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Karina Gonçalves David is an organic producer in Brazil working towards achieving gender equity in agriculture and beyond. She is the co-founder of Pro Nobis Agroflorestal, one of the directors of the Instituto Brasil Orgânico, and a former coordinator of Rede Ecovida, a Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) in Brazil. 

She shared how she has been able to use her various platforms to advocate for more inclusivity and diversity in the organic sector.

In 2014, I began to think about producing food organically because my partner had a family-owned farm that was PGS-certified by Rede Ecovida. On this farm, we started experimenting with agroforestry, a vegetable garden and growing shiitake mushrooms.

At that time, we worked other jobs during the week and spent our weekends on the farm. Although we did not spend a lot of time on the farm, we felt very fulfilled! We knew that eventually, we would have to quit our jobs and start farming full-time.

The opportunity came in 2015 when we were invited to participate in one of the largest organic fairs in our state (Paraná). This was the beginning of my work with organic.

Karina (right) and her partner Thales pose next to some of their farm’s shiitake mushrooms © Pro Nobis

Embracing agroforestry on our farm 

We founded Pro Nobis Agroflorestal and through it, we expanded our vegetable production, innovated our shiitake mushroom production, and increased our agroforestry efforts. Working in agroforestry is fascinating because we constantly learn from nature and promote biodiversity.

Agroforestry is an agricultural technique for the production of food, wood, mushrooms, animal husbandry, and agricultural products. It is based on the principles of the natural mechanisms of the forest itself and cooperation between the species.

We cultivate a consortium of species according to the objective of each agroforestry plot, especially fruit trees such as orange, lemon, avocado and yerba mate. Between the rows of these trees, we grow various vegetables (lettuce, garlic, carrots, etc.), herbs, medicinal plants and flowers. The wood from the trees is important because we use it for the production of shiitake mushrooms, our main product. We can sell our products to other farms and at the street markets we attend once a week.

Impressions of the food grown on the farm © Pro Nobis

Our agroforestry system and shiitake production yielded positive results on our farm, which made other farmers curious to learn more. We held courses on our farm and elsewhere to teach others what we were doing. The government saw the potential in our activities and decided to partner with us by funding courses on agroforestry and shiitake production so that farmers could attend without paying.

We now also offer virtual courses which we are currently translating into English. Furthermore, we provide advice on agroforestry, organic farming and certification, particularly PGS. Working on PGS revealed the realities of many women farmers in organics and encouraged me to do something about it.

Click here to stay up to date with ProNobis Agroflorestal

It is very gratifying to be able to teach, share and inspire!

The team holding a course on agroforestry for a group of farmers © Pro Nobis

Using PGS to advance gender equity

In 2016, I worked as one of five coordinators for Rede Ecovida (a PGS initiative in Brazil). It was the first time that all the coordinators were young women and it was an empowering experience. We worked with 500 families on gender-related issues in organic farming, which was both challenging and fruitful.

Many of the people we worked with thought that gender was more deconstructed in organic farming, but this is wrong! The reality is that women fight against toxic masculinity and patriarchy on a daily basis, for example by working double time (at work and at home) without social and financial recognition.

Not only that, many women in our community have suffered and continue to suffer domestic violence in silence. For this reason, during our time as PGS coordinators, we created a safe space for regular meetings with women farmers. In these spaces, we learned of the horrific and tragic situations that some women farmers had been subjected to. As the women shared their stories, we were determined to help them out of their situations and to shape our PGS initiative in a way that openly condemns all acts of abuse (sexual, physical, mental, emotional and financial).

A meeting of Rede Ecovida entitled “Without feminism, there is no agroecology” © Rede Ecovida

For example, we rejected certification applications from any farmer suspected or known to have abused their partner in any way. We wanted to make sure that PGS certification reflected the appreciation and respectful treatment of the women farmers who grow the food we consume. 

The cases of domestic violence that the coordinators of the Ecovida network had to face and forward resulted in the collective creation of the Working Group on gender within the network. This, along with discussions, meetings and the creation of a movement on gender and PGS, led to the writing of a document that talks about the different types of abuse, the effects of abuse and what to do if you are a victim of abuse. The response we received after publishing this document was overwhelming! We realised that many women had no idea that they were victims of abuse, assuming that abuse was only sexual or physical.

We wanted to use our PGS initiative as a way of addressing violence and abuse in our community, and this was a start. Since then we have been able to get more women and men from the community to condemn abuse in all its forms and to support the victims. I believe that if a PGS is designed with gender equity at its core, we will be able to address social, economic, mental and environmental issues much more effectively.

The coordinators of Rede Ecovida created a safe space for women farmers to share their challenges and find solace (L-R: Hercia, Karina, Valdenise and Neltume) © Rede Ecovida

Influencing change through advocacy

Using the knowledge, network and skills I had acquired through my work at Rede Ecovida, I decided to contribute to the creation of policies that support organic agriculture. This led me to join Instituto Brazil Organico as one of its directors. It is an organisation that works throughout Brazil to promote organic agriculture, with advocacy as one of its main work fronts.

I want to use my role as an organic producer, feminist and advocate to bring about sustainable change in my community and in Brazil as a whole. I believe that it is essential to recognise the fundamental role of women in organic agriculture, whether in production, marketing or in the political sphere.

Karina shares her message on the #IGrowYourFood action day 

Learn more about the Instituto Brazil Organico here