Daniela Mariuzzo, IDH Brazil Executive Director & Latam Landscapes Program Director, spoke to Raquel Schenkel Fancelli, a farmer located in Mato Grosso-Brazil, about agribusiness modernization.
Raquel has a degree in accounting and a postgraduate degree in municipal public management and cooperative management. She comes from a family of farmers and she works in the management of the property, located in the municipality of Campo Verde-MT. She is married and is the mother of three daughters. In 2014 Raquel was elected, for the first time, delegate of Aprosoja-MT. She has participated in the Leadership Academy and since 2017 has been the coordinating delegate in the municipality where she lives.
Check out the main points of this conversation below!
DM: You argue that the agribusiness needs to be within the school and the school within the agribusiness. What does this mean in practice?
RSF: We have noticed that some teaching materials coming from school to the children picture the farmer as the villain of deforestation and burning. And that’s not true. We are the main victims when this happens. What would a farmer’s intention be to do such a thing if we are the most interested on conserving the land? The more fruit the land bears, the better it is for us. We are also not happy when these situations occur, and we are the ones who are primarily interested in preserving our springs and our land. And we are monitored and demanded to maintain such conservation. When that doesn’t happen, we are punished. These school materials put a whole society against agribusiness. When this happens to our children, who know the reality, it is easier to explain and show that what they are saying is not true. But what about when it happens to children who have no contact with the countryside? There are children who don’t even know where the milk, the eggs that they eat come from. And, with this, they grow up thinking that the farmers are criminals, wreckers.
DM: How can this issue be addressed by the productive sector?
RSF: We need to show that this is not true. There is no use talking. You need to show it. We need to take children and teachers to learn about life in the countryside, see how planting works, how burning damages the soil. It is all about training: teachers and students. We need to show things that, to us, seem basic, natural, but which, for many people, are far from their knowledge, such as showing how a river spring is preserved, how we care for the land between crops, that crop rotation is needed to prevent erosion and pests. The only way I see possible is teaching by example. An influence from practice to theory so that when this kind of material arrives in schools, they can compare it with what they have seen.
DM: What other strategic areas of dialogue do you consider important for the agribusiness to be in or to establish?
RSF: On our property, for example, we have Soja Plus and we are certified by IMA (Mato Grosso Cotton Institute). We need to comply with many requirements in several areas, which are demanded and verified on an annual basis. This includes packaging, the use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), garbage, to water treatment, among other things. All such care has a market recognition, with better prices, but this information does not reach the society. But we haven’t reached that point in a year. It has been a long process to make the adjustments and we have learned that it delivers results. What do I mean by this? That farmers need to understand that they can do it differently, and do it better. And I believe this needs to be seen as an experience outside the properties. Understanding the world is constantly evolving and we need to keep up. You can’t stay still.
DM: Why do you think this information fails to reach the public? What happens along this path and how to overcome this barrier?
RSF: We get beaten up so much that we are always trying to defend ourselves. When something comes up, we’re always very defensive. But this information, about what we do, does not derive from our sector. So, I believe there is a lack of communication from farmers. I do not know if it is because we are “rather rough”, and they do not understand our language, or maybe it is because we fail to dedicate some time to commit ourselves to this communication. So, we are forever held hostage to what others are saying and there we react to defend ourselves.
DM: In this sense, do you think that taking part in other spaces, in multisectoral agendas, could help?
RSF: This is very important. It is high time we tried to reverse this situation, to show that we are doing something positive. We don’t want recognition for that. We only want respect for what we do. It is my view that we need to modernize this thinking and this approach. Be more involved and talk to other industries. What can farmers do? Plant, harvest…but they do not get involved in spaces. I see it based on my own example. We are a family group, but I am the only one to participate in the union, in the association. The thinking is that someone is going there to work things out. And the result is what we see: agribusiness discredited and farmers constantly in the cycle of being beaten and defending themselves. And this is idleness.
DM: What other agendas do you consider important for strengthening Brazilian agriculture, both internally and abroad?
RSF: We need to give voice to new leaders. The entities need to invest in training and train new leaders capable of taking forward the demands of our industry, our municipalities. But, to this end, we have to attract farmers to the entities. They need to trust the entity to want to be a part of it. Once this relationship is established, it is possible to develop the necessary agendas. But, with a lack of trust and conflict, nothing can advance. And there are entities that fail to share information too. Farmers do not know that they can take part in councils, what rights to demand, how to contribute. This power must be modernized and decentralized. We need to open our eyes and expand our view to what is happening around the world. With this pandemic, we saw that it is possible to do a lot of things and with great reach. We have just attended a Women’s Summit, online, with great participation and excellent lectures. And in the beginning, we did not think this would be possible. We saw that it is. So, as long as we’re bringing people together and bringing information, it won’t stop. It takes wisdom to use this to our advantage.
DM: Does this agribusiness modernization also involve representation? Will those who lead set the agenda and tone of the conversation?
RSF: I believe that women are showing what they can do and markets are opening up to this new reality. We need to increase women’s representation within organizations too. I think this too is a path for modernization and open dialogue because I believe there are situations where women can make a greater contribution to solutions. And I insist that this is a partnership and that we need to work together, contributing in the areas in which we are most skilled. Women, for example, find it easier to seek information and ask for help when needed. And, many times, it makes a difference when it comes to conducting things. It is very interesting to see this movement and how one can contribute to another. I believe that this is the time for the agribusiness to become stronger to go further and better.