t just our work, it’s our life, and every year holds new challenges, brings about new innovations, new goals. But every afternoon you realize that time is flying fast, and that the children are waiting at home. That’s when my “second job” starts. I always say that it is very important to me to find satisfaction in my work, but it wouldn’t mean anything without my family, my loving husband and children.”
Forging the path ahead
Another woman entrepreneur, Dr. Anna Nagy, is the manager of Maros Fleur Kft., a floriculture grower company. Dr. Nagy originally has a law degree but ended up as a successful entrepreneur in the flower growing sector. I asked her too for her opinon on the situation of women in enterprises. “Women entrepreneurs face constant struggle in Hungary today,” Dr. Nagy answers. “In our traditionally patriarchic society, women have to achieve twice as much for recognition, while also balancing their roles as wives and mothers. Yet it has been established that women are better in dealing with complex problems, in logistics, which means that with a good team behind them, they will be successful.”
Dr. Nagy has ties with floriculture companies in the Netherlands. As someone who is familiar with the international business scene and new technologies, we asked her what she thought of today’s trends. “I think that it is true for the international scene as well that women are at a disadvantage,” she replies. “Both in open field crop cultivation, and in greenhouse growing, agriculture has always worked with the soil. It has always been hard physical labor. Women could only play a secondary role, for example, in selling the produce. Yet the new technologies, for example in greenhouse production, automated climate control systems, opened a path for women to take an active role in entrepreneurial leadership positions.”
However, the changes we see today in agriculture must also present challenges to a woman entrepreneur in an agricultural sector in Hungary. “Today, we need to manage natural and human resources more efficiently and maintain the high quality of our product, even though professional education is in decline,” Dr. Nagy comments. “Meanwhile, we need to secure the market for our produce. Yet through tackling these challenges, women are able to prove that entrepreneurship isn’t just a man’s world.”
The traditions of the past and the changing world of agriculture
Viktória Vona, co-manager of the agricultural consulting company Csernozjom Kft. is active in agricultural research as well as business. Mrs. Vona has unique insight into the agro industry both in Hungary and in the Netherlands, because she worked in the Netherlands extensively – First moving to the country as a student on a semester abroad with the Erasmus program, she then spent nine years there, studying and then working, learning through facing challenges, and last but not least, learning to speak fluent Dutch.
So what does she think of the situation of women business leaders in Hungarian agriculture? “Let’s put it this way – We have to work way more for recognition. People are often surprised if the manager they deal with is a woman, especially, if she’s young.”
The sound of children in the background on the other end of the line is my cue for the questions about business and family. “The problem is the sheer logistics of family and children. People usually associate family duties with women. If one of the kids gets sick, whom is the school going to call to pick them up? The mom, of course. Why? Can’t dads pick up kids just the same?”
Is this a universal trend? Or is the situation different on the international scene? Is Hungary different from the Netherlands in terms of recognizing women in agriculture? “In the Netherlands, I’d say women are more accepted in agriculture, and it’s easier there too. Say you work part-time, which is often the case with women in this sector. You still get 60-70% of the full-time salary if you work 16 hours a week. In Hungary though, you work part-time, you get half the salary. That’s not enough to get by.” I asked Mrs. Vona whether that makes going on maternity leave more complicated in Hungary. “Well, yes, but that’s not the only thing. In the Netherlands, social policies targeting families make it possible for fathers to stay at home too. It’s acceptable to be a stay-at-home dad. In terms of equality, that goes a long way. But on a global level, agriculture is a conservative industry everywhere. In Europe, the average age for a producer is fifty-five plus. Even a forty-year-old is considered to be young in this business – Not to say, a thirty-five-year-old woman.”
However, Mrs. Vona is also doing her PhD as a researcher at the Széchenyi István University, where she also teaches. I actually had to wait with the interview until she finished an online lecture. “It was soil science,” she comments, “for international students. I also teach students from the precision agriculture major. Oh and my PhD, well, that’s also on soil science, and research methodology.” The question begs to be asked – Is academia different when it comes to gender equality? “My feeling is that there’s less inequality in science, but you know, in Hungary, academia has a very typically hierarchic system anyway.”
And what about new innovations? I ask her too whether the new technologies change the role of women in the industry. “Yes they do,” she answers categorically. “Let me give you an example. There’s a family enterprise that we know. Tradition in field growing, proud dad… Four daughters. No son for an heir. The girls are the ones taking over the business. Instead of hiring a guy to drive their dad’s old tractor, they bought a new, modern one, one that women can drive too.”
“New technologies, precision agriculture, they’re sexy,” Mrs. Vona adds. “Gone are the days when agriculture was just about working the field, all day long. Hard physical labor, rubber boots, covered in dirt and mud head to toe. The new technologies not only make the physical labor easier, they make agriculture more attractive to young people, and to women as well.”