ANGELICA MARIA HERRERA ROMERO
Angélica María Herrera, a professional in Agro-industrial Engineering, is the General Manager of Bichopolis – Biobee Colombia, a Colombian company. Bichopolis-Biobee is a leader in the production and commercialization of biological control technologies using predatory mites and beneficial insects. For eleven years, she has led the development and positioning of biologically based products as an alternative for crop pest control. She has played a major role as Co-Director of Asobiocol, Colombian Association of bio-inputs, in the negotiation of agreements with unions and the national government to promote bio inputs in Colombian agriculture.
Bichopolis – Biobee Colombia, a subsidiary company of BioBee, specializes in the mass rearing of insects and arthropods, providing alternative biological solutions for pest management in ornamental and horticultural crops in Colombia. It was founded in 2010, and is a leader in the production and implementation of beneficial macro-organisms in agriculture, our commitment is to research and develop technological packages for growers to be used using biological pest control. The founder, Alexander Escobar, had the idea to give Colombian agriculture tools inspired by Colombian biodiversity. We research and identify new bio-inputs to reinforce the existing natural enemies’ package, constantly working to develop new and innovative products. We develop protocols in tropical fields that reduce the damage of the plague and increase productivity. We have been recognized in Colombia with several awards (Premio Portafolio 2017, Premios Emprender Sena 2019) as a company that works for the sustainability of our environment and we are one of the 20 most important companies in Colombia supported by the program of the Government “Sena- Fondoemprender” in this 20 years of existence.
BioBee was founded in 1983 at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in the Valley of Springs, in Israel. Although BioBee is now one of the leading international companies in the field of biologically based integrated pest management, natural pollination, Medfly control as well as the world’s leading producer of Phytoseiulus persimilis, it all started in a small bomb shelter.
Three members led the kibbutz’s initiative to create a factory that would mirror its ideology: a deep belief that agriculture could be improved by relying on what nature has to offer. The late Mario Levy, founder of organic agriculture in Israel put in motion the idea that solutions to agricultural issues could be found in nature. Yaakov Nakash, an autodidact entomologist, studied and researched insects in a bomb shelter in the kibbutz. Akiva Falk brought his sharp business sense and together, they set out to establish BioBee. With guidance and encouragement from knowledgeable friends, BioBee thrived. Starting out with only 5 employees, it quickly grew to 30 and now, it’s over 300 strong.
BioBee produces and implements insects for environmentally friendly solutions that enable farmers to work in a safer environment and produce healthier, higher quality crops. The guiding principle of BioBee was to look to nature for inspiration. This tradition of research and innovation coupled with a deeply rooted concern for the environment continues and thrives at BioBee today.
BioBee has teams of professionals around the world, 6 subsidiaries, 5 productions sites and a global distribution network sending products to customers worldwide.
Q1. Tell us about your career path. You have grown to the position of CEO over the years. How would you describe your journey and what has been your favorite part?
I came to Bichopolis- Biobee Colombia, almost 11 years ago after working for several years in different areas: education, construction, and commerce. My work in the administrative area as Director allowed me to understand the dynamics of the macro-organism breeding business, its challenges, its advantages, and, above all, its potential. The simple explanation of what we do is “we produce bugs that eat other bugs”. It is imperative to have an understanding of how nature has the solutions that we need, unfortunately, few attend to it. There are multiple possibilities for growth in the bio-input business. The company has positioned itself as the leading producer and marketer of predatory mites in Colombia, developing efficient protocols for important crops such as cut flowers, avocado, strawberries, and blueberries, and managing to reduce the use of pesticides to control pest mites.
When I was offered the opportunity to lead Bichopolis-Biobee Colombia as Manager, I knew that all the experience that I had gained throughout my life had prepared me for this challenge. I can say that this trip began without realizing that it had already started. Every day as a professional, mother, wife, friend, and many other roles have been a fundamental part of the dynamic process of living. Accepting the challenge, I decided to seek genuine well-being for all the actors in the agricultural sector. If we offer an innovative product, effective against pests and friendly to the environment, that enhances the productivity of the plant and protects workers, it will be a success; so it is.
Q2. What has been your motivation to become a leader that too in the segment of BioAg?
Colombia needs profound changes in its traditional way of farming, and Bichopolis-Biobee Colombia is a protagonist in the process. We have built the path with solid foundations, achieving credibility with innovative products and conquering markets that cry out for help. The high cost and current low availability of agrochemicals and fertilizers challenge us to feed humanity. If we continue to do things the same way, the results will not be different, so achieving the transition from how we do it today to a sustainable way with the environment is the way forward. That is my biggest motivation.
Q3. What are some of the challenges you have faced as a female in agriculture and how have you overcome these challenges?
As agriculture is one of the essential activities for human survival, women have always been present: planting, harvesting, preparing food, or attending to household activities, among many other tasks. Of course, from a managerial perspective, it was not common to find women since education was not easily accessible to all, and there were few opportunities. However, over time we have demonstrated that we are excellent leaders, capable of guiding transcendental changes. For this reason, the biggest challenge has realized that we have always been protagonists, that our work, whatever it may be, is crucial for humanity and must be protected. When every woman in agriculture believes profoundly in this premise, the obstacles will be genderless. They will be the same for all and open to surpassing them together as humanity.
The strongest challenge that I have faced was the belief inculcated by patriarchal societies that it is impossible to achieve what we dream. Being authentic gives us incredible power. An empowered woman in her roles reflects security and credibility to negotiate with clients, have technical discussions, manage available resources, and manage projects; in short, to develop a business that, like the bio-inputs, is booming. Unlearning has been an important part of this path, and understanding that changes are necessary didn’t come the easy way.
A constant search for knowledge, genuine empathy, speaking honestly, and consistency between words and actions; have been fundamental to achieving credibility. If we always seek to create relationships of trust, build teams that complement each other, learn from the best mentors, and empower each person with skills, the challenges will be easier to face.
Q4. If you had to explain to a younger woman how you overcame challenges and succeeded in your career, what would you tell?
If the countryside, the fresh air, the plants, the fruits and vegetables, the soil, and nature give a woman immense happiness, we need her in the team. I am a faithful believer in processes: a clear methodology allows for reaching an objective, and the best part is that it makes the journey exciting. Take the time to get to know yourself: enhance your skills and talents, get to know your personality, and identify and control your most complex fears. Also, strengthen your self-esteem, take risks, and learn to forgive others as well as yourself. In agriculture, one day is never the same as another: everyday plants, climate, and water have different interactions, and one cycle is never the same as another, so learning is constant. Making mistakes is the best school.
Every feeling of fear, sadness, joy, anger, and love has made me understand that everything has a reason to feel it, to live it, to suffer it: Which one? Always think of others before yourself. Bio-inputs have been an opportunity for humanity; it is the next green revolution that will indeed allow us to continue on this earth after having learned from our mistakes. There is so much to be done; the people who are part of this network are incredible, and there are challenges at every step that make us learn every day. Of course, only brave women take this path, and I am sure this characteristic is in every woman who works to produce food for humanity—my admiration to all.
Q5. What are your future aspirations professionally and personally? Where do you see Bichopolis Bee in the next decade?
We seek a significant objective: to position Colombia as a supplier of biological control tools in the Americas. The privileged geographical position that allows us to reach the entire continent easily, and our biodiversity that makes it easy to find new products, places us in a unique position for the challenges posed by the transition towards healthier food production. Our leadership in initiating the process of transforming our legislation that allows these changes and a network of international allies that strengthen us; are some of the reasons why I firmly believe that it is possible.
Being part of Biobee, one of the most important multinational companies in the world, with the most advanced innovation processes in breeding beneficial insects, allows us to be at the forefront of technological advances to offer the best products in America.
But to reach this goal, we must prepare and make changes: teamwork is the key. Bichopolis – Biobee Colombia is a founding member of Asobiocol (Colombian Association of Bioinputs), and I have been its Co-director for almost two years. Of course, the road has not been and will not be easy. Traditional farmers are often reluctant to change; the world economy is going through its most challenging years, and the environmental damage doesn’t wait for our slow development product process, to name a few points that this path offers us.
God truly blesses me for all the roles he has entrusted me to play, I do my best every day to live up to that responsibility, and I sleep every night with the satisfaction of fulfilling my duty. I still wake up daily with the right motivation: to contribute to real change. I see my family proud of what we do in the company and my collaborators with joy facing difficulties; I see my colleagues working without selfishness and with respect with the certainty that we are an active part of the new way of growing our food. That’s what I call the Good life.
Juliana Sarmiento M., CEO Biocultivos
Juliana is a professional in finance and international trade and has 19 years of experience in the Colombian Bioinputs industry. She began her professional journey at the Institute of Biotechnology of the National University of Colombia IBUN, where she had the opportunity to participate in the creation of the spin-off BIOCULTIVOS, and its subsequent escalation to the industrial phase.
She has experience in the registration, production, marketing, and transfer of Bio-inputs to the agricultural sector. Since 2004 she has worked at Biocultivos, where she initially supported the transition from the pilot phase to the industrial phase and contributed to the creation of the company’s organizational structure.
She took the role of general manager of the company in 2015. Under her able leadership, Biocultivos consolidated the Colombian market and entered international markets such as Paraguay and Ecuador through the creation of a need-based portfolio for the agricultural sector and a specialized team for the management of bio-waste.
She also participated in the creation of ASOBIOCOL, an entity to which she is linked since its inception, earlier as a member of the board of directors, and then as co-executive director.
Q1: Can you talk about your career path- how did you start your career and is this what you always wanted to do?
I started to work in the field of bio inputs, in 2003 when I was still studying finances and international trade at the university. My family has been in the agricultural business for 3 generations including myself. My father and a group of cultivators were concerned about the competitiveness and sustainability of the rice crop business and decided to initiate a partnership with the National University of Colombia (UN) to search for microorganisms that could be used in rice crops for nutrition and good crop health.
I joined the project in the research phase when it was starting in the Biological Institute of the National University (IBUN) and supported in the production, machinery, and product registration. Later, we scaled up and moved our company to Ibague city. Here I supported the creation of the organizational structure of the company and the legal operation permits for the bio inputs factory, as well the structuring of the commercial and administrative process of the company.
Despite being linked to agriculture since my childhood, the bio inputs field was new for me, it required different skills than the ones I had trained in. Thanks to the patience and support of my father and doctor Nubia Moreno, I learned the importance of soil microbiology and understood the dynamics of the agricultural production process transforming positively into a scheme contemplating the use of a bio component and a way to achieve sustainability.
During these 20 years, I understood that through my role, teamwork, efforts, and dedication, we have built a solid foundation in the bio-input industry of Colombia. Biocultivus is a pioneer company of bio inputs in Colombia with a strong portfolio of biological inoculants for nitrogen fixation, phosphorus absorption, and use of crop residues for nutrients recycling purposes, as well as microbial agents for the control of diseases caused by fungi or bacteria.
Q2: What are some ways you feel that more opportunities can be opened for women in the field? Is it more on the development in the sector or on the change in the perspective on women’s role in the field?
Women have always worked in food production.
In general, women in almost every region in the world have the ultimate responsibility for children and other dependents, although the male is the reference point in the household and is often responsible for the family’s food security.  However, in recent years, women have earned significant places and spaces in agriculture, playing high-impact roles contributing to the evolution. This has been possible due to the change in perspective on the role of women in agriculture and at the same time the developments that have been taking place in the sector.
It is now common for us (women) to hold a management position in large companies in the agricultural sector, being ministers of agriculture, and directing agriculture research centers, amongst others. This is mainly due to the increased access to education by females, which allows us to participate in the new roles within the agriculture sector.
By nature, women are responsible for the food security of our homes, and today we also share the responsibility for the food security of our countries and the world.
Q3: Agriculture is a dynamic industry and has been revolutionized by innovations. What is going to be the next big leap in the agriculture industry?
For me, the next big leap in agriculture will be when all the main actors in the system unite in favor of the generation of strategies that allow us to obtain safer food more sustainably. I mean from the base of the production chain i.e. farmers to those responsible for public politics, including the producers and marketers of goods, supplies, and services for the sector. We all must become aware of our role in agriculture and strive to preserve the ecosystem while continuing to increase crop productivity.
Agriculture is prime for the survival of humans and provides a lot of goods for society but is also responsible for the generation of big pollutants for the environment.
For many years agriculture has not been treated as a fundamental sector of society, Colombia is no exception. It is common to see strategies being made in different countries of the world prioritizing the development of their economies, based on sectors such as industry, IT, and trade. After the recent pandemic, the importance of the agricultural sector for the well-being and continuity of the human race became more evident.
I also think that the development of biological herbicides could bring a great leap in the bioag industry.
Q4: What is your belief for the next generation of women striving to make their career in the field of BioAg?
I believe that the room has already been won by women in agriculture. Our predecessors have left our gender very high. However, from my belief and life experiences, I consider that agriculture is not a gender issue. Food security in our country is everyone’s responsibility, both women and men are responsible for contributing together to this. Both genders should work together to transform the traditional agricultural system, including biological technologies, and lead the new way of doing agriculture. It is crucial to break the stigmas around the role of women in agriculture by including women in all facets of agriculture.
In our company BIOCULTIVOS, five out of six department heads are women and 49% of our total working population is women.
The most important role we must play in this new landscape is to involve our children in the agricultural sector and through the role of mothers show them the importance of agriculture and how it should be more sustainable and efficient in all of its processes.
Q5: As a senior women leader, what are your future aspirations? What are your goals for Biocultivos?
My next aspiration is to continue positioning BIOCULTIVOS as a leading company in the bio-inputs sector and continue with our international expansion. This year we expect to enter the market of Ecuador, Uruguay, and Bolivia while consolidating the market in Paraguay, where we have had our presence since 2015.
In Colombia, we will continue offering bigger and better solutions to the farmers through the continuous development of biological control agents and biological inoculants, making responsible use of the biodiversity in our country and the creativity of our people to innovate.
 La contribución de la mujer a la agricultura. FAO