Detailed logging of produce, and addressing gender bias in censuses, is helping to raise the profile of the women vital to production on the country’s farms.
Originally published in UN Women’s flagship report Progress of the World’s Women 2019-2020: Families in a Changing World
The logbooks are part of a quiet revolution being pushed through by feminist agricultural groups that has even influenced government census data. As a result of their pressure, Brazil’s 2017 Agricultural Census retained a question on the sex of agricultural producers and was able to provide data showing that the number of establishments run by women rose to 18.6 per cent, with almost a million women involved, compared with 12.7 per cent some 11 years earlier.
Agribusiness is a pillar of the Brazilian economy, worth nearly a quarter of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with crops such as soybeans and coffee from industrialized farms, mainly employing men, among the country’s most important exports. But Brazil also has millions of family farmers with a total annual turnover of 55.2 billion USD a year. Here, women play a fundamental role.
“We are learning a lot about women’s production capacity,” says Beth Cardoso, a coordinator at the Alternative Technology Centre of the Forest Zone in Minas Gerais state. “There is little visibility and value given to women’s work in rural areas.” With the Centre, Cardoso helped launch an earlier version of the logbooks scheme in 2011. Two years later, it developed into the ongoing Cadernetas Agroecológicas(agro-ecological notebooks) project. This has since spread across Brazil, with hundreds of women currently participating.
São Paulo-based group Sempreviva Organização Feminista (SOF – Evergreen Feminist Organization) also took part in the logbooks project and works to make women’s importance to Brazilian agriculture more visible.
In much of rural Brazil, women tend household gardens, selling or swapping produce and providing food for their families, says SOF’s Miriam Nobre, an agronomist. But the value of their production goes unnoticed, especially if their partner is not a farmer.
That changed for Janete Dantas and her mother after they spent 18 months filling in the logbooks and sharing the experience with other women. Janete works up to three hours a day on the smallholding she and her husband, a driver, share with her parents. Her mother, Maria, 68, works six hours a day. Before participating in the logbook project, they had never calculated the value of their work, and how much food it put on the family table. “We see how much we eat… and how much what we produce is worth,” Janete says. “We are able to give more value to it.”
Projects like these have obliged the Government to acknowledge the role of women in Brazilian agriculture, something Nobre places within the wider context of the struggle for rural women’s rights in Latin America. “I see this as part of the fight for recognition of the work of women,” she says, “and for the ways rural women are guaranteeing sustenance in their communities.”