Sun | Jun 20, 2021

Louise Lawrence growing crops, raising next generation of farmers

Published:Friday | May 14, 2021 | 12:06 AM
Louise Lawrence tends to her crops.
Louise Lawrence tends to her crops.

BEHIND LOUISE Lawrence’s friendly smile and pleasant manner is a steely resolve. That resolve is necessary as she navigates a typically male-dominated field as a farmer in St Ann, on Jamaica’s verdant north coast.

Beyond just succeeding as a female farmer, Lawrence has even chosen to take on a leadership role. She is the leader of the Watt Town Greenhouse Farmers Group, which boasts 20 farmers – 11 women and nine men.

Lawrence has chosen farming, in particular greenhouse farming, to make a living. She admits that it was not her first choice of a career, but she now believes farming is her calling. She says, “Were I to live my life over again, I would have started farming earlier.”

She is one of the farmers that received a greenhouse through the Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI), funded by the World Bank and implemented by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF). More than 160 farmers in three parishes benefited from this project, and more than a hundred other farmers have benefited indirectly. Not only does REDI support those who choose farming, but the programme also connects them with ready markets to encourage their success.

Collectively, the Watt Town Greenhouse Farmers Group operates 22 greenhouses in addition to open-field farms. Lawrence directly operates one greenhouse and also oversees the operations of three other greenhouses, one owned by her husband. And she is good at it – in only six years as a farmer, Lawrence has already received awards and recognition for her greenhouses.

The second phase of the project, known as REDI II, was approved in November 2019 with US$40 million in financing from the World Bank. Lawrence reports that JSIF recently provided the farmers, through REDI II, with personal protective equipment, including masks, hand-held thermometers, and hand sanitisers, to curb the spread of COVID-19. She underscored the point that “COVID is real” and as a community leader, Lawrence helps to spread the message of keeping socially distant, wearing a mask and frequent handwashing.

Her vigilance is, in part, because Lawrence and her team have been hit hard by the pandemic. They used to sell collectively to a distributor, who then sold their produce to hotels. With fewer tourists visiting Jamaica, the demand for their crops has been low. However, Lawrence says that a cold storage facility, built by JSIF, has been particularly helpful as it extends the life of their produce while they seek other buyers. Some farmers have turned to other income-generating opportunities, like selling phone credit to enable children in the area to attend school remotely.

Currently, Lawrence is concentrating on growing tomatoes as she has had some issues lately with sweet peppers. And while markets have been reduced because of the pandemic, she says that she continues to make a good living. She is encouraging more people to get involved with agriculture, noting that while the work is hard and the money may not be steady, the reward of feeding the nation, and by extension the world, cannot be underestimated.