Oleoestepa is a cooperative project in which no one is useless. All the people who make up the extra virgin olive oil value chain at Oleoestepa are crucial to the success of everyone. The recent incorporation of women in this value chain has been a key factor in achieving Oleoestepa’s recognition as the leading producer of high quality extra virgin olive oil.
We are starting a series, Cooperative Women’s Stories, with which we want to make visible the relevant presence of women in Oleoestepa and value their key contribution to this cooperative project.
Virginia López Rodas
Administrator and Director of the credit section at the Olivarera de Casariche cooperative (Seville).
Virginia López Rodas, administrator and director of the credit section at the Olivarera de Casariche cooperative (Seville).
Virginia began her professional activity in the cooperative in 2006, covering a colleague’s sick leave. What began as a temporary assignment has become a job of more than 15 years. She tells us that her beginnings were hard, as she was very young and had no previous professional experience, “I had recently finished my university studies in Business, so I had no work experience. Although she recognizes that all her colleagues did their best to help her, they also had no knowledge of accounting, “so I had little technical help, but a lot of support”. She made up for this lack of experience with desire and determination to learn, and in a short time she managed to optimally manage the cooperative’s accounting.
As time went by, her responsibilities grew, so that when the need arose for a director of the credit section of the cooperative, the Board of Directors entrusted Virginia with this task.
When she started working in the cooperative’s offices, her two colleagues were men and the cooperative’s governing body, the board of directors, was made up entirely of men. In short, she was the only woman in the management part of the cooperative, a fact that was also true for the assemblies where more than 100 members attended and where she was still the only woman. “At the beginning this situation intimidated me and made me very nervous when I had to present the accounts, but I never received a bad comment for being a woman, I was always recognized for my professionalism” recognizes Virginia.
“I had to convince women members with whom I had permanent contact in the cooperative, in charge of the daily work of their olive farms, that it was necessary for them to also attend the maximum government of the cooperative, the assembly, because their opinion is as respectable as that of any other member” she recalls with joy, since with the passage of time she has been achieving a greater participation of women, “in the last assembly that was held between 15 and 20% of the attendees were women”.
On the administration side, Virginia considers that women have always been well represented, although this has not been the case in all areas of the cooperative. Although, as with everything, over the years, fortunately this has been changing, with women being more present in all areas of the cooperative.
Despite having started working surrounded by men, she recognizes that she has always felt supported and helped by all her colleagues, convinced that working with men has never been difficult for her, but rather the opposite, they have always tried to help her, especially in matters such as family reconciliation.
As for the future, she is very clear that the development of the cooperative is linked to the recruitment of highly trained personnel, specialists in each of the areas of work. Hence he recommends to young people to be properly trained, to have enthusiasm and desire to grow the cooperative, because “it will contribute positively to the economy of all who live in Casariche”.
Inmaculada Rangel Fernández
Taster of the Oleoestepa panel and Manager of her family farming business
Inmaculada Rangel Fernández, taster of the Oleoestepa panel and manager of her family farming business.
Her connection with olive growing goes back a long way, to family tradition. Her close ties to the world of olive growing since her childhood have led her to a constant desire to learn more about extra virgin olive oil.
With this in mind, she began her career as a taster on the Oleoestepa tasting panel more than 25 years ago. All these years of experience tasting olive juices have served to prove to her that quality must be above quantity. And as a farmer, she manages the farm with this in mind: “to obtain healthy olives in a sustainable way and to harvest them at the optimum moment,” Inmaculada points out.
Inmaculada explains that when she started, there was a great inequality between the urban and rural worlds. However, Inma affirms that “Although they still exist today, the differences are no longer so noticeable, thanks to the constant revaluation and professionalization of the agricultural world achieved by all of us”.
As for the role of women in this rural environment, she corroborates that their presence has also grown a lot in recent years, and defends that “there are more women both in agricultural tasks and in positions of responsibility such as the board of directors of the cooperative, so that a better representation of women in rural areas is being achieved”. Fortunately, in her professional career as a farmer, she has not encountered any obstacles in carrying out her tasks, but even so, she recognizes that the figure of women was limited in the cooperative to office tasks, “back then the fields were only for men”, recalls Inmaculada.
She encourages all young people, both girls and boys, to develop their lives in the rural world “because there is a future”. Inmaculada is proud to talk about her daughter Irene, who has also decided to dedicate herself to this sector and although she is currently abroad, gaining experience and finishing her studies, she is convinced that she will return to continue with the family business.
Inmaculada confesses that when she signed up for the first tasting course given by Oleoestepa she never thought that “this would come to this point”. And she recalls with irony how in the first introductory tasting courses there were participants who, when faced with atrophied oils, categorically defended that “this is really good”. This is a clear example of how much the olive oil sector has changed in recent years in favor of quality, since “the oil that was recognized as good quality 20 years ago is now undoubtedly an oil with defects”.
Rosa García Reina
AIP technician at associated cooperative Olivarera Sor Ángela de la Cruz in Estepa (Seville)
Rosa García Reina, AIP technician at associated cooperative Olivarera Sor Ángela de la Cruz in Estepa.
Despite her youth, she has almost 15 years of experience in agricultural consultancy work for the associated olive growers, collaborating in the modernization of the agricultural fabric “to achieve a more sustainable and efficient crop, but always seeking the highest quality,” Rosa points out. She was fortunate to finish her studies in Agricultural Engineering just at the moment when the implementation of the sustainable certificate of Integrated Production began, being necessary for the incorporation of technicians in the associated cooperatives.
Rosa tells us how in these years she has experienced many changes, especially in the way of working, due to technological advances. “When I started my working life there was no digitalization as there is today, we knew what was done in the field and the farmer was advised by the technicians, but today, in the era of digitalization, everything is known more precisely, we have more data on everything”. In this regard, she highlights the use of satellite images in the cloud as an aid when making predictions and specifying the use of more efficient resources.
She also highlights the help that technology has provided in the document management of the implementation of sustainable agricultural and production techniques required by the Integrated Production seal. “Every action must be recorded in the workbook of each farm, so the new computer tools are our allies, as they help us to reduce the work of monitoring and control,” Rosa points out.
Her responsibility begins with supervising the agricultural activity of the associated olive growers, controlling pests, diseases or any problem that occurs in the olive grove. In her permanent communication with the farmer, she advises him on the optimum moment and the treatment to carry out on the crop, allowed by the rigorous protocol of the Integrated Production seal.
Rosa confesses that the main difficulty in her advisory work is to combine the farmer’s profitability with the environmental sustainability of the field and the consumer’s food safety. “The use of phytosanitary products is very restricted, always guaranteeing environmental sustainability and maximum quality oil without chemical residues,” Rosa acknowledges.
Despite being the only woman in the cooperative since the beginning of her work, she has never felt undervalued. Rosa confesses that “I have always received the support of my colleagues and associated farmers, respecting my advice and decision making”.
Currently she is not the only female agricultural technician in charge of the implementation of Integrated Production. One more example of the incorporation of women in the cooperative world, also in the field of agricultural engineering, which comes in addition to other administrative, technical or industrial work, already carried out by women in the various cooperatives that make up Oleoestepa. However, she considers that it is still necessary to continue advancing in the incorporation of women in the rural world to achieve real equality.
Looking to the future, Rosa recommends to all young people who like agriculture and the rural environment to train and make an effort. “There are many people who do not consider a profession linked to the countryside interesting, but I think it is because of ignorance. It is a sacrifice, but it is also very satisfying, since the fruits of the effort are very palpable,” Rosa points out.
Finally, she highlights a very important change that she has also had the opportunity to experience in these years: the progressive professionalization of farmers, closely linked to generational change. And he comments that “nowadays the field is seen as a business, so it has to function, hence the need for professionalization”.
Magdalena Borrego Haro
AIP technician at the associated cooperative San Isidoro de Gilena (Seville).
Magdalena Borrego Haro, AIP technician at the associated cooperative San Isidoro de Gilena (Seville).
Her professional career in the cooperative could not have started off on a better foot. She finished her studies as an Agricultural Technician and a few months later a job opportunity arose in the management of olive reception in the 2002/03 campaign. Although she started with a temporary contract, her courage and tenacity have led her to increase her level of responsibility during her almost 20 years linked to the cooperative, currently working as an agricultural technician, in charge of agronomic advice to members and the implementation of sustainable production techniques certified with the Integrated Production seal.
Magda recalls that “it was not easy to make her way in a world of men, where they were not used to receiving advice or guidelines from women, much less from young women”. She had to prove herself day after day until she managed to overcome these initial misgivings.
She complements her work as a technical advisor with that of taster on the Oleoestepa tasting panel, a task that she considers of great value and with total synergy with the activity in the oil mill when it comes to classifying the oils correctly and not making mistakes during the production process.
Although she considers that women have been achieving greater presence in the cooperative world in recent years, it is clear that “unfortunately there is still a long way to go”, and she gives as an example of this, the reduced participation of women in the main bodies of power of a cooperative: the Assembly of Members and its Governing Council. “In the case of our cooperative, the presence of women in the assemblies does not usually exceed 1%, and the Governing Council is made up exclusively of men”.
The desired balance passes irremediably through a greater incorporation of women in the agricultural activity, hence she advises young women who like the field, to try and not shrink in the face of difficulties. “Unfortunately, they will have to prove themselves more than men, but, even so, let them fight. Every effort has its reward,” Magda says optimistically.
Oil Mill Master of the associeted cooperative Olivarera San Isidro de Gilena (Seville)
Lola Nogales, oil mill master of the associated cooperative Olivarera San Isidro de Gilena (Seville) is an example of the incorporation of women in strategic roles in the production process of extra virgin olive oil.
Despite the short time she has been working in this sector, she has found that technology is her great ally, so she is very clear that the future of the associated olive oil mills necessarily involves a continuous modernization of facilities and machinery.
She feels very grateful for the human team with which she works, and at no time has she been affected by the fact that she is a woman in a mostly male environment. “I always find a enthusiasm to collaborate among my colleagues, and the welcome I have received has been excellent”.
She considers that women are increasingly represented in the world of agriculture and are not only present in the administration or in the classified, but also in the “battlefield”, in the extractive process of extra virgin olive oil.
Lola wants to end this interview by encouraging everyone to “fall in love with extra virgin olive oil”, to delve into its culture, both children and adults. “Regardless of any factor, age, sex or race, all of us who live around this cooperative project must become more interested in the world of the olive grove and, of course, encourage our surroundings to discover it. I’m sure they will love it.
Farmer member of the associated cooperative San José de Lora de Estepa (Seville)
Sophie Girona is a farmer member of the associated cooperative San José de Lora de Estepa (Seville).
Seven years ago she decided to make a drastic change in her life, changing her cosmopolitan life in Paris for a quiet life in Lora de Estepa, a small village in the region of Estepa, with her partner who has ancestors in this municipality. Here she became aware of the value of sustainable agriculture and the protection of the natural environment of the region. He currently manages and cares for an organic olive farm.
Since she took the reins of the olive farm she regularly attends the cooperative’s assemblies, and although there is still not a total balance, she says that “there has been a noticeable increase in the attendance of women at the assembly, the place where important decisions are made, and a greater participation”.
In her day-to-day life, she feels that there is a lack of training opportunities for women farmers, which would provide the necessary security to take the big step towards olive grove management. For her, not having specific training or resources for training and learning has been a handicap in her immersion in the rural environment.
As a “woman of action”, she prefers field work to administrative tasks. The technification of the machinery used in the field makes them lighter and more ergonomic, thus allowing their use by women, so she adds that “these lighter tools are essential to facilitate my daily tasks in the olive grove”.
In this process of immersion in the world of olive growing, the valuable contribution of the cooperative’s technicians stands out. Her ongoing advice on agricultural techniques suitable for organic farming has been key to bring it to fruition, noting that “without the support and information from the experts of the cooperative my organic olive grove project would not have been possible, so I will be eternally grateful”.
Before saying goodbye he wants to send a message of hope to young people, boys and girls, encouraging them to be part of this cooperative project, and urging them to be trained and participate in the various spaces where the production process of extra virgin olive oil takes place. “In short, without their participation, this cooperative project and by extension, this region dedicated mainly to the cultivation of olive trees, has no future,” Sophie concludes.
Farmer member of the associated cooperative San José de Lora de Estepa (Seville)
Inmaculada García Haro is an employee of the associated cooperative Olivarera San Isidro de Gilena (Seville).
For 20 years she has worked in the administration area of the cooperative, incorporating during her career the management of the warehouse, diesel and everything related to the purchase and sale of phytosanitary products.
She recognizes that the traditional role of women in the cooperative was limited to the task of sorting olives and cleaning the facilities, and that for this reason she had to pay the price for being a pioneer in new areas of work that until then had been purely masculine. “I was the first woman to work in the cooperative’s offices, and it wasn’t easy. All the workers and members were men, and they were astonished when they found a woman working in the administration of a cooperative.”
But fortunately she has also been able to see in these years that the situation has changed radically and that, “although there is still a long way to go, the presence of women in this cooperative is already significant”. She also highlights the increase in the number of female farmer members who are taking the step towards management “without depending on their husbands to manage the fields”.
Although the situation is improving, she calls for greater participation of women in the cooperatives’ representative and power bodies, pointing out that “the more women there are on the Governing Council of a cooperative, the better it will be”.