- St. Ann farmer Valerie Lewis says that agriculture has been a lifelong passion.
- “Actually, it’s the only thing that I know and I wouldn’t give it up for the world,” she tells JIS News.
- “There is hardly anything the male farmers can do that I have not been doing and I see a lot of my other female friends getting involved in the sector also,” she says.
St. Ann farmer Valerie Lewis says that agriculture has been a lifelong passion.
“Actually, it’s the only thing that I know and I wouldn’t give it up for the world,” she tells JIS News.
“There is hardly anything the male farmers can do that I have not been doing and I see a lot of my other female friends getting involved in the sector also,” she says.
Ms. Lewis is among the more than 50 per cent of female farmers involved in the Schwallenburgh Greenhouse Cluster and Water Harvesting Project in Rio Hoe in the parish.
The World Bank-sponsored project involves the use of greenhouse technology to produce quality crops that can supply both local and international markets.
Ms. Lewis says that whereas the sector used to be more focused on physical labour, technology has now leveled the playing field where women now see agriculture as “big business”.
“Farming is no longer about that old man in a straw hat armed with a machete,” she notes.
Venette Ruddock, another female farmer at Rio Hoe agrees, saying that now is a good time for women to get into agriculture, especially with the numerous opportunities that are available through linkages with tourism.
“This is big business and women are aware of the opportunities,” she says.
“We read the papers and we follow the news. There are a lot of hotel rooms that are being built and there will be a lot of mouths to feed. We have a ready-made market so long as we can produce enough to supply it,” she points out.
In the meantime, Dr. Khadijah Williams, principal and director of the Village Academy School in St. Ann, tell JIS News that girls form the majority of the near 100-student population at the institution, where agriculture is the main discipline.
“There is certainly a noticeable shift,” she says.
Dr. Williams argues that the days when it was considered that being a good farmer “simply means having masculine traits” are long gone.
“There was a time when women were restricted to a supporting role where they would be providing only emotional support. Today, a lot of women are coming forward where, very soon, we are going to be asking ‘where are the men in agriculture?’,” she says.
Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Audley Shaw, tells JIS News that he is very encouraged to see the growing number of women, who have been turning to agriculture as a means of making a living.
He says the Ministry will continue to do all that it can to reach even more women.
“The opportunities in agriculture have never been better. We have a lot of hotels coming on stream and, of course, the visitors will have to be fed,” he notes.
“Our women are very smart and can recognise an opportunity when they see one. Agriculture, for them, offers a wide range of life-changing opportunities, both in the local and international markets, and is a powerful reason why you are seeing so many of them flocking to the sector,” he adds.
St. Ann Parish Agricultural Manager, Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), Jasmine Hyde, agrees that the sector is attracting more women.
“We are witnessing a transformation right before our eyes… something of a renaissance,” she tells JIS News.
“Agriculture is no longer seen as dirty work but as a sector where persons can make a good living.
“Women are now seeing the benefits and are getting more involved. They see it as an occupation… a very attractive profession… and where they can make inroads into the vital tourism sector,” she points out.
Ms. Hyde said RADA is doing its part to assist women farmers, pointing to incentives provided under the Irish potato and onion programmes to get more persons into the sector.
“We find that a lot of females have been taking up our offer of assistance,” she says.
“Women are also taking full advantage of the available technologies – hydroponic farming, greenhouse farming and so on. They also have the necessary equipment at their disposal where they are now capable of increasing production and productivity,” he adds.