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‘Your journey is not just personal; it paves the way for others’ - Ivi Pauli and Ana Rosa de Lima [Interview]

Article-‘Your journey is not just personal; it paves the way for others’ - Ivi Pauli and Ana Rosa de Lima [Interview]

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Brazil-based Meli Bees Network engages and empowers Indigenous peoples and local communities in vulnerable areas to lead a bottom-up process of promoting environmental regeneration and protecting ancestral territories for climate justice.

We spoke to Ivi Pauli, global partnerships director and Ana Rosa de Lima, founder and director of the independent organisation Meli Bees, to find out more about what inspires their work in this field.

Combined, you have a wealth of experience in the food industry, especially in the social impact sector. What initially drew you to the industry and motivated you to pursue a career in this field?

Ana: “My father is an agronomic engineer and he introduced me to permaculture when I was a young teenager, which always excited me a lot. But the ‘click’ to actually join the industry professionally and be passionate about it was when I saw the potential of connecting this industry to regenerate our planet’s soil, particularly strengthening the work of indigenous and local communities with expertise on agroforestry.”

Ivi:My journey into the food industry began in the fields of rural south Brazil, where the hard work of my farming ancestors fuelled a deep connection to the land. A turning point in my health led me to rediscover the nourishing foods of my heritage, setting me on a path to explore the intricate link between diet and wellbeing through molecular biology.

“From the labs of big pharma to the exploration of sustainable crop protection, my career has been a dynamic fusion of diverse experiences driven by a relentless curiosity. In the scientific frontier of California, I witnessed the transformative potential of modulating interactions among living organisms for a sustainable future, particularly through food systems. This industry isn't just my career; it's where I craft a narrative of innovation, resilience, and a steadfast commitment to positive change on our shared planet.”

How does Meli Bees select the communities it partners with and measure its impact on the communities and regions it serves? Is there scope to expand to different regions in future? 

Ivi:At Meli, our approach to selecting communities is deeply rooted in inclusivity and collaboration. We actively seek out indigenous and local communities in vulnerable areas, fostering a bottom-up approach. Our engagements have expanded from our strong ties to Brazil, impacting communities across diverse Brazilian biomes, to Spanish speaking countries like Peru, Colombia, and Mexico.

“The communities we choose to partner with are those where our impact can be meaningful, and we aim to empower them in a way that promotes regenerative practices for climate justice. Looking ahead to 2024, we plan to scale our methodology and extend support to community-led projects in the new Latin American and African communities that have joined our movement.


“In the dynamic landscape of bioeconomy, Meli stands apart, bridging the gap between regenerative practices, transparent supply chains, and community-led innovation. Unlike traditional NGOs and bioeconomy firms, we confront the systemic disempowerment of indigenous communities, prioritising resilience against economic fragility, exploitation, and the climate crisis.

“Beyond environmental concerns, we recognise the profound impact on indigenous territories, encompassing food insecurity, health crises, and cultural losses affecting mental wellbeing. Meli, guided by indigenous wisdom, empowers over 100 communities globally to enter the bioeconomy on their terms, fostering collaboration and creating community-led hubs for autonomy and market access. Our mission is not just participation; it's a transformative redefinition of the bioeconomy for justice and positive change, one community at a time.”

Can you share any examples of inspiring women you have worked with who have made significant contributions to their local communities or the wider food industry?

Ana:Olinda Tupinambá inspires us with her work building agroforestry to reforest her territory. It’s devastating to see how indigenous communities had territory stolen. Olinda’s community is a concrete example of that, as land grabbers invaded and deforested their territory for decades. Now Olinda leads Kaapora, an initiative working hard to reforest and bring nature back. You can read more on our blog.


“I need to mention Patrícia Guajajara, a woman that I’ve met recently, last September, during our most recent agroforestry workshop in the Zutiwa indigenous village. She is a local teacher and together with other indigenous women, we were gathering local seeds for the agroforestry established in her village. We engaged in intimate discussions within the group, sharing personal experiences related to these seeds.

“This highlighted how indigenous culture intertwines with a thriving environment, emphasising the importance of ensuring access to nutritious food and achieving true food sovereignty. I feel extremely lucky to have a friend with so much knowledge and so engaged in ensuring local food sovereignty as Patrícia Guajajara.

“We find constant inspiration from multiple Indigenous leaders in our network, and we make a concerted effort to attentively listen to them. […] This approach enables us to drive meaningful and effective change.”

What advice would you give to women who want to pursue careers in the food industry and to others who wish to support them? 

Ivi:Embrace your passion and expertise unapologetically. Recognise that your unique perspective is an asset, not a limitation. Seize every opportunity to learn, grow, and lead. Be fearless in challenging norms, as innovation often springs from breaking barriers. Surround yourself with a supportive network and mentors who believe in your capabilities.

“Remember, your journey is not just personal but paves the way for others. To allies and advocates, champion inclusivity and amplify women's voices. Create platforms for their stories and contributions to shine. Advocate for equal opportunities and celebrate the diverse talents women bring to the table. Together, let's nourish a future where every woman's dream becomes a reality, transforming the food industry into a vibrant tapestry of innovation, resilience, and empowerment.”