Female #FoodHeroes

Graciela Leguizamon

Graciela is the Director of the Quimili Experimental Station of The National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA), in the North East of Santiago del Estero, Argentina. The station serves to improve the competitiveness of agricultural systems within a framework of environmental, economic and social sustainability. It also carries out research on topics including crop management and soil quality. Graciela’s role at the station is to manage and generate strategic alliances with other institutions (universities, the government, producer organizations) to contribute to the development of the region. This is directly inline with INTA’s goals to develop the industrial agriculture sector’s capacities and participate in networks to foster inter-institutional cooperation.

Why is your job important?

I work in a very complex region, with very big challenges. Due to the extension of the agricultural frontier the land has changed, with forests giving way to agriculture and cattle raising. In this region we have both largescale farmers and smallholder rural farmers from poor villages. Our challenge is to work with civil society, NGOs and universities to make these different types of farms sustainable.

We do this by working with people living below the poverty line to teach them how to grow food harmoniously with their local landscape, for example by growing organic orchards. We teach people, especially women how to better feed their children and ensure food security through vegetable production. We work with an access to water project, because many of these families do not have enough water for their daily lives, let alone agricultural production.

I also provide motivational talks to the women involved in these projects, in order to get them to take part, cross barriers, and appropriate these new techniques.

Simultaneously we are working with largescale farms to maintain the environmental, economic and social sustainability of the region. We promote measures to avoid soil and water loss, as well as more sustainable practices for growing soybeans, corn, and cotton, and rearing livestock. Currently we are working to introduce these farms to some agroecological concepts.

Overall, we contribute to maintaining our region, our planet for all, reducing inequalities so that all those in the region can live well and leave a better place for our descendants.

How did you get here?

I was born and raised in the countryside, in a family of small producers. I studied Agronomic Engineering in Santiago del Estero, followed by a master’s degree at the University of Chile, and a doctorate in Mexico. I have a very supportive family: my parents and my sisters help me to face all the new challenges I encounter in my work life.

In the past I have worked as a university professor – teaching at the National University of Santiago del Estero – and for a big agricultural company. Today my role as Director of the Experimental Quimili is a great experience, as it capitalizes on what I learnt in these previous roles.

What is your advice for young women wanting to contribute to sustainable food and farming?

Women, all women, have the capacity to lead change in our world. However, we need to believe in ourselves, believe in our capacity. We must study, read, and help each other. Those of us who have the fortune of being in positions of leadership must work with the less favored, so that they too understand that despite their unfavorable circumstances they can also affect change.

As women, we must never forget the framework of respect and values that leads us to care for our environment, our economy, our society.

 

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How does agriculture need to change to be fit for the future?

I believe that the agriculture of the future must be more inclusive. We need to understand our gardens, our land as a complex system that allows us to generate better benefits by applying new technologies that are environmentally friendly. It must be a situation in which we all win and no longer generate the conflicts that we have today around food. We need to understand that although we make decisions at the level of our own land, these decisions affect the others who share the world with us.

I think that people, men or women, should not abandon their dreams of a better, more equitable world. We have to shape those dreams and work to achieve them. It is possible to achieve a better world in which we are all included. Science and technology together with social sensitivity has an important mission ahead.

What’s one challenge you face as a woman in agriculture and what do you think needs to be done to overcome this?

As a woman, in the past it was difficult for us to be heard. Today there are many of us who work in different areas of agriculture. Now we have the challenge to assume more leadership roles, study more, and prepare to generate change. Women need to work harder – especially rural women – to achieve support and empowerment. Rural women also need to be more involved in economic activities. We can help here, because as women we can see the challenges and solve them in a creative way.

 

Graciela is just one of many inspirational women working in agriculture. Visit our Female #FoodHeroes page to hear from other women working to improve plant science and nutrition.