“Women’s roles are changing as part of the constantly evolving social, environmental, cultural and economic contexts they live in.”
Maria Agovino is Alltech’s European Technical Sales Manager for Ruminants based in Switzerland. She focuses on business, product development and technical support, plus strategic planning. Ahead of the WFA Summit, we asked her to share her thoughts on some of the big issues facing women in the agrifood sector.
What is your background and how did you get started in the industry?
Maria: I graduated in 2003 in Animal Science, specialising in Ruminant Nutrition at the Faculty of Medical and Veterinary Sciences at Napoli University ‘Federico II’, Italy. I then did a postgraduate course, ‘Agrifood Innovative System Manager’. This means I am a Cow Signals® trainer. I can train colleagues as well as farmers to know the basic needs of the cow, learn to recognise early disease signals and understand the concepts of health, management, housing, feed and economics. I joined Alltech in 2005 and since then I have been covering different roles as Distributor Manager, Key Account Manager for Italy. Subsequently I moved to Switzerland to take on a new challenge as the ruminant specialist for Europe.
What are the key drivers in agriculture and food? What are the main challenges the sector is facing now?
Maria: I would like to think that the key drivers are the consumers. They are broadly interested in supporting sustainable and ethical food production. The consumption is increasingly being driven by the heart: consumers are making choices defined by their positive impact on the world.
There are several long-term challenges that face agriculture. The population is growing, especially in developing countries, and global food demand is increasing as a result. Water quality and availability threaten current agricultural standards. The greatest challenge to me, is improving the consumer’s perception of modern agriculture often perceived as negatively impacting the environment.
What role do women play in agriculture today and how you can see it changing in the future?
Maria: The contribution of women to agricultural and food production is significant. Women are the backbone of the rural economy, especially in developing countries. Women’s participation in rural labour markets varies considerably across regions, but invariably women are over represented in unpaid, seasonal and part-time work, and the available evidence suggests that women are often paid less than men, for the same work and sometimes their activities are not always acknowledged. For example, farm activities of women smallholder farmers are often considered to be part of their domestic chores. Therefore, their contributions remain informal and do not get due recognition. Today, their roles are changing as part of the constantly evolving social, environmental, cultural and economic contexts they live in. Worldwide, women are impressively demonstrating that they are willing and able to use their qualifications and growing self-determination in order to directly increase social prosperity and to preserve natural resources. Historical perception of a male driven business. Agriculture needs a change and having women as decision makers and or covering roles of responsibility can represent that change
Our research highlights that investing in women is becoming more important for businesses in the food and agricultural sector and the importance of promoting the sector to younger generation. Where do you think there are opportunities for women in the sector?
Maria: I think there are opportunities everywhere. Women have the skills that modern farming needs; we are natural multi-taskers, good communicators and used to hard work. Sensibility, determination, resourcefulness, creativity of women are essential ingredients in agriculture. More women need to be involved steering the direction of the industry.
How can we inspire the future of women and diversity in our industry?
Maria: There are hundreds of women who inspire us in agriculture and food, though there are still not enough! They are entrepreneurs, stewards of the land, business owners, researchers, farmers, and innovators who are the backbone of the world’s food systems.
What should agribusinesses be doing better?
Maria: There is a lot to do. We need to improve the status of women in agriculture and rural areas; increase awareness that policies have different impacts on women and men; guarantee gender equality both on paper and in practice; promote female participation in decision-making processes and recognise women’s work burden.