JIS News

When psychologist Daphne Gayle became visually impaired after developing a rare eye disease while living in Canada years ago, her Canadian doctors thought that a change of altitude might help improve her overall health.
Taking the advice, she returned to Jamaica and settled on a farm in Old Harbour, St. Catherine, not knowing that the move would lead to a change in her profession and quality of life.
At the farm, Ms. Gayle recalls, she would spend hours relaxing in the field, which she found very therapeutic. “It was perfect. It made a big difference in my health,” she says.
From then, she started planting vegetable crops and with advice and instruction from agricultural experts in the parish, she eventually embarked on farming on a larger scale, growing vegetables and other crops on her two holdings in Thetford. Seven years later, the psychologist has become an agri-business entrepreneur.
“I want to make a difference and I want to show persons around that even though I’m visually impaired, I can still be productive and that is what drives me to make a difference in my community,” she tells JIS News.
On a two-acre plot, Ms Gayle grows peppers, sweet potatoes, pumpkins and scotch bonnet peppers while on another plot nearby, she has citrus, bananas and plantains. The produce is sold to supermarkets and agro-processors in and outside of the Thetford area.
Ms. Gayle says that the amount of produce reaped from her plots varies from time to time, depending on the soil type. For instance, she notes, from her vegetable plot, she reaps some 227 kilograms (500 pounds) of cucumber per week and some 544 kilograms (1,200 pounds) of sweet potatoes per acre. “We picked 12 pumpkins last week and they weighed almost 300 pounds,” she boasts.
The entrepreneur informs JIS of plans to cultivate half acre of cucumber and some 2,500 dasheen suckers, noting that she already has markets for the produce. She says that land preparation was in progress to move suckers from a field situated close to a river, so as to prevent them from being affected by floodwaters when it rained.
Ms. Gayle is also in the process of rebuilding her farms, which had been devastated by Hurricanes Ivan, Wilma and Dennis. She recalled that floodwaters had destroyed her vegetable farms and acres of wire fencing. “We lost 10 acres of fencing with the hurricanes, so we had to re-dig the hole to put up the posts and fences,” she informs.
Ms. Gayle is assisted on her farms by three full-time workers and she employs additional persons whenever the workload increases. Despite being visually impaired, she helps with the planting of seedlings.
Asked how she knows when her crops are ready for reaping, Ms. Gayle says, “I have a database and I know when I plant and the duration of each crop for reaping and I plan the marketing.”
Continuing, she says, “I have a game plan that I work on. Everyday I sit down with the persons that I work with on the farm and we discuss what we need to do. I keep proper records and at all times I’m ahead of the game and I know what we are planning to do and what is to be done.”
Since her involvement in farming, Ms Gayle has received technical and infrastructural support from the Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and other institutions. She has also benefited from workshops and training days put on by Bodles and the St. Catherine RADA parish office in Linstead.
“Ms Gayle has been doing a lot since she came into this area.she has been doing well. One important feature of her is that whatever she plants she can market it. She can always find markets for her crops and even assists other farmers in the area to source markets,” says RADA Extension Officer Newton Brown. Occasionally, he visits Ms. Gayle’s farm to ensure that everything is under control and to offer whatever assistance is needed in terms of pest management and other technical inputs, to encourage good agricultural practices.
Ms. Gayle says she is grateful for the installation of a drip irrigation system on her farm, which was purchased under the USAID-funded Jamaica Business Recovery Programme. A total of 175 farmers in St Catherine, Clarendon, Manchester, St. Elizabeth and St. Ann, affected by Hurricane Ivan, have received drip irrigation systems and other forms of assistance to encourage good agricultural practices on their farms.
Additionally, she has received assistance under the Hurricane Ivan Farmer Relief Programme funded by the Ridge to Reef Watershed Project/Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture/Ministry of Agriculture (R2RW/IICA/MOA). The programme sought to quickly render assistance to farmers within rural parishes that were heavily devastated by Hurricane Ivan, so as to ensure that they get back into production. Ms. Gayle is one of 644 farmers in the parishes of St. Catherine, Clarendon, Manchester, St. Elizabeth, Westmoreland and Hanover, who benefited from the programme.
Ms. Gayle says that she had always loved farming as a child, but her interest was renewed when she returned from Canada. “I chose farming so I could watch things grow and partake of it. For me it is a healing process,” she says, adding that she saw the job as a challenge and wanted to prove to others that despite being sightless, she could still manage to do her farming. “I rose to the occasion and wanted to prove that I am quite capable of doing farming and making it a success,” she adds.
Ms. Gayle tells JIS News that her biggest regret is not being able to see the fruits of her labour. “I want to see the beauty. I want to see what I’m doing but I overcome that by listening to my workers talking about it and I could see through their eyes,” she says.
Her main concern, however, is praedial larceny and the unpaved road leading to her farms, which she says, vehicles cannot traverse once it rains. In addition, she raised concern about 20 stray donkeys in the area. “They are terrorizing the farms around here and that is a big problem. They got in and ate about 40 pumpkins about a month ago,” she complains. However, this has not daunted her spirits.
Apart from her farming, Gayle finds time for community activities. She is President of the Kiwanis Club of Old Harbour and a chairperson of the Old Harbour Chamber of Commerce.
Additionally, she is also serving on the steering committee of the Old Harbour Area Development Committee. Being a trained psychologist, she counsels and gives motivational talks at schools and youth clubs in her community.
“That keeps me active and the more I get involved the more I see the need to show young people and everyone, who seem to be lagging behind and can’t find a headway, that if you want to do something badly enough and you see the big picture, you will achieve it,” Ms. Gayle says.