Rural female farmers have always been a strong part of the backbone of Jamaica’s development, particularly in agriculture and food security for the country.
Although rarely supported, acknowledged or celebrated, they remain optimistic while sustaining several rural families, even more so during the coronavirus crisis, noted Tamisha Lee, president of the Jamaica Network of Rural Women Producers.
On Thursday, the world celebrated International Day of Rural Women. Under the theme ‘Building rural women’s resilience in the wake of COVID-19’, the United Nations acknowledged that rural women are “bearing some of the heaviest burdens” of COVID-19, including restrictions on movement, the closure of shops and markets, disruption to their supply chains, and a particularly wide gender digital divide. UN Secretary General António Guterres called for solidarity with rural women through the pandemic and to build resilience to future crises.
The devastating impact of the global pandemic did not spare Jamaica’s rural female farmers, who shared with The Sunday Gleaner how COVID-19 greatly altered their livelihoods, forcing them to do ‘balancing acts’ to survive.
Linette Clair, who hails from Corby District in Southfield, St Elizabeth, pointed out that her challenges are many, as she doesn’t own a vehicle so transporting the crops from her field to the hands of buyers can be costly.
Balancing her farming activities while taking care of her home is something else she has to deal with, made increasingly harder because of the impact of the pandemic.
“It’s very rough. I have two small children at home and sometimes I have to leave the field very early, like 11:30 a.m., and come in to assist them with their schoolwork,” she said.
Clair isn’t earning enough to employ someone to assist, and compounding her troubles is the fact that with the closure of the hotel industry, her zucchinis crop ends up “going back to the soil”, as she has no buyers for them.
“Boy, taking care of my family at the moment is very difficult sometimes. I have to put in some six-week crops such as string beans and so forth to make a quicker money,” she bemoaned.
Clair, who is a member of the Jamaica Network of Rural Women Producers, said she welcomes the farming materials such as fertilisers and other stuff her president sometimes secures for them.
‘OUT OF THE WORLD IDEAS’
It’s a hard and rocky road for Kyomey Knight, who hails from the community of Lewisville district, New Market, St Elizabeth, who shared that she faces discrimination from some while others look up to her.
“Female farming is not dominant and people see it as provocative towards the male-dominated field,” she noted.
Knight said being the mother of a small child hampers her from spending as much time in the field as she would like.
Now trying to survive in the pandemic, Knight said she has to come up with “out of the world ideas” to stay afloat and to meet the demands of the market.
“For example, I use seedling trays to sow approximately 2,000 cabbage seeds; meanwhile, I’m doing it in other fields,” she pointed out, adding that she has been using social media for advertising as well as targeting crops based on their unavailability in the market.
Unlike most farmers who are suffering great losses resulting from the COVID-19 impact, Knight is counting her blessings.
“I grow crops based on the demand of the market so it is always high because of the type of agricultural produce that I sell,” she informed.
Farmer Rosetta Taylor from Rock River, Clarendon, has had to change course because of the pandemic, which now sees her focusing less on farming and more on selling coconut and castor oil.
“These activities keep me going, and right now I have more orders than I can satisfy,” said Taylor, who had to give up on her poultry farming because since COVID-19 hit things have not been good.
“I got some chickens and they cannot grow, I bought feeding and they look like they have COVID, too … stunted growth,” she explained.
Taylor is thankful that her children are all grown so she doesn’t have a lot to worry about.
Tamisha Lee, who acknowledged that her network of women has been facing great challenges, expressed gratitude to T. Geddes Grant who has been very supportive.
“They donate farm support in the form of spray pans, fork, seeds and chemical to our women in these trying times to help them build back stronger,” she said.
Assistance also from gender affairs minister, Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, through the Community Outreach Partnership for Empowerment under the Bureau of Gender Affairs, she said, enabled her organisation to provide care packages for those with immediate needs.
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