"Joining InnovAgroWoMed has been a great personal and professional reinforcement”
Isabel Tomás Castelló (València, Spain) is an agricultural engineer from the Polytechnic University of Valencia and a technician in agroecological production. She has worked managing farms of olive and almond trees in organic farming, citrus and persimmons in Valencia. She also has experience in administrative management in the public sector, in the field of agricultural subsidies and worked in Madrid in plant health.
She is currently combining her management and advisory services to farms in alternative production models to conventional agriculture, “Agrotransición”, the business she has promoted after her experience in the InnovAgroWoMed project, with a freelance job in management and control of protected varieties of citrus fruits.
How and when did your innovative business idea come up?
"I have always had the idea of entrepreneurship. When I was studying agroecological production I already had the intention of doing it. I imagined how to help people at risk of social exclusion by integrating nature through my business. The idea of starting my own company became stronger when I started working as a technician on a farm where I noticed that those who gave advice did so in exchange for the sale of their products to treat crops, products such as pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and fertilizers. This was a widespread practice.
I realized that the advice was self-serving, I observed that the farmer was being cheated, I found it abusive and unfair, as well as harmful to the land, rivers and seas, the environment and people. And I can't deal with that, I wanted to change this.
At the same time, in the job I was in I was not treated well nor valued, this also pushed me to make a change".
What value does your company 'Agrotransición' bring to society?
"I spent many years studying new models of agricultural production that are more respectful of the environment, and of the society. I want to help, from a perspective that is considerate, transparent and careful with people and nature.
I believe it is necessary to consider new ways of farming, of working, of treating the land we live in and the people with whom we share the world. We simply need "other approaches", with human values.
That is why I created Agrotransición. The name responds to the idea of transformation that the countryside, the agricultural sector, life and society need".
What finally pushed you to start a business and why hadn't you done it before?
"What has given me the definitive impulse to become an entrepreneur has been the InnovAgroWoMed and Jovesólides program, especially the women I met during the course and the final scholarship I have been awarded. I had not done it before because of doubts, insecurities and because I could not afford it financially. Having studied the course has also helped me a lot to launch myself because I have learned some guidelines to get started".
How has the training period and the scholarship helped you to develop your entrepreneurial idea and overcome the initial problems?
"The training period has been of great help to refresh knowledge already acquired in the past and to learn new ones, especially practical and updated ones. I think we have come out of the course very well prepared.
The celebration of the Agroforo Resilient was like a shot of positive energy and self-esteem. I met people who were interested by my project and it was very motivating.
I also have to give a special thanks to the jury of the scholarship that valued my application and gave me the opportunity to realize a dream I had, although it is going little by little, but without that money I would not have started".
Have you encountered any specific difficulties in your process because you are a woman?
"Not during the training process, but now that I am in reality, looking for the client and their trust, on one occasion I have felt that I have not been taken seriously. Not only because I am a woman, but I think it has been a mixture of being a woman, being young and studying".
Tell us about what you have achieved so far and your expectations for the future
"I was contacted by an association of municipalities with which I have collaborated in a line of action for entrepreneurs in the agri-food sector in a rural area. Thanks to this, I have had several contacts to whom I have already advised and at this moment I am in contact with one of them to provide him with the digital field notebook and help him to prepare agricultural subsidies. There is another person interested in having me help her with her CAP application and the field notebook, a woman entrepreneur with farms.
On the other hand, in the Agroforo Resilient I made two contacts, a company that owns a differentiated quality mark for agri-food products and is a member of GlobalGap, proposed me to collaborate with them as a technical specialist in preparing farms for audits. At the moment we have not started anything, but it is another opportunity that I am considering.
The other contact that approached me at the Agroforo belongs to a company that sells phytosanitary products, I think they wanted me to collaborate with them to reach their final customer (farms to which they sell their products), but for ethical reasons, which go against the principles of my entrepreneurship, I have not collaborated with them".
What has the InnovAgroWoMed project represented for you?
"It has been like a breath of fresh air. I entered the program looking for an opportunity for change at the labor level, mainly, and also with the objective of renewing myself in the sector.
It has not only helped me to achieve this, but it has also been a personal, professional and economic reinforcement for me. I have met wonderful people, with values, who have taught me that there are people who are still willing to help and accompany and who want to work and live in a different way".
After your experience, what would you recommend to other women entrepreneurs?
"I would tell them not to get down, to live it with great enthusiasm and optimism, to value every word they hear and every person who comes to teach them, not to be afraid to ask questions, not to get bored of learning, to let themselves go in the course of the experience despite the uncertainty and not to give up and enjoy it and take lots of notes! Then they always fall back on them!"
In the framework of the EU funded InnovAgroWoMed project, Jovesólides has worked for three years with partner entities from Italy, Tunisia and Palestine in the development of a needs assessment, design and implementation of a training program in the four participating countries. Subsequently, different support services, training, coaching and subgrants have been implemented to promote entrepreneurship and facilitate the labor insertion of women in the agri-food sector.
Thanks to this experience, 35 women at risk of social exclusion have been trained in Spain and to date, at least 54% of them are already working.