How a woman in rural Brazil opened the door to a career in agriculture

A woman in rural Brazil has become one of the first women to operate heavy agricultural machinery at one of COFCO International’s four sugar mills. Tatiane Gonçalves Machado, 28, who lives near COFCO International’s Sebastianópolis mill, works as a Special Machines Operator. She operates a 15-tonne tractor to help feed the boiler continuously with around 2,500 tonnes of bagasse (a by-product of sugar production) daily to produce electricity for the plant.

Tatiane was among 10 women who attended a course to empower rural women offered by COFCO International and SENAR, Brazil’s rural education service, learning how to operate agricultural machines and automotive electrical equipment safely and effectively. She learnt about the course through social media. All graduates of the course applied to work with COFCO International, and after a practical test and rigorous interview, Tatiane filled a vacancy using exactly the type of equipment and machinery she had trained to operate. 

In addition to technical expertise and a special driving licence, Tatiane’s role requires proactivity, attention to detail and good communication skills.
In addition to technical expertise and a special driving licence, Tatiane’s role requires proactivity, attention to detail and good communication skills.

Tatiane was interested in working for an agricultural plant, but didn’t have the necessary qualifications. By taking part in the course, she was able to take part in practical, hands-on classes, developing the confidence to operate equipment with the support of an instructor. Health and safety were important considerations every step of the way, together with understanding how the machines work and learning how to optimise their performance.

“Everyone always has something to learn, whatever their education and experience,” she says. “And I know that the more time I invest in studying, the better my skills will become. As soon as I completed the course, the tutors sent my CV to COFCO and I was lucky enough that there was a vacancy. I’m glad to be working in a team providing renewable energy to power the mill, and I hope I’ll have opportunities to explore other areas in the future.”

As part of its efforts to promote inclusiveness and build strong communities, COFCO International is committed to helping people, particularly young people, women and underrepresented minorities, to gain access to rural employment. These groups often lack the professional qualifications they need, while agricultural businesses face shortages of qualified labour. Developing their expertise enables the company to attract talented employees to take its business into the future. That’s why in 2008, it partnered with SENAR to help develop rural communities’  agricultural expertise and improve their livelihoods, starting with a focus on young people. In 2021, the partners provided more than 70 training courses, delivering comprehensive training to more than 680 students near COFCO International’s four sugar mills, exploring topics that meet local needs.

“Women’s empowerment is an important area of focus for us, as we strive to build a more diverse workforce, and we know that one of the main challenges for women in rural Brazil is the lack of technical training available,” explains Julia Moretti. “That’s why we’ve focused on developing strategies to help equip women in our local communities with the skills and knowledge to gain employment. This both helps them to build economic independence and improves their standing in the community.”

Tatiane particularly valued learning to run checklists to keep the equipment running safely and productively, and identify any potential risks.
Tatiane particularly valued learning to run checklists to keep the equipment running safely and productively, and identify any potential risks.

Tatiane particularly valued learning to run checklists to keep the equipment running safely and productively, and identify any potential risks. She has enjoyed working at COFCO International, where she finds the work environment well organised and team oriented. She continues to learn from and with her colleagues.Challenges appear every day, but we keep improving, and we’re all learning together.”

She is hopeful that more women will join the plant and join her in operating machinery and taking on roles traditionally considered as ‘men’s roles’. For her, gender isn’t a barrier to learning and progressing in industry. In the future, she hopes to work in the sugar fields, using drones to help monitor crop growing conditions and better manage resource consumption.

“I’ve never felt held back by perceptions that certain jobs are held by men or women,” she says. “My family has always encouraged me to gain knowledge, and supported my venture to learn more about agriculture and gain a job in a male-dominated field. They’re very proud of me.”

“Knowledge is an open door for everyone, regardless of gender,” she concludes.

To learn more about how COFCO International empowers rural communities with skills and knowledge, please click here.

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