Two weeks ago I put together some numbers from Brazil’s latest farm census, which was released in 2019, after two years of data collecting and processing. I basically compared the soybean farm sizes in southern and central Brazil, explaining why they are so different – logistics and prices received by farmers were among the reasons I listed.
Since that comparison made me spend in the blink of an eye the 600 words that I can write here, I promised I would visit the farm census numbers in a future column. So, here I am. And women in agriculture is always a good subject – not only to join the hype (and women do deserve to have their importance recognized and praised), but also to give an idea of how things can be different in a country like Brazil.
In 2017, Brazil had 5.073 million farmers and ranchers, of which 18.6% were women. That share, however, changes dramatically from region to region. In central and southern states, where the agricultural production is richer and more sophisticated, women represent 13.3% of the total. In the North/Northeast, where agriculture and subsistence still go hand in hand, 22.4% of rural producers are women. Considering Brazil as a whole, 20% of farmers and ranchers are women among the poorest families, compared to 15% among the richest.
That means that the poorer the region and the household, the more likely a woman is to farm – a very common situation in developing countries and not exactly a reason for pride. In many cases, women farm very small areas for subsistence and are in charge only because the men have died, have gone to try a better life in urban areas or have never existed as husbands, but only as fathers of the children left behind. Twenty-eight percent of those women are illiterate, compared to 7% when the Brazilian population as a whole is considered (both numbers are a shame, by the way).
But let’s try to see the bright side. When we look at more developed areas in Brazil, from where the bulk of our soybeans, corn, sugar, ethanol, coffee, cotton and rice is produced, women have a very respectful share, as shown above. And it is not only that. Although the farm census does not have such details, my 20-year experience with clients who grow soybeans and corn has taught me that farmwives are in charge of the financial administration and have a decisive role in marketing strategies very often.
Moreover, women have been much more present in rural careers traditionally embraced by men. This year, 47% of the students that have entered the Agronomical Engineering undergraduate program at the Federal University of Paraná (where I studied Journalism and Economics) are women, compared to 15% about 25 years ago.
Since 1861, Brazil has had 122 ministers of agriculture. Two of them were women, including the present incumbent, Tereza Cristina Dias, an agronomist and federal representative for the central state of Mato Grosso do Sul. The other one, Katia Abreu, took office in 2015. Women in Brazilian agriculture are stronger than ever. But there still a lot to be done and much to be conquered.