Women in agribusiness — Making a difference inside and outside the gate

By Roberta Paffaro

Driving a tractor on a farm, leading employees across different functions, directing and being responsible for sales and risk management. When you imagine it, I bet you may be thinking that men do these kinds of jobs. While men are still the majority for leaders in agriculture in Brazil, research developed by Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE/2017) has proven that women are conquering their space. For every 10 farmers, two are female. In Brazil, young female farmers are building a more successful agribusiness, including technology and innovation in the field. 

Roberta Paffaro

But it is not that easy. I have been working in agribusiness for more than 12 years and travelling to main producing areas in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. I started realizing an increase of women participation in my lectures about risk management. One day, I met a farmer and she shared her life story with me. Her name is Norma Gatto, farmer from Mato Grosso that is the “heart” of Brazil soybean production. Her husband was killed and at that time, she had three little children to raise and a lack of knowledge of farming. Instead of selling the land, she decided to learn everything about the business and assumed the leadership. It was a challenge, but she went from tragedy to overcoming. Now she is one of the biggest producers of soybeans, corn and cattle of the state with four farms. Her sons work with her to oversee it. Her main message is: “Do not compare yourself to anyone, but only to yourself. Look at your life trajectory and how much you have grown professionally since you started.”

Her story inspired me and together with three friends (Andrea Cordeiro, Mariely Biff and Ticiane Figueiredo). We decided to give a voice to these women by writing a pioneer book: Women in Agribusiness — inspirations to overcome challenges inside and outside the gate. We have interviewed more than 50 women and we realized how strong and resilient they are — a lesson learned in each shared story. We launched the book at the Agriculture Women Conference in São Paulo, Brazil, in October 2019. More than 2,000 farmers joined it and we realized how much they are contributing to the agribusiness growth in the country. 

In addition, we have good stories to tell outside of the gate. For example, we have a woman as a Brazil Agriculture minister. Her name is Tereza Cristina — an agronomic engineer who applied her knowledge in politics. She has opened new markets to Brazilian agribusiness exports, supporting smaller producers and also developing public policies focused on the area. Her message to women in agribusiness is to keep learning and studying as it may be the key to succeed. 

Teka Vedramini became the first president of Brazilian Rural Society. Teka is a cattle producer in São Paulo state, but she spends the majority of her time in the city. During all her life —dedicated to agriculture — she heard too many stories of women overcoming prejudices and becoming protagonists of their own lives. She said has made her stronger and more human. As a natural leader, she is dedicated, hardworking and is making a difference in her role, even facing all the pandemic challenges. 

There are many more Teresas and Normas in Brazil. Research developed by ABAG (Brazilian Agribusiness Association — in 2016) surveyed around 300 women in the country and found 73% of these women occupy the position of farm administration, followed by production leads, commercialization and marketing.

It also identified a different role between them and men in driving of business. Their perception is that men are more confident and do not demonstrate insecurity, and don´t need to justify their decisions. Women have another view of the business, as they are more communicative and willing to hear a couple of arguments before making a decision. 

In addition, the research showed the difficulty often encountered by women is dealing with employees, taking into consideration what is being said and asked for. Around 28% faced challenges in expressing themselves as a woman, and scrutiny around the way they should dress, speak and behave. Besides all these challenges, all of the women from different agribusiness segments said they feel optimistic about the future and are proud to work in the area.

In March, we celebrate International Women’s Day. It is important to remember we are still facing challenges, but we definitely have developed skills to face them.  Women in agribusiness are us, you and me. Regardless of the country, city and region where we are located, we can make a difference. As I always say, together we are stronger.  

(The research views expressed herein are those of the author and do not represent the views of CME Group or its affiliates). Roberta Paffaro (LinkedIn: Roberta Paffaro Instagram: @robertapaffaro) is a Brazilian journalist, economist, agribusiness specialist, and master’s student in Agribusiness from FGVS -SP. She has been working in CME Group in the Brazil office for almost 13 years.

Roberta Paffaro with Norma Gatto, producer of Mato Grosso.

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