Marrying tourism and digital agriculture to benefit female farmers in Saint Lucia
Keithlin Caroo is the founder of Saint Lucian non-profit Helen’s Daughters. Helen’s Daughters was formed in 2016 in a winning proposal for UN Women’s Empower Women Champions for Change Program.
Helen’s Daughters is a social enterprise that directly connects rural female farmers to the hotel industry. It was born out of the belief that there was a need to support rural women with the use of adaptive agricultural techniques, capacity building and improved market access.
For Saint Lucia, formerly known as the ‘banana capital’ of the Caribbean for its ‘green gold’ – which contributed $187m to the Saint Lucian economy – the banana crash of the late 1990s early 2000s had a devastating impact on every farmer regardless of gender. Nevertheless, as a result of the perception that farming was male-oriented and women farmers played an insignificant role in the Saint Lucian agricultural landscape, initiatives that were brought forth to reinvent the market only included male farmers. Yet, in the Castries Market, (the capital of Saint Lucia and the largest produce market on the island) 90% of the vendors are women, and, in most cases, these women are both producers and vendors. This misperception has essentially blocked female farmers out of commercial markets and in some instances, female farmers are selling produce to bigger companies under the name of a male relative or spouse, as they do not have the requisite certifications. This gender disparity is not only present in the agricultural context but extends to the overall Saint Lucian labour force. The rate of unemployment in Saint Lucia amongst women (24.7%) is slightly higher than that of men (20.1%) and women, many of whom are in the agricultural sector, own two-thirds of small businesses in Saint Lucia.
To leverage the use of digital agriculture while empowering rural women to fill gaps in the agri-food-tourism system, Helen’s Daughters, in collaboration with the University of British Columbia (UBC), is providing women farmers with soil sensors that transmit environmental data (light, soil moisture, ground and surface temperature) based on the farmer’s plot of land. This data collected by the soil sensors is visualised on an online dashboard that monitors the plots of each farmer and allows Helen’s Daughters to transmit agronomic recommendations translated into the Creole language. The advice is then delivered to the farmers through an integrated voice response (IVR) system that is accessible by dialling in, whether by smart or feature phone. The initial group of women farmers participating is also being trained to understand the data from the soil sensors and adapting its information to their farming methods.
Read more at: CTA