Beth Cardoso

Technical Coordinator, CTA - Zona da Mata

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Beth enables rural women to measure and therefore make visible their central role in the economy. This advances mindsets on gender equality, and it gives women access to previously denied public benefits.



Beth has developed a methodology to do something entirely new: Enable poor rural women across Brazil to measure and document the significant value created, chiefly through food production and sales. Her tools enable these women to track food and other products they produce, sell, consume, exchange, and donate. The methodology is disseminated through various networks and aggregated to inform public debate and policy.

The vast majority of farmers in non-industrialized countries are women. They are certainly key to Brazil’s agriculture and rural economy. But, before Beth, their contributions went unrecorded and unrecognized. This fed gender stereotypes, unequal pay, and denial of public benefits.

Beth’s work is changing that. Documenting the women’s contributions and making them visible helps them gain recognition and confidence as producers and providers. The data helps them qualify for credit, public programs for training and technical assistance, and public retirement benefits which they would otherwise be denied. Learning to track and recognize the value of their work also empowers them to assert their rights in their families and communities, and to make improvements to their operations. This not only enhances their well-being, it also strengthens food production and rural communities.


Women's production and contributions to household income in rural Brazil have been largely invisible because the federal census and other government surveys don’t record them. This data gap has exacerbated gender inequality and prevented women from reaching their full potential as producers and providers.

To supplement family income, many women in rural Brazil grow fruits and vegetables in family gardens and make and sell sweets, handicrafts, and household utensils. These activities are economically significant, but they aren’t measured, and in male-led households, they’re generally regarded as unimportant. With no way to accurately document what they earn, these women can’t access financing or other assistance.

Beth’s system pinpoints detailed information on women’s food production ranging from monetary value to biodiversity. Armed with this data, rural women realize they are often the main food providers for their families. They then become better informed and more confident in making decisions about their production and land use.

Women are critically important to Brazil’s agriculture and rural economy. They make up about half of Brazil’s rural population (roughly 15 million) and lead 20% of its food production. However, women farmers are stigmatized as inferior, lacking experience, and less productive than men. Only 12% of women-led agricultural units receive any government assistance to improve their operations.  Households headed by women also suffer more food insecurity than those headed by men.

"[Beth] points out that the backyard needs to be seen as an object of public policy, as it is a space that guarantees the maintenance of families in the countryside." - Empresa Brasil de Comunicação


Gender inequity in farming and rural economies is a global problem. 60 to 80 percent of farmers in nonindustrialized countries are women, yet they have much less access to credit, land ownership (only 2% of landowners worldwide are women), and education than men. This restricts how much they can produce. Eliminating gender inequality could increase food production and decrease food insecurity.


As an agronomist and a feminist studying family farming in rural Brazil, Beth encountered systemic gender inequality. From her work with the Center for Alternative Technologies (CTA), she realized rural women made important contributions to agriculture and the economy that went unrecorded and unrecognized. She determined that in order for rural women to assert their rights and reach their full potential as producers and providers, their output would first need to be measured and valued.

Beth developed Cardeneta Agroecológica (“farming booklet”), an accessible tool rural women use to document their economic and environmental contributions. Using the Cardeneta, they keep daily track of their production and how much of it is sold, exchanged, donated, or consumed by the family. This creates a record that qualifies them for government benefits requiring proof of work in an industry, such as rural retirement benefits. Teaching women to use the Cardeneta leads to higher self-esteem, a sense of empowerment, and greater confidence in making decisions about their operations.

Beth developed Cardeneta by tapping into national and regional agroecological networks in Brazil.

In addition to being biodiverse, Brazil is also highly socially and culturally diverse. Beth’s methods are designed to be accessible to women of different regions, biomes, backgrounds, and educational levels.

She developed Cardeneta by tapping into national and regional agroecological networks in Brazil. This allowed her to work with rural women, Indigenous people, urban agriculturists, researchers, and CSO technicians all across the country – and therefore develop the tools that work across all this diversity. Incorporating learnings from those experiences, her methodology integrates socioeconomic analysis, intersectional feminist perspectives, and “socio-biodiversity maps” that women create themselves. They use the information to decide which crops to grow, not only for maximum cash return, but also for their cultural value and biodiversity.

Beth’s system collects and contextualizes information on women’s economic and environmental contributions in ways that other surveys don’t capture. Brazil’s most recent national census (2017) distinguished between food production households led by women vs. those led by men, but it lacked detailed information about the women’s economic contributions, particularly in women-led households.

Beth’s system pinpoints detailed information on women’s food production ranging from monetary value to biodiversity. A two-year study she coordinated with the Federal University of Viçosa used her tools` to assess women’s backyard farming across four regions of Brazil. It found women’s production brought in US $155 to $188 per household per year, almost an entire minimum-wage salary that was previously unrecognized, even by the families themselves. The study registered 245 different species of fruits and vegetables grown in women’s backyard gardens, revealing them as an ecological resource for their communities.

"The results of the use of the [Cardeneta Agroecológica] methodology show, in a practical way, the relevance of the projects to include actions that encourage gender equality relations, strengthening women and their contribution to family income, as well as their recognition as political and economic subjects.”

-Semear Internacional

Armed with this data, rural women realize they are often the main food providers for their families. They then become better informed and more confident in making decisions about their production and land use. For example, some women learned they could earn more money from growing fruit and making jam than from the established cultural practice of harvesting coffee, so they switched crops. Gaining confidence and a sense of self-worth also supports healthier and more balanced family relationships, and women in the study reported a reduction in domestic violence.

Beth’s methodology is made available free of charge to public institutions, research institutions, and citizen sector organizations, provided they commit to keeping the data secure and promoting women's rights.

The Brazilian states of Bahia and Espírito Santo, as well as municipalities in several other states, now recognize women’s importance in agriculture and are incorporating Beth’s methodology into agroecological technical assistance and extension programs that help women improve their crop quality. In Brazil’s Bahia State alone, these public assistance programs now reach more than 19,000 families in 60 municipalities.

Beth is working to scale the use of her methodology further. She recently established an Observatory program at the Center for Alternative Technologies, where she first developed her methodology, so researchers can use it to collect data across all CTA initiatives. The goal is to build a comprehensive and centralized database tracking the contributions of rural women, which can inform public debate about gender disparity and leverage wider policy and systems change in Brazil.

"In the interior of Bahia, Jozélia da Silva Santana puts everything she does in her notebook. ‘At first I just thought I was just working. After the notebook, I started to see all the diversity that I produce, which I didn't pay attention to. I just planted.' An experience that is almost always forgotten, the value of everything she plants in her productive yard or swidden, is no longer invisible. By writing down each step of her day, Jozélia is aware of the magnitude of her own work.”

-Brasil de Fato

In addition to being leveraged by governments and institutions inside Brazil, Beth’s tools are being disseminated throughout the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development. She is partnering with Toulouse University and the Latin America and Caribbean Agroecological Movement and has recently been invited to expand her work to the central African countries of São Tomé and Principe.


Beth was born in Rio de Janeiro. Her mother was a nursing assistant from rural Paraíba in northeastern Brazil, and her father was a bank employee from Rio. They divorced when Beth was a young child. Her father took her and her brothers and forbade them to have any contact with their mother, fearing she would try to take them back to Paraíba, where their grandmother lived as one of many rural women farmers.

Her father’s actions reflected the sexist and anti-rural discriminatory attitudes of that time, which motivated Beth to study feminism and social justice issues and to work for the rights of rural women like her grandmother.

In college, she studied agronomy and encountered student movements and the Ecological Agronomy Group, which fueled her interest in effecting social change. She later studied gender and agroecology issues for her Master's degree in Spain, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in natural resources and sustainable management.

After college, she worked at FASE, one of Brazil’s main community-based organizations, and participated in the National Seminar on Gender and Family Farming. Her time at FASE coincided with the beginning of a national debate on gender and family farming in Brazil.

At the turn of the century, Beth joined the Center for Alternative Technologies (CTA), working on capacity building, political advocacy, and self-organization of women’s agricultural networks. She became CTA coordinator in 2003. It was at CTA that she developed her methodology for registering previously unrecognized contributions of rural women.

The following year, she co-created the Gender and Agroecology Seminar, leading to the establishment of the Women's Working Group of the Agroecology National Articulation, a network of state and regional groups across Brazil through which she spread early versions of her methodology.

Beth was inspired to look for her mother after she worked so closely with rural women farmers on gender inequity in communities much like where her mother grew up. She found her mother in 2005 and lived with her until her death in 2011. Beth’s work is dedicated to the lives of rural women who share her mother’s story of loss, discrimination, and resilience.

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