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IHS Markit 2021 Crop Science Lifetime Achievement Award Winner, Maria de Lourdes Setten Fustaino, discusses her life’s work as a champion for sustainable agriculture and what the award means to her as a woman in STEM

FMC’s Latin America (LATAM) AgS Regulatory Director, Maria de Lourdes Setten Fustaino, was recently awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the IHS Markit 2021 Crop Science Awards. She began her career at FMC in 1982 where she has served in various roles including R&D director for the entire Latin America region.

Lourdes has long been an advocate for agricultural education across LATAM and was recognized by the National Association of Plant Protection (ANDEF) in Brazil on seven separate occasions with the Phytosanitary Merit Award for plant health. As a 20-year member of the Regulatory Committee of Crop Life Latin America, she contributed to the crafting of new regulations across Brazil and other Latin American countries governing, among other issues, the proper disposal of packaging and use of products.

We sat down with Maria for Q&A about her life in agriculture and her award:

Why did you pursue a career in agriculture?

I don’t see myself in another career. I was born on a small farm in Brazil. My parents are Italian immigrants and my genes have ag in them. Since a little kid I knew this is the direction I wanted to go in. It is part of my life and couldn’t see myself not in it.

You talk about wanting to continue contributing to sustainable agriculture. What does sustainable agriculture mean to you?

I believe sustainable agriculture is about the responsible production of food, feed and fiber to meet current and future societal needs. It means using the best agricultural practices available to us to produce what the world needs while conserving soil, water and energy, and protecting people and ecosystems.

You are a member of the Regulatory Committee of Crop Life Latin America, have contributed to crafting new regulations in that region and addressed many other issues involving crop protection. How does that process work and what challenges did you face along the way?

A modernization to attend to current environment needs is very important, and a science-based regulation is a part of that, including growers needs on the mission to safe food production. 

The most important thing for us is implementing ways for a grower to keep growing in a sustainable way and for people (population) to consume safe and nutritious foods. This is the driving cause for creating these regulations.

Can you elaborate on your comment about providing ways for the “grower to keep growing in a sustainable way?” What does that look like for you? What do you believe FMC has to offer?

We want to help farmers grow more by growing better. Farmers today are tasked with increasing food production to feed a growing population while at the same time protecting the environment. They need access to new crop protection technologies to increase productivity/yield and prevent crop losses in a way that supports biodiversity, cultivates healthy soils and helps reduce their emissions.

FMC is providing a wide range of new solutions and tools for farmers to grow in a more sustainable way through innovation in crop protection products and digital agriculture. We also provide training to farmers that helps them use our products safely and sustainably.

How do you see the work you do supporting the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? 

I can see the work I do directly supporting two of the U.N. SDGs – SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and SDG 15 (Life on Land). By working to get our products registered for use in Brazil, I am helping farmers receive the critical tools they need to protect their crops from pests and disease. From a sustainability perspective, we’re only increasing the quantity of food, but the availability of safe, affordable and nutritious food, which is necessary to alleviate hunger and malnutrition. I am very proud that the work I do contributes to global food security.

In my new, additional role, I am responsible for leading FMC’s sustainability strategy for Latin America, which gives me opportunities to collaborate with others around environmental goals such as protecting and restoring ecosystems.

You’ve focused a lot of your career on farmer education and stewardship, and received several awards for programs that addressed worker and environmental health. Can you tell us more about these programs? Why is stewardship so important?

Stewardship in crop protection is about ensuring the safe, sustainable and ethical use of our products along the product lifecycle. This is very important because to achieve our broader goals around environmental protection, farmers need to understand how to use our products responsibly and have the necessary tools, resources and support. Education and outreach is a big part of this.

With this in mind, we created a program to engage rural communities on safety via a play called “Planting the Seven.” We used fairytales such as “Jack and the Beanstalk” to bring to life the Seven Habits of Safety, which provides guidance on the responsible use of a product from the time a farmer acquires it to the time they recycle the empty container. The play was directed at school-aged kids because they can be influencers, taking back what they learned to their families about what to do better when using crop protection products. I am very proud of several recognitions the program received for innovation in education and training. I am also thrilled we were able to create opportunities for kids in rural communities to go to the theatre to watch a play – some for the very first time.

Tell us a bit more about your time serving as a technical expert for Brazil’s Sustainability Department in the Ministry of Agriculture.

The Ministry of Agriculture brings together a diverse group of people from government, universities and industry to work together toward a common goal of creating a more sustainable future. I served as a Crop Protection Industry representative, together with experts in several areas, mainly the preservation and conservation of water sources and irrigation technologies. The discussions were aimed at advising the Ministry so that they could understand demand and implement policies on sustainability in a short- and long-term. 

As an accomplished woman in STEM, what is your advice to woman who look to follow the same path as you?

My advice would be, build a good team and never give up. You are nothing without a good, dedicated team. We are not alone. Leaders and colleagues in this industry are very important and the team you build is critical.

We have a lot of challenges during our professional life as women. We have kids, family - so do not be afraid to go after your dreams. But most importantly, build a team.

When I was in college only, women only made up 20% of the agriculture force. Today its more than 50%.

Watch below for Maria’s acceptance speech of her Lifetime Achievement Award.

What does this Lifetime Achievement mean to you?

As a woman in LATAM, being recognized as someone who has contributed to sustainable agriculture is an honor. During my career, I have faced a lot of challenges but have had inspiring leaders and a strong team around me. There has been a lot of progression in agriculture from minimal technology to what we have access to today. FMC has provided valuable support in technology to generate exceptional agricultural advancements and products.

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