The macroeconomic environments in which family farmers operate were quite similar in the three countries. Agriculture contributed 7.3% GDP in Jamaica, 2.4% in Saint Lucia and 0.5% in Trinidad and Tobago, while employing a significant percentage of people at 17.2%, 14.6%, 3.6% for Jamaica, St. Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago respectively; however, the labour force is aging and the average age of a farmer in these countries is between 40-65years. The general trend in all three countries is decreasing agricultural exports and increasing imports. Main challenges included land tenure / availability of suitable land; adverse weather conditions; high cost of production based on imported inputs; abuse of agri-chemicals; low productivity; high labor cost /unavailability and unproductive labor; praedial larceny; lack of relevant research: Outdated/ inappropriate technologies; limited financing for women and youth; ineffective extension; and poor infrastructure.
Data collected revealed that there are no direct incentives encouraging women and youth to engage in agriculture. However, rural youth have greater opportunities for exposure and entry to agriculture than urban youth, who are challenged for space, and exposure to agriculture in their community. Mainstreaming gender equality and targeting youth is necessary in order to unlock the full productive potential of agriculture and ensure that these two groups benefit in the process. The Caribbean small-scale farmer is predominantly a male between 41 and 54 years of age who cultivates under five acres (2.5 hectares) of land and this can even include landless farmers. An excess of 80 percent of farms in the Caribbean are deemed to be family farms thereby involving also women and youth in different capacities.
Women and youth are the two main groups where unemployment rate is high. In keeping with the 10 elements of agroecology, in particular the element of Human and Social Values, encourages an equity based approach in agroecology to ensure that vulnerable groups have an opportunity to participate and benefit to the extent that it is seen as a tool for empowerment of women and a viable career option for youth. It presents opportunities for creativity and innovation to further encourage youth given their general disenchantment with agriculture.
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Women are active in agriculture in the Caribbean in commercial and subsistence farming, but more particularly in the area of agro processing, marketing and distribution. Official statistics reveal that about 30 percent of women are registered as farmers in Jamaica and St. Lucia, and 25 percent in Trinidad and Tobago. The figures are similar in the agriculture labor force which is dominated by men (about 75 percent in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago). It is generally felt that women’s involvement in agriculture is overlooked and therefore they often do not benefit from various interventions from Governments and development partners. Women generally experience challenges that include limited access to finance and land. Social, regulatory and cultural barriers may also restrict their agricultural production activities. In addition, collateral requirements for obtaining finances are often prohibitive. Women are less likely to hold land titles and are therefore often not in charge of decision-making. They may have smaller lots than men, and their mobility is often limited due to lack of access to transport or reproductive responsibilities. Women may not be adequately compensated for work in agriculture due to household dynamics. There may be less contact with extension services resulting in inadequate extension support. Women’s role in agriculture may not be recognized and therefore they may not be targeted for training.
Agroecology can help rural women in family farming to develop higher levels of autonomy through knowledge, collective action and some levels of commercialization. It can empower them at household, community level and beyond, for example, through greater participation in producer groups. It is noted that empirical analysis shows that women’s participation is essential for agroecology and its expansion, and that women are often the leaders of agroecology projects .
Over half the population in the Caribbean islands of Jamaica, St. Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago are under 34 years. Generally, the Caribbean has a high youth unemployment rate (in excess of 25%) and more female (both youth and adults) are unemployed compared to males. Agriculture is a viable career option for youth and while it is not one of the highly preferred areas of study at the tertiary level there is still some level of interest. In Jamaica, one percent of the registered farmers are below 30 years of age with approximately 30 percent being female. This situation may be similar in other Caribbean territories given continued reports of lack of youth involvement in agriculture. Youth’s perception of agriculture however limits their participation. While young person’s regard agriculture as being an important sector, they generally have a negative perception including: that it is labor intensive; provides low income; has limited opportunities as a career compared to e.g. medicine, law and engineering. Many youth therefore regard agriculture as a last- resort career option.
Some employment opportunities for women and youth, as identified in Jamaica, St. Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago, are general agriculture production utilizing agroecological principles with the outputs being marketed as agroecologically produced and targeting a more health conscious group of consumers; such goods usually command a higher price. It is necessary to adopt production systems utilizing innovation to overcome challenges of resources, for example, multi- tiered aquaponics systems where land is limited; utilize manure, compost and other natural fertilizers reducing the need to purchase synthetic fertilisers and boosting soil health and commercial production of bio-inputs for sale to farmers (examples include: Bio fertilizer (e.g. Algas Total Plant Tonic), biopesticides; compost; wood vinegar). Additional opportunities include production of value-added products from primary products which were produced utilizing agroecological principles (e.g. yoghurt, cheese).
Additionally, to make agriculture more attractive to young person’s the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are areas that must be encouraged. This can be done by targeting existing youth groups and/or programmers to introduce agroecological principles; conduct gender sensitive training for supporting agencies; support farmer mentoring programmers especially for youth and include an agribusiness component to strengthen and encourage entrepreneurial focus.
There is the need to establish enabling environments to facilitate women and youth access to employment opportunities given their more vulnerable status. Policies developed must be focused on offering greater support to women and youth through the institution of equity measures to ensure that these groups are able to effectively access resources provided through interventions.
In most Caribbean countries, agricultural policies are outdated and do not favor sustainable production methods. Most policies are developed in a top down approach on a sector basis as opposed to national interests. Normative policies establish the rules and expectations that govern the socio-economic aspects of the society. To develop policy tools to unify demands around agroecology, the Caribbean must include agroecology in national, sub national, regional, sectoral and local plans and strategies. Equally important to implementing agroecology are transition policies that visualize and pursue change, turn discrepancies into opportunities moving to an advanced, sustainable and regenerative economy. They provide support for society to become independent of production and consumption, while respecting both the communities affected by previous practices and the families that depend on their work in the agricultural sectors. Several key policy decisions can be implemented to encourage the scaling up of agroecology and these include: building capacity to manage the environment, agrobiodiversity and agroecology; creating knowledge in people of all ages, especially producers, to enable them to combine their empirical knowledge with ecological learning; support ethical-political training of the people who can lead organizational processes; and guarantee access to land, water and genetic resources.
In promoting agroecology throughout the Caribbean, there is an urgent need to build capacity through training. To successfully practice agroecology, practitioners must have some basic skills that include: A comprehensive understanding of the 10 elements of agroecology; commitment to the principles of business development and management and to effectively integrate these principles and practices into their enterprises (individually or through service providers); ability to be innovative in the face of on-farm challenges and willingness to share best practices and experiences.
Based on a review and analysis of the agriculture programmers offered by the University of the West Indies, the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) and community colleges-Sir Arthur Lewis (St. Lucia); Samuel Prescod (Barbados); TA Marry show (Grenada)-a proposal was discussed on the creation of an agroecology master farmer training programmer. In designing a training programme for agroecology it is important to consider the unique characteristics of agroecology that include: Bottom-up and territorial processes; multi-disciplinary; delivery of Contextualized solutions to local problems; innovations-based; relying on the co-creation of knowledge, combining science with the traditional, practical and local knowledge of producers.
The agribusiness assessment focused on “People, Planet and Profit” to unlock the potential agri- economics for combating climate change, rural poverty and achieving zero hunger. The key needs identified to promote agroecology in agribusiness were: Land; finance; alternative energy and eco- friendly technologies; labor; indigenous seeds varieties and livestock breeds or fish stocks; and access to markets. Also, mixed farms (not necessarily fully integrated) are favorable since they have multiple income streams and marketing outlets also increasing the resilience of production, income and labour. However, there is a low level of support provided to the local value chain which should to be addressed.
General recommendations for mainstreaming agroecology included promoting a business approach that involves enhancing the value chain to reduce external inputs and actively encourage the production and use of local inputs. This can be done by establishing a producers’ network that has direct producer-consumer relations to adequately supply what is needed and prevent food waste and loss. Providing programmers for farmer-to-farmer training, thereby strengthening the value chain while generating local knowledge. Also through sensitizing extension agents to the general principles of ecological crop management, including the use of compost and biopesticides and integrated pest management for controlling pests and diseases to ensure that safe products enter the marketplace. In addition to facilitating data collection on producers to determine what is produced, where, and how much to support planning and policy decisions.