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Unsung heroines

Published:Thursday | March 8, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Margaret Taylor tending crops on her farm at Flagaman in St Elizabeth recently. - Photo by George Henry

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

The role of Jamaican women in agriculture over the years has, for the most part, gone largely undocumented and unrecognised, despite their significant and long-standing contribution to the sector. It was with the aim of addressing this oversight that Glendon Harris, Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) president, initiated the Women In Agriculture conference three years ago, one of his first projects upon taking office.

The annual one-day event held at the Denbigh Show Ground in May Pen, Clarendon, brings together women farmers from all walks of life to share their best practices. In addition, they get to interact with executives from financial institutions, health organisations and agricultural education schools, among others. This free flow of first-hand information from women directly involved in hands-on farming practices goes a far way in informing some of the policies of these groups.

Harris is of the view that if an economic value could be put on the contribution of women in agriculture, it would stun the nation. "We have failed to document and highlight the contribution of our women in agriculture. Their true significance has never been brought to light over the decades and we want to right that wrong because they have been a major stabilising force," he told The Gleaner.

Professional roles

Traditionally, women have been a major part of the workforce in reaping, weeding, fertilising and other such labour-intensive activities but there is now a levelling of the playing field. Not only have women proven their worth as owners/operators of farms, but have also excelled in other key professional roles such as veterinarians, farm managers and educators.

For the JAS president, their effectiveness is linked to the women's no-nonsense approach which sees them treating agriculture as more of a business than their male counterparts.

"They are more serious about farming. There is no doubt about that at all," he insisted.

Harris went to explain that the involvement of more women in agriculture could not only help to curb the rural-to-urban drift, but help to strengthen family ties as well. He thinks that women who are empowered as farmers provide a solid anchor for their families.

"Even in cases where the mother goes to work and returns home each day, her time is cut short. Usually, she has to leave very early in the morning before the children leave for school; and by the time she gets home, they are usually in bed. A woman who owns/operates a farm is able to schedule more time for the family in general, and children in particular, and this is very important given the times in which we are living."

Meanwhile, for Sonja Simms, public education and public relations coordinator at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education in Port Antonio, Portland, it is passion which drives the women students.

"The majority of them are passionate. They may have their different specialist areas, but this is underpinned by the fact that they have a genuine love for it (agriculture). They are serious, focused and productive and take on the task at hand just like the men. The mindset is pretty similar to the men as they have the same competitive spirit; they want to be entrepreneurs, to own their own farms."

Coronation of the national farm queen is one of the most anticipated events of the annual Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show held over three days. With all parishes represented, contestants must demonstrate a comprehensive working knowledge of different fields of agriculture.