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Women taking over Jamaica’s agriculture industry despite climate vulnerabilities

"Climate Change continues to have a heavy toll on the agricultural sector in Jamaica, specifically women farmers who rely on it for everyday sustenance and a source of income "

The Caribbean, described in a recent report as the “Womb Of Storms”, along with other regions has been often described in Climate Change discussions as vulnerable. Jamaica which is grouped with Small Island Developing States (SIDS) is extremely vulnerable to the far-reaching, long-lasting effects of Climate Change. 

The International Fund for Agricultural Development(IFAD) puts global food production by small farmers at 80%. The figure is widely contested because of its method of estimation, yet data to prove the opposite has also been difficult to come by. 

Effects like weather events with increased intensity, frequent floodings, and prolonged droughts have a more significant effect on more vulnerable countries. And, the effects trickle down to cities and towns, to communities and eventually, to the individual. Historically, women, children, the elderly and persons with diverse abilities are among the most vulnerable. So, the effects of Climate Change impact them more. 

Photo credit: Gladstone Taylor

Though it goes unseen and unrecognized, women play a significant role in the agriculture sector. They do back-breaking work and their contribution is noteworthy and must be commended. Women’s contributions can be supported through policies and initiatives geared at funding and facilitating greater efficiency. 

Much of rural life in Jamaica is still very undocumented. According to a 2011 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), women make up an estimated 43% of the agricultural workforce in most developing countries. As caretakers, and often single parents, women in developing countries farm to feed their families or communities. In addition to these responsibilities, these women often also struggle with income generation opportunities in ways that men do not and as such farming is one of few informal alternatives.

Sharmaine Cooper, Coordinator at the College of Agricultural Science and Education(CASE) shares her experience in farming and how it has helped others like her female students. She says, “I’ve been a teacher for over ten years. But in addition to the classroom, I am also a farmer. The agricultural college has a large population of women, so you have a large population of women in the sector as a result. If you look at some of them, they are in big positions, like Dr Gabrielle Young and there are others, many others. The thing is you will not see these people up front but they are there, and a lot of them are in senior positions too.”

Photo credits: Gladstone Taylor

Cooper is a single mother of two. She studied agriculture and is sustaining a small farm at her residence as a means of feeding her family and others. As an instructor at the country’s most prestigious agricultural institution, Cooper dispenses valuable advice to young women in need. “You know that women, the physical makeup is different most times. But you will also have some women that are strong because it also has to do with your mind, so what you want you will achieve. As women, we tend to do the things that will not cause us too much physical tasks. So we’ll plant the crops that are much easier to manage and we rear the animals that are easier to control”, she explained. 

Photo credit: Gladstone Taylor

Atalee Johnson, a student of Cooper, takes this point to heart in her small apiculture farm. Bees, now classified as animals rather than insects are no doubt an essential part of the ecosystem and are easier to manage. Atalee says that “from I was younger I’ve always wanted to know how is it that farmers are so productive with all their farming techniques and I was just so eager to know all about that. I was eager, especially to know about apiculture, so in my second year I took an apiculture elective and that helped me to have my own beekeeping farm.”

The impacts of Climate Change on women and men are not equal, and it can be observed in several areas of vulnerability. Women have less access to infrastructure and resources. They depend more on natural resources like water. Although men are more likely to suffer from mental illness and frustration after disasters, due to the loss of cattle or crops, women and children often bear the brunt of this frustration in the form of domestic violence. 

According to the Asian Development Bank(ADB), the gender gaps in food security widened during the COVID-19 pandemic and are expected to continue to widen due to the economic fallout of the pandemic. This indicates that in times of disaster and crisis women and children are more likely to go hungry than men. If women are indeed more vulnerable and have less access to certain things like land ownership and so on, how do they fare in the face of the looming climate crisis? 



This story was originally published by Backayard Magazine, with the support of the Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship, which is a joint venture between Climate Tracker and Open Society Foundations.


Picture of Gladstone Taylor

Gladstone Taylor

Gladstone Taylor is an author and journalist living and operating out of the creative industries of Kingston, Jamaica.

He has been writing professionally for over eight years. He’s reported on the environment, culture, music, film, and tech through platforms such as Mongabay, The Fader, Sole DxB, Bandcamp, The Face Magazine, RollingStone, Afropunk, Syfy Wire, and PopDust, to name a few.

He is a member of Covering Climate Now and Uproot Project.

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