Mirna Yecenia Vega Tello (’05, Colombia)
More than any other skillset or knowledge, Mirna Yecenia Vega says that the capacity she developed at EARTH University to connect with farmers has been her greatest professional asset. It has led her to the helm of the National Horticulture Plan in Colombia, where she currently works as the national coordinator supervising the actions of about 240 employees in 23 of 32 Colombia’s departments (States). In spite of being a young woman in a male dominated field, this capacity and her proven qualifications, has enabled her to speak the language of farmers and convince them to adopt more sustainable practices.
Yecenia spent most of her career working with Colombia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Between 2007 and 2011 she supervised almost 150 science, technology and innovation projects aimed at solving the needs of farmers. In 2012 she worked as technical supervisor for a Ministry project aimed at promoting climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies for food production systems. When the project ended last year, Yecenia was hired by the National Vegetable and Fruit Producers Association of Colombia (ASOHOFRUCOL) to lead the National Horticulture Plan.
The plan—which runs through 2022—is supporting the development of 12,300 small and mid-scale fruit, vegetable and aromatic plant farmers, providing them with technical assistance, encouraging the formation of cooperatives, building the capacity of existing cooperatives, facilitating commercial partnerships and value added models, and increasing the resilience and sustainability of production systems. Yecenia explains that they are designing a variety of indicators to evaluate the adoption and adaptation technologies, including the expansion into new markets, the addition of value-added chains, the implementation of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), the achievement of sustainability certifications, and improvements in living and housing conditions.
“The farmers are my motivation; we are having an impact in their quality of life. At the end of the day, the project is helping them to go beyond the simple production of raw materials and create products that are valued commercially so that they can increase their incomes and quality of life,” says Yecenia, who sees this as her biggest professional challenge to-date.
Yecenia is grateful for the practical experience she had at EARTH University because it gave her an understanding of the field and the opportunity to work with the communities around the Guacimo campus. Without doubt the experience made her more sensitive to the needs of farmers, noting, “This is not an easy job. It requires a lot of physical and economic effort.”
About the scholarship she received from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to attend EARTH University, Yecenia explains, “It was the biggest opportunity life has given me so far. Thanks to the scholarship, I could prepare myself as a professional and as a human being with very strong values and ethics. My EARTH education definitely helped shape my mind and heart to become the person I am today, and now I am prepared to give back to my country.”