[InnovAgroWoMed] Elisa Cataluña, a successful Valencian farmer: "Women are unstoppable and we have come to stay"
From Jovesólides, executive partner of the InnovAgroWoMed project, we interviewed Elisa Cataluña, a successful and courageous Valencian agriculture.
This entrepreneur first joined the field when her father became seriously ill. As an only child, she had no choice but to take over the family farm to give it a new life and to ensure the needs of her family. In the beginning she almost was obliged, today she is more than proud of it.
This courageous young woman was confronted with a challenging equation: "Renew or die" and she chose to set the bar very high: to renew her farm and her life radically, to reborn like a phoenix, ¡and to throw herself «into the void»!
With the advice of AVA-ASAJA's technical services, Elisa has fortunately not literally thrown herself into the unknown. She benefited from a first installation and undertook a radical transformation of her farm of 200 “hanegadas” between Sollana and Montserrat. She reinvested with drip irrigation, replanted and grafted a total of 7,000 trees. These trees, described by the farmer as "7,000 children who need to be fed and who require expenses".
Tell us about yourself and your journey and background…
"I am Elisa Cataluña, i was born in Valencia, surrounded by a family of farmers. My maternal grandparents were engaged in agriculture and the paternals did it by combining it with other jobs. From a very young age, I used to go to the farm with my father and grandfather, and while they were working, I had fun with anything there, and I have very fond memories of it.
Over the years, when I became a teenager, I used to accompany my father on weekends, even though it wasn't something I liked too much, I did it more as an obligation. So I didn't know that what was somehow "an obligation" in the past would one day become my passion and my dedication. Food, ecosystem, nature... They were in my hand, and they were also a means of sustenance.
Years later, there came a time in my life when I realized that the country was a gift. I had the possibility to create.
Who am I? I consider myself to be a woman very capable of solving any obstacle, with perseverance and with positive actions, aiming to achieve my goals and above all, ready to improve the current reality of women in the countryside and rural areas."
For which field(s) do you work mainly?
“I specialized in citrus following the family tradition and taking advantage of the climate of the region. I also grow rice in the Albufera of Valencia.
I consider that there is a wide variety of crops, some more widespread than others, and that it would be very interesting to study each zone in order to be able to adapt emerging crops to our climate. Innovation is the key.”
Did you encounter any obstacles to get where you are today? Did you find it harder to be a woman in a traditionally male-dominated sector?
“There are always barriers because we are not valued and sometimes it seems that our success is not appreciated. These are things that we must change from education, training and especially by showing visible results. You have to show your personality and bet on many factors to be able to make a place for yourself in the Spanish field. Women are unstoppable and we have come to stay!”
Are you aware of gender inequalities in the agri-food sector?
“I'm very conscious of inequalities and I want to change something about that. I want to put my experience at the service of all those women who are starting or even those who don't dare to take the step without any special care, without enough information and without any assistance. I want to help them. It is for these reasons that I consider that the new InnovAgroWoMed project that you have just launched is a great step towards the empowerment of women in the agri-food sector.”
What would you say to a woman who wants to work in the rural areas, regardless of the career she is considering?
“The first thing is to set goals and projects in life and to fight to achieve them. The path to reach these goals is what gives us strength and shows us every day our strength and perseverance. Hard work makes us stronger, it gives us every day a new dose of persistence to move on to a new day and a new step... it will eventually bring us to the sky, from where you can see that you have succeeded and contemplate your achievements with pride. And if this journey has been supported by someone, it would be even better, the road becomes more easier to cross and more pleasant to do.”
What ideas would you propose to InnovAgroWoMed to change or improve the situation of women in the agri-food sector?
“My close relationship with the rural world and the agricultural sector has awakened in me a need for change in two main realities: First, to remedy the disinterest of new generations in the agricultural sector, which results in the abandonment of farmlands, with a very serious environmental impact and the impoverishment of rural areas.
The second one is the need to professionalize the sector, at all levels, both practical (physical work) and theoretical (management, administration, accounting...). This is why I have embarked on a new project, supported by another great professional, and this is why we are working in field management.
Training is essential, and it must also be improved in order to create professionals. It is through training that stability is created. It is a matter of creating qualified professionals in the agricultural sector, of national and international reference.”