Where are the women?
The experiences of women in agriculture and their limited numbers in the sector were highlighted on Tuesday at the ICT and Innovation in Agriculture segment of the 12th Regional Agricultural Planners’ Forum, prompting one delegate to ask “where are the women?”
The question from the floor arose during the presentation made by young agri-preneur, Keithlin Caroo, who runs Helen’s Daughters, an NGO that has a special focus on rural women’s economic development through improved market access, adaptive agricultural techniques, and capacity-building.
Ms. Caroo shared her experiences as a young agri-preneur in Saint Lucia. She pointed out that stereotyping agriculture as a man’s world meant that serious attention was not paid to women in the sector.
“Just from of that stereotyping, women tend to be blocked out of a lot of opportunities, from trainings, from financial opportunities and even access to larger markets,” she told the Forum.
Helen’s Daughters advocates for gender mainstreaming in agriculture and aims to create a space for rural women farmers in Saint Lucia to access the hotel sector. The organisation utilises technology in various aspects of agriculture including smart soil sensors, integrated voice response system – a mobile information programme – that tailor messages gleaned from the soil sensors.
Apart from sterotyping, other challenges Ms. Caroo encounters include not being taken seriously, financial setbacks and access to information.
“When you hear about women farmers… I think the emotions are ‘that’s a noble cause; that’s very nice of you’. But they don’t think about the actual business or the actual future of women-owned agri-enterprise,” she explained.
Acting Chief Agriculture Planning Officer of Saint Lucia gave on-the-spot commitment to Ms Caroo to try to support her “in whatever way we can”.
Women and youth
Women must not be excluded from the agenda and dialogue, a representative of the Jamaican Network of Rural Women in Agriculture said.
“…We want to have a seat on the table at COTED (Council for Trade and Economic Development) at at all the decision-making forums because we believe and know that it is important for women to be empowered.” she said.
Diandra Rowe, Assistant Managing Director, Abbey Garden Farm, another youth at the Forum, stressed the necessity for the involvement of youth in agriculture
Ms. Rowe pointed out that the presence of youth in agriculture was minimal and the time frame for presentations at events such as the Forum was always limited.
“Don’t just engage us for formality,” she warned. She pointed out that years ago, the issues of access to land, financing and different services, were brought to the fore. The challenges were raised again during the 2019 two-day Forum.
For another young agri-preneur, Mr. Alpha Sennon, Founder and Executive Director, WHYFARM, agriculture had to be made compulsory at schools if the Region was serious about agriculture and the role of youth in the sector.
FAO panellist, Mr. Paul Whimpenny, said that there must be a focus on youth and women to take agriculture forward. He recommended incubators comprising persons with business knowledge who could assist youth and women to build business models, and those versed in information technology to provide the support to grow digital innovation in the sector.
At the opening of the two-day Forum in Belize City, Belize, on Monday, youth, and innovation in agriculture, were two areas that some of the speakers references in their remarks. Minister of Agriculture of Belize, the Hon Godwin Hulse spoke about the need to infuse technology in the agriculture sector, especially with the youth in mind.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) are providing support for the activities in Belize.