Women are the real pioneers of rural development

The EESC congratulates the winners of the COPA Innovation Award for Woman Farmers 2016

The COPA (Committee of Professional Agricultural Organisations) Women's Committee has launched its 4th European Innovation Award for women farmers. This year's title is Women farmers as drivers of innovation and green growth in the European Union.

Five winners, coming from Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden were selected. In rewarding them, the EESC also wishes to acknowledge the contribution made by so many other committed women in rural areas.

Brendan Burns, President of the EESC Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment (NAT) Section, congratulated these five remarkable pioneers on their innovative projects for rural areas and invited them to explore how the EESC can help boost rural development. In commending the awardees, Tom Jones particularly emphasized their courage, determination and persistence in realizing their ideas. "It is your intelligence, your experience, but also your values and your resilience which marked you out and enabled you to translate smart ideas into real projects that will benefit and are already benefiting so many people. With these projects and investments you are models and motivators for other women to realise their ideas." Mr Jones also hinted to the fact that rural development is one of the focus areas of the EESC and invited the winners for further cooperation.

The EESC itself has been working on a range of opinions on these topics. Tom Jones presented his opinion on Rural Development Programmes – Sticking plasters or Green shoots of Recovery?, which highlights the important role or rural areas for all citizens as providers of secure food, timber, mineral and water supplies and much more, and comes up with long-term sustainable proposals in the areas of entrepreneurship and employment, the environment and social inclusion.  Former EESC member Daniela Rondinelli, now a member of President Dassis' cabinet, referred to her opinion The role of women in agriculture and rural areas in 2012, in which the EESC advised on how to support and promote women, providing them with training and helping to create additional jobs.

On 12 October, in a ceremony hosted by Austrian Member of Parliament Elisabeth Koestinger at the European Parliament,  Miahil Dumitru, Deputy Director-General of DG Agri,  presented  the prize to the five winners for their outstanding projects regarding innovation, innovation transfer, sustainability and new communication methods. Tom Jones, himself a farmer as well as an EESC member, awarded the special achievement prize, which went to Italy. 

These  are the award-winning women and their projects:

Olga Kujano Laszlone Cser, a university assistant , manages her Kujani farm in the middle of the Hungarian wasteland together with three family members, owing 14 hectares of vines and 16 hectares of stone fruit trees. Olga developed an integrated plant production system aligned to Hungarian weather conditions. The system provides real-time advice for farmers on when to spray crops, when to use chemicals and which dosages to apply. The aim is to forecast pest control trends, work on plans for soil management and fertilisation, etc. One thousand Hungarian farmers are already using this system.

Margaret Farrely, a former bank employee who quickly realised that with 10 cows one can hardly feed a family and started out with 150 free-range laying hens to supply a local packer. Now Margaret has 168 000 free-range hens, her colourful O'Eggs (O=outdoor) packages are displayed on Irish supermarkets shelves and her turnover currently stands at € 6.2 million.

Coren Fleuren, who worked in a tree nursery, discovered in 2010, when she started producing her own food, that it was not easy to grow fruit trees in small spaces, such as back gardens. She developed mini apple trees that do not exceed 50 cm and do not suffer from common diseases, so do not need to be pruned or sprayed. Currently, 10 000 mini apple trees are sold and the business is spreading across the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

Anna Wilen comes from a family who have lived and worked on Daer Soere for eight generations growing potatoes, strawberries and vegetables. When Anna realised that the potatoes business was not very profitable she changed the way of selling her produce and developed the concept of "Gourmetpotatis" (gourmet potatoes) by selecting small potatoes and packing them in1 kg bags. Her gourmet potatoes became a premium product and increased incomes for all farmers who adopted this system.

Lisa Paganelli, the winner of the "special achievement award", runs Seggio, an organic farm situated in Tosca-Togmagnolo Appeninnes, where she produces cereals, feed and livestock, with everything minutely controlled. Lisa, who is a veterinary surgeon by training, created the Bio Valbidente consortium, which is a sales point for organic farmers. Lisa developed an innovative symbiotic agriculture project using Mycorrihiza at sowing. Mycorrhiza is a fungus that colonises the roots of cereals, feed crops, trees and vegetables, and helps the crops capture more nutrients. This process maintains and develops the microbiological sustainability of soil plants, and also gives the final product better taste and nutritional characteristics.