Women participation in Brazilian agribusiness Interview with Téia Fava and Fernanda Falcão

mulheres do agro

Agribusiness is a sector composed worldwide mostly of men and considered traditionally male dominated.
In Brazil this is changing. From 2002 to 2015, women accounted for 28% of total workers in the field
in Brazil. However, in Brazil, the Female Participation Rate in the Workforce (TPFT) is 40%, according to data from the 2016 National Household Sample Survey (PNAD).

A few years ago girls were expected to assist their mothers in the kitchen while boys helped their fathers on the farm. These family practices posed a challenge for women who wanted to be farmers.

Today, opportunities are currently reached with greater ease when compared to the scenario of previous years. The new generation started to choose to work on the farm and to carry out academic studies related to agriculture. The conquest of the feminine space in the universities, mainly in the agricultural sciences courses, is the first step towards the empowerment in the agribusiness, whose consequences are greater training and representation.

According to research by the Center for Advanced Studies in Applied Economics (Cepea) of the Higher School of Agriculture ‘Luiz de Queiroz’ (ESALQ) of the University of São Paulo, the number of women working in agribusiness has increased 8.3% between the years 2004 and 2015. Although the current situation is more favorable to female leadership and participation in the agricultural sector, there are still inherent prejudices when a woman, surrounded by men, steps on the field.

AgriBrasilis spoke with two prominent representatives in agribusiness, Téia Fava, a rancher and director
regional association of the Breeders Association of Mato Grosso (Acrimat) and Fernanda Falcão, owner and technical manager of the company Sementes Falcão.

Téia Fava, graduated in Business Administration, found a passion in cattle breeding and in the rural production of beef cattle. The professional is also an entrepreneur, farm owner and regional director of Acrimat. Her creation had the support of the family in her professional choice, especially her father, a rural producer in Paraná: “I always had the unconditional support of my father as a girl, as a woman, as a daughter and as a professional”, she commented.

Téia said that, in the 70s, her friends “were never subjugated because they were women”, nor were they ever assigned to mandatory domestic chores that deprived them of their love for the farm. When asked what it is like to be a woman in agribusiness, she replied: “it means having a more detailed view of what is needed on a rural property; is to look more affectionately at employees, their families and their problems, being something that extends to the well-being of all ”.

“Well-loved animals and the feeling of being able to value each one that is born; this is how i notice my farm today: more human, more sensorial ”. This strategy generated results: in October 2019, Téia was one of the winners of the Women of Agribusiness award, an honor granted by the Brazilian Agribusiness Association (ABAG) in partnership with Bayer. She competed with other 250 producers in the country, and was victorious in the category of Innovative Management in Large Properties. “Winning this award was immeasurable. We have great stories of women in the sector, but I think we need to encourage them to tell them, just like what happened to me ”, she recalls.

On the other hand, this recognition was not the only one of her trajectory. Her farm, of approximately two thousand hectares and 1100 head of cattle, was nominated in 2008 by the international NGO The Nature Conservancy (TNC), one of the largest environmental entities in the world, as a bronze medalist for the most sustainable rural properties in Brazil. Regarding environmental preservation care, Téia explains that “the land and water respond to us all the time. How they are treated and how you conduct them. Today my springs are being reforested and surrounded. I think we have a lot to gain from nature together with us ”.

The sustainability issue receives special attention from the rancher, mainly in relation to environmental regularization. “We seek to have the well-being implicit in all sectors of the property, both in human resources and in water and animals,” she said.

Currently, Fava breeds Nellores, and when asked about animal welfare and rational management in beef cattle, she gives a tip: “as I do breeding, it has been 3 years that we practice rational weaning on the farm. Cows and calves do not lose eye contact, nor are they trapped in the corral.

They are separated only by a corridor with 6 wire fences. There, they are weaned, with all weanings being accompanie by pregnant godmothers. In the presence of these cows, the calves feel protected. As a result of this practice, we no longer notice calves losing weight from weaning”.

With a history so rich in experiences and achievements in agribusiness, Fava, who now lives in Mato Grosso, reported that she feels “extremely welcomed by the sector”, and that prejudice in professional
practice has never been part of her experiences. “Women have always known the power they have. It is a matter of capacity and knowledge, regardless of gender” she added.

Fernanda Falcão is another outstanding personality. Powerful in the agricultural segment, she has a Bachelor degree in Agronomy from the University of Passo Fundo. She is the ownwer of the seed and grain company Sementes Falcão, which has been in existence for over 30 years in the States of Rio Grande do Sul
and Mato Grosso.

Since she was a child, when her father used to take her to the farm, she “wanted to continue in the agricultural sector.” “Even without having the intention to influence my career, my parents always encouraged me to follow the profession in which I had identification and passion”, she explained.

Looking back, Falcão reflects that “there were far fewer women in the agriculture”, but she never had to face prejudice or sexist discrimination, as she never allowed this distinction to influence her ambitions.
As an agronomist, Falcão achieved the trust of her colleagues through effort, determination, dedication and
modesty. “For me, knowledge and professional capacity are genderless; it is up to us to seek it.”, she declared. Aiming for a more fulfilling future for all, Falcão advises: “It is very important that we, as women,
are certain of our capacity and realize that there is nothing we cannot do”.

As Technical Manager of Sementes Falcão, she noted that in previous years, the average vigor of the company’s seed lots resulted in a minimum standard of 85% vigor and 90% germination. However in
the last 5 harvests the average vigor went from 87% to 92% and germination between 92 and 95% among all lots, yielding an annual production of approximately 130 to 150 thousand bags of soybean, wheat and oat seeds”.

Regarding the use of technological innovations, the company is seeking “…to be constantly improving all processes. Our company has developed modern software to carry out the management of all processes accurately. We share field test results with the researchers so that the technical decision of the input to be used is the ideal one for each situation, using precision agriculture and digital agriculture. For instance,
we utilize robotic bagging process at the Seed Processing Unit along with many other technologies. But the key word is profitability, associated with productivity and reduced environmental impact”.

“The company respects the current environmental legislation, preserving the riparian forests and water courses that pass through our properties. We have a strict control of soil erosion and rainwater conservation, through a modern level based terracing system for the notillage system. This process has been responsible for the increase of organic matter and soil fertility”. Combining technological advances and environmental preservation, Sementes Falcão has demonstrated excellence in seed production for over 30 years.

Changes in the relevance of gender distinction in Brazilian agribusiness is following an inevitable upward path.