Female #FoodHeroes

Marie-Odile Zink

Marie is the Head of Global Co-Formulants, Packaging, Tolling & Seeds Procurement for Syngenta.

What do you do?

I am in charge of procurement of chemicals – ingredients for the products that farmers use to protect their crops – and of the seeds they use to grow those crops.  My role is at the very beginning of our value chain; procurement ensures we receive everything we need from our suppliers in order to produce our brands and goods. And because some of our suppliers are farmers, and our products are for farmers, I feel very connected with the full business circle.

 Why do you love your job?

There are many reasons why I love my job. One is certainly the close connection I have to our customers. Farmers all over the world use our products to grow food. There is a lot of diversity when it comes to our suppliers and customers, they stretch from smallholders in Bangladesh to CEOs of big agriculture companies in North America.

I truly believe that agriculture is one of the most interesting industries you can work in. It is a lot more complex, a lot more exciting and a lot more modern than public perception might have you think sometimes. At the same time, it’s an industry that is literally very grounded, very much connected to reality and everyday life.

In the end, what we produce is something so fundamental – it touches each and every one of us: We grow and produce food, and we all need to eat. Food security matters to all of us. We all want our families to enjoy healthy and nourishing meals every day. To ensure food security, that means we have to sustainably provide food for everyone.

When I go jogging or for a walk, when I drive to work or go on holiday, I will pass fields and see farmers. This certainly makes me feel very connected. It is a very inspiring task that I feel proud to be involved in.

How did you get here?

In a way, you could say that agriculture runs in the family: my uncle is an eighth generation farmer who has a vineyard and produces wine in Alsace, France. I still remember visiting him and helping with the harvest every autumn. In addition, I have always been fascinated by science, the idea that you can invent things, change the world with new ideas, new molecules. I hold a PhD in chemistry, and the agricultural industry was a natural match to bring together those two aspects of my life.

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

It would be great to see more women come into the industry, as it is still male dominated. I spent a couple of weeks in Bangladesh three years ago, as part of Syngenta’s “Growing Together” initiative. During that time, I met and worked with a lot of very impressive female smallholder farmers. One thing I experienced there first hand, is how much of a difference these women make to the development of their communities.

I believe that women can make an equally positive contribution to the industry as a whole because more diversity almost always fosters growth. My advice would be to have trust and faith in yourself: Speak up, make your voice heard, have a seat at the table and don’t be intimidated.

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

The world is changing fast, and agriculture with it (if not faster). It’s a very exciting time. Maybe contrary to popular belief, agriculture is a high-tech industry. Digitization is changing the way farmers work, and technology like precision agriculture is offering new opportunities for our products. New seeds that are more resilient to droughts or floods will make a real difference to farmers affected by the impacts of climate change.

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

For me personally I wouldn’t say I am faced with any real challenges as such. However I would love to see more women join the industry. A more balanced, more diverse workforce and leadership will definitely have a positive impact on agriculture as a whole – as with any industry or team.

Marie 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.