THE island's female farmers are not expecting a good Christmas this year.
President of the Jamaica Network of Rural Women Producers (JNRWP) Mildred Crawford believes the season is likely to be far from a merry one for a number of female farmers who have had to close shop this year because of a number of issues in the agricultural sector.
"They just cannot cope; they can't find markets, they cannot afford input and they are just frustrated," Crawford told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.
"Women who are in poultry farming have complained that they have had to go out of business because of the high cost of feed and the high cost of electricity. They also have a problem selling their chicken at times [which] could be that they are not able to package the chicken as they should," said Crawford. She said some who have found markets for their poultry have been forced to offer credits, which has affected their ability to buy feed and reinvest.
Crawford said at one point her group had a membership of about 250 women, but several of them opted out of farming this year. She said some of those who remain are very pessimistic as the unemployment rate has slowed down their businesses.
"It leaves me to believe that rural women are not in a very good shape, especially with them being the head of households. The burden is increasing as they they are being crushed from all angles," said Crawford. She said that, while farmers, in general, had issues, the situation was more challenging for women.
Crawford said that a research conducted in two farming communities in rural St Andrew in September this year showed that one of the primary issues faced by women was their inability to get payments from persons who credit their goods.
"The women complained that the men were able to sell their goods faster because they are given the priority. When they run out, or they are near exhausting the goods that they have, the men in turn come back to the community and credit the goods from the women. So they are actually crediting the women's goods and leave these women to wait until they collect they pay," she said.
She said the women oftentimes do not have access to money to put back into their production, which has forced several to come out of farming and resort to odd jobs in order to provide for their families.
Immediate past president of the Jamaica Pig Farmers Association (JPFA), Angella Bardowell said that several female pig farmers have also come out of business this year. The female pig farmers, she said, have been facing a lot of challenges, especially because of the increase in production costs and a drop in prices because of an oversupply of pork.
The oversupply, she said, came after the Government made an appeal for more persons to consume more local pork.
"Because of the oversupply earlier in the year, a lot of the persons who would normally buy products at this time of the year stocked up when the product was cheap and therefore it does not look like a bright Christmas for pig farmers...," she said.
"In order for us to have an industry come next year there has to be an increase in the price of pork, because without it we will not be able to sustain production, and I am sure we don't want to go back to the days when we had to depend on the importation of pork to supply the market," the pig farmer said.
In the meantime, president of the Christiana Potato Growers Cooperative, Soyanni Holness, said the women who in her group have been making headways in the sustainability of potato-farming despite the challenges.
"More women are now agriculture entrepreneurs operating farms of average size, one-two acres, despite the challenges such as lack of financial credit access, land access [and] health problems...," she said.
She said buyers can help to make production better for members of her group by actually telling them the yield of produce they would like in advance.
"It's very annoying that constantly we have a period of glut followed by shortage," she said. "We need to have proper correlation from the farmer to the buyer, ensuring that produce are available year round and distributed in a manner that provides value to the farmers' produce."