March 23, 2022  

Meet a PepsiCo associate empowering women farmers

Through Agrovita, Dulce Santana is helping spread regenerative agricultural practices, support economic development and empower women in southern Mexico.

“Taking action to help the people in my country has been a driving force behind my entire career,” Dulce Santana says. That inspiration dates back to the Mexico City native’s very first job, working for a nonprofit specializing in corporate social responsibility — a commitment that only deepened as she earned a master’s degree in sustainability management at Columbia University.

The birth of her first daughter last year gave Dulce even more personal motivation. “I owe it to her to serve our community and make it a better place for her to live,” Dulce says.

Now she’s doing just that with Agrovita. Through the three-year program PepsiCo launched in partnership with nonprofit Proforest last April, Dulce is helping raise the bar on talent and diversity among farmers in PepsiCo’s supply chain for plantain and cocoa. Agrovita aims to empower women in southern Mexico to take on a larger role in producing these crops.

It’s working on these kinds of programs that first drew Dulce to PepsiCo, an organization she says “totally aligns with my own values.” As Citizenship and Sustainability Manager, Dulce sits at the controls of purpose-driven programs such as Agrovita. She collaborates with brands and local markets to identify areas where PepsiCo’s resources could make a difference, designs projects that align with the PepsiCo Mexico Foundation’s goals and the company’s PepsiCo Positive vision, then works with NGO and nonprofit partners to execute them.

Taking action to help the people in my country has been a driving force behind my entire career.

Dulce and her colleagues began developing Agrovita in 2019, targeting the regions of Tabasco and Chiapas because they are agricultural-based economies that are among the poorest areas of the country. The idea was that training women and other smallholder farmers to grow their crops in a more sustainable way would help PepsiCo reach its goal of spreading regenerative agriculture practices across 7 million acres globally. And purchasing those ingredients for use in the production of PepsiCo beverages and convenient foods would also provide economic benefits and improve food security for entire communities.

“We’re helping people that really need help, and we’re doing so in a way that creates new opportunities,” Dulce says. “I think that’s a win-win.” She and her colleagues believe Agrovita could improve the lives of more than 37,000 people. “It means so much to me to be able to prioritize these issues,” Dulce says.

Especially when it comes to empowering women. Dulce says that at least half of Agrovita’s 37,000 beneficiaries will be women, including more than 20% of the producers. “Women play an important role in farm management, but they are frequently left out of the decision-making process,” she explains. Research shows that women make up 15% of Mexico’s agriculture workforce, but only 3 in 10 get paid for their labor. “That’s appalling and needs to change,” Dulce says. Agrovita aims to provide women access to financial literacy courses, plus legal advice that will help them exercise their right to own land.

Dulce Santana (left) is a leader of purpose-driven programs like Agrovita in Mexico.

“We recognize that women have the potential to take on more of a leading role in agriculture,” Dulce says. “Inviting them to participate and giving them more opportunities to develop themselves is how we raise the bar on talent and diversity.” Dulce is playing her part by coordinating efforts to build relationships with women growers in southern Mexico, establish workshops they can attend to learn necessary skills, and offer support and advice.

Soon, Dulce hopes she will have an opportunity to travel and meet in person with farmers so she can hear even more from them about their challenges and how Agrovita can impact them, something she hasn’t been able to do during the pandemic. “I have had a lot of female leaders and coaches that have helped me throughout my career,” Dulce says. “I feel I owe the same to my community and the people I’m trying to serve.”