The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)
Helping family farmers: Virila’s story
This International Day for Micro-, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, we’re taking a closer look at Virila Pereira, a woman who runs a small business helping small producers in rural Paraguay.
Family farming – a widespread agricultural practice throughout Paraguay – is often characterized by low productivity and limited access to land, capital and technology. Too often, available farming methods are outdated and financial resources scarce, leaving large amounts of fertile land uncultivated.
UNOPS is supporting its partners, the Government of Paraguay and Itaipú Binacional, to help the people of Paraguay in more ways than one. While help is provided to family farmers to access unused, fertile land; small business owners are also provided with opportunities to lend their support and tools to help farmers cultivate their land more efficiently. These resources help increase yields that support livelihoods of entire families, boosting one of the country’s main economic sectors.
It’s a win-win for both small business owners and smallholders and family farmers in rural Paraguay.
Interested in how these services help family farmers in Paraguay?
Virila Pereira is a small business owner in Caazapá, a district in the southern Paraguay. A daughter of smallscale farmers from Colonia Cosme, 20 kilometres away from the city of Caazapá, Virila left her parents and seven brothers at the age of 12 to receive a secondary education in hopes of eventually providing for her family. She later went on to completing a university degree in Asunción: "It was the best thing to ever happen. I worked hard and was rewarded. Since then I have been able to help my family.”
After completing her education, Virila worked as a civil servant for 25 years in the Ministry of Finance. Following a series of unfortunate events, she found herself unemployed and needing to care for her two children.
“It was a really difficult time. I was unemployed, and in a very vulnerable economic and emotional situation. I was committed to my two children, but I also had the firm conviction to move on and prove to myself that I can get through this... We must teach our sons and daughters that in the most difficult moments we must draw strength from wherever and not give up, and that every cloud has a silver lining.”
It was at that point Virila took the first steps to achieve her dreams: to become a successful business woman.
In 2012, she formed a small company providing services to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, assisting 100 small producers near her hometown in Caazapá.
For me, supplying to — and working with — small producers is an important activity. It has also always been my dream, because I was born into a family of small producers too.
Shortly after, Virila came across a UNOPS tender in the local newspaper on the mechanization of agricultural plots for small producers. She decided to apply and won a tender to provide soil preparation services for 500 hectares of land.
Nearly five years later, her family business has grown to include her daughter, son, nephews, neighbours and technicians. Around 20 people now work for Virila and she outsources additional workers and machinery when needed. Her company has provided soil preparation and sowing mechanization services for around 10,000 hectares: “In this work, you can really see the results. I see the satisfaction from small producers. But through this, small companies like mine benefit and advance as well.”
Today, Virila considers herself successful, and is proud of the challenges she has overcome and the goals she has accomplished. When asked about advice she would give, she said: “I tell women that we are capable enough to excel. Neither our economic condition, nor gender should be an obstacle to our purpose. We must lose fear, assume and bear the consequences of our actions, and not use our valuable time in repentance of the mistakes made, but use them as tools to make us stronger… The only secret I have is hard work.”
Supporting government initiatives to improve sustainable development, from modernizing family agriculture to improving prison conditions.
Since 2014, UNOPS has supported Government of Paraguay initiatives to modernize family farming with a range of services — contracting modern tools and machinery to support land cultivation, procuring agricultural supplies, monitoring work and managing related projects.
Projects have helped rehabilitate over 40,000 hectares of agricultural land, strengthening food security and livelihoods for land users.
With support from the Government of Paraguay and Itaipú Binacional, around 120,000 people have benefited from this project.