Women in Palm

Monique van Wijnbergen
5 min readMar 8
Dora Arellano at her farm.

Today, on International Women’s Day, I am delighted to highlight powerful women in palm. Female farmers in Ecuador are making their mark in the agricultural community — but its not easy. Agriculture remains a male-dominated profession, and women have a lot to prove. To show how Ecuadorian women are improving their communities and protecting the environment, we sat down with Maria Angulo, Farmers Affairs and Special Projects Manager at Natural Habitats.

Inspiring Female-Led Organic Agriculture

76-year-old Dora Arellano has owned her 38-hectare farm for 35 years. But it wasn’t always organic. Until 16 years ago, she grew mainly cocoa and cattle feed. But the cocoa trees didn’t produce much, and growing cattle feed required a lot of chemicals. When her cousin suggested that she switch to growing oil palms, she planted a couple hectares to give it a try. They worked out so well, that she allocated more land to growing oil palms.

Arellano was often concerned about the health impacts on her family and workers from using the toxic pesticide, Glyphosate. When she learned that oil palms could be grown successfully without using pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers, she set about learning how to farm organically. Arellano got her organic certification 5 years ago, but it wasn’t easy. Her collaboration with one company didn’t go well. But since working with Natural Habitats for the last two years, things have improved. Now, she can get technical advice on organic growing methods, and support to meet the strict organic requirements of bodies such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

When Arellano’s neighbour decided to create a conventional cocoa farm, Natural Habitats was there to advise her on how to prevent toxic chemicals from wafting over and contaminating her organic crops. Arellano planted a buffer zone of gorgeous hibiscus between the two properties. Bonus: the lush vegetation feeds local hummingbirds.

Natural Habitats has assisted Arellano to implement several organic agriculture practices which reduce water use, improve soil quality and provide valuable habitat for wildlife. Trucks and tractors are used to harvest the palm fruit. But heavy vehicle wheels can compress soil, which means that less air, nutrients and water can get into the soil, limiting…

Monique van Wijnbergen

Palm Done Right Spokesperson | Organic, Deforestion- Free, Wildlife Friendly, Fair & Social Palm Oil | Natural Habitats | www.palmdoneright.com