Marching to the Beat of Women Scientists and Farmers in Brazil
Raphael Marques da Silva
February 8, 2017

Brazilian women scientists and farmers have helped the country become a model in the fight against hidden hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean. Em português

With nearly half of the 50,000 people to date who have adopted biofortified crops in Latin America and the Caribbean being in Brazil, the country has established itself as a leader in the strategy to improve nutrition through agriculture. Against this backdrop are the scientists responsible for not only expanding the development of biofortified crops, but also delivering them to farmers and consumers. Women are playing critical roles in this effort.

Leading the Brazilian biofortification program (BioFORT Network) is Marilia Nutti, a researcher with Embrapa Food Technology. Marilia also  coordinates HarvestPlus’ operations to promote biofortified crops in Latin America and the Caribbean, where she has expanded the program to eight other countries.

One of Marilia’s colleagues at Embrapa is Izabela Miranda de Castro, who has trained scientists in countries including El Salvador and the Democratic Republic of Congo on how to analyze carotenoids. Izabela’s work is helping to strengthen collaboration and the exchange of knowledge among scientists working to improve nutrition through agriculture.

Beyond the research environment, women are also leading promoters of biofortification. Take Antônia Lúcia Carvalho, for example; she produces and sells processed biofortified products in the northeastern state of Maranhão. Antônia’s biofortified sweet potato-based candies are especially popular with consumers.

"I grow biofortified sweet potato, beans, and maize in my family farm. I like to show other farmers that these are entirely natural crops, and that adopting and consuming them is beneficial."  Such is Antônia’s enthusiasm that she has even conducted a mini-course on how to prepare biofortified food recipes featuring sweet potato broth and tropeiro beans with green cowpeas.

In the west-central state  of Mato Grosso, another woman is applying her knowledge and skills to great effect. Marilene Alves, a scientist at the Mato Grosso Corporation of Research, Assistance, and Rural Extension (Empaer), has coordinated extension services and delivery of biofortified crops in the municipalities of the state’s interior. Her impact has been in the production of tools such as experimental fields, field days, and courses, which have helped the state become one of the largest grain producers in Brazil.

"First, we are sending seeds to the communities to produce on a large scale, after which we will attend to school meals," says Marilene regarding her agency’s plans to supply public schools with biofortified crops.

*Photo: Antônia Lúcia Carvalho with samples of her processed products made from biofortified crops. Credit: R.Marques/HarvestPlus

**The author is a freelance journalist with HarvestPlus in Brazil

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