From political science to human resources to agri-forestry – Meet Sharon
Sharon Jean Gonzales – Gulmatico reminds us that it's never too late to join the world of agriculture.
A roundabout road to agriculture
At the age of 40, she completed her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science, became a Master's candidate in Psychology and took on a career in Marketing and Human Resources. However, after several years, Sharon decided to take her passion for sustainable and inclusive agro-forestry a step further by working with the UN. She says she finally responded to “the constant call of the mountains to return to the heartlands.”
Returning to her roots
Sharon’s passion for the environment wasn’t one that emerged in her adulthood. As a child, she grew up in a military camp in Baguio, a city deep in the pine mountains of the northern Philippines. Her summer afternoons were spent playing with her siblings and neighbors. Their favorite activities included climbing trees, catching bugs, and exploring the woods.
When the 6pm siren sounded to signal the end of the day and The Angelus was played, it felt like the world stood still. Before heading home, she was usually at her favorite spot at the top of the hill, witnessing nature at work, in awe. During those moments, she found herself very small yet significant, realizing that we live in a wonderful and beautiful world.
The pine trees became her constant companion. She would hug her favorite trees, finding comfort in their constancy and the green energy they radiate. Seeing her father, a retired general annually planting trees during his career in the military, she also wanted to follow suit. In high school, she joined protest actions to fight deforestation in her city. At a young age, she wanted to plant as many trees as she can. She and her team were given an opportunity when the worst storm hit the Philippines and she was contacted by the UN to respond to her calling 30 years later.
Building a social enterprise
In 2014, Sharon foundedMorination Agricultural Products Inc, a social enterprise. Inspired by her father, who often fed her sons Moringa, Sharon set the lofty goal of planting a million Moringa trees.
She believed that the versatile Moringa was a viable solution against hunger, poverty and deforestation – three of the core targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
A few weeks into Morination’s operations, Typhoon Haiyan (known as Super Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines) devastated the country – leaving at least 6,3000 people dead and affecting 11 million more. Sharon she received a call from the UN – asking if Morination would be keen on sending seedlings to those affected. A few short weeks later, Morination was in the Visayas assisting the UN in its rehabilitation efforts. In seven years, the company has worked alongside the UN in areas wrought by conflicts, disasters, and in their COVID-19 response efforts.
Working to end world hunger
Morination focuses on value chain alignment, food systems integration, and aiding rural communities, enabling them to attain sustainability and self-sufficiency. With the belief that “agriculture is the most viable solution towards stopping world hunger and providing livelihoods for many,” Sharon leads Morination’s teams in driving rural empowerment and multi-stakeholder involvement in various initiatives.
Since its establishment, Morination has become a member of the UN-Business Group and the sustainable development arm of the ASEAN and the World Economic Forum’s Grow Asia – The Philippines Partnership for Sustainable Agriculture (PPSA).
Morination is also a signatory of the United Nations Global Compact. Since 2019, the company has been committed to the UNGC’s corporate responsibility initiative and its principles in the areas of human rights, labor, the environment, and anti-corruption. Locally, Sharon is a convenor for the Business Expert Group on People and the agri-value chain for the UNGC Philippine network.
Future challenges and opportunities
When asked about the challenges she faces, Sharon explains that agriculture in the Philippines needs to evolve and that many farmers are lagging on a global scale which makes this a challenge in the deliverables.
The current trade imbalance is also a concern. This explains why many of Morination’s projects are targeted at bringing local growers into the digital sphere and providing them opportunities to be productive and effective. Since fair trade is at the core of the business, market education is crucial for farmers to be able to price their products and ensure the quality of their goods so that they are internationally competitive. She explained that there will always be challenges at every stage of the enterprise, but it is a matter of focusing on opportunities, growth, and the tasks at hand to enable progress.
Sharon is noticing an increase in women's representation across the value chain, “Our company is a majority women-owned organization and 90% of our agri-partners involved in our ecosystem are women. These mothers made us see that plants are living things existing to help us all. These are not just commodities.”
A message to other women in agriculture
Her final message to women in agriculture: “Everyone is becoming more concerned about the future of our children and world, and when women see that they can make an impact in changing our future into the world we want, they will become more involved.”