Women farmers voice concerns over unequal access in agriculture
WOMEN farmers have expressed that they feel underserved in the farming industry, particularly when it comes to accessing agricultural lands and resources. They are seeking more inclusive policies and access to resources.
In a recent gathering of agricultural stakeholders at the Roots and Tubers National Dialogue, hosted by the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) Caribbean, under the Sustainable Agriculture in the Caribbean (SAC) Project, women farmers came forward to share their concerns about the challenges they face in the industry.
“It’s not the easiest thing for women to access agricultural lands. Men are usually given first preference when they apply to lease or purchase agricultural lands, while women are sidelined,” said Wendy Mitchell, a woman farmer, as she boldly articulated the challenges women face in accessing agricultural lands.
She emphasised the need for equal opportunities for both genders, acknowledging the limited availability of agricultural lands.
“There is bias in favour of men in land acquisition, and it needs to be removed to ensure women get the same opportunity to access land and land tenancy,” she firmly stated.
In addition to land access challenges, Mitchell pointed out that women farmers face insufficient training opportunities, often without proper follow-up. She also highlighted the bias in government incentive programmes, which tend to favour large male farmers. Wendy called for more targeted training courses and capacity-building sessions.
“We want to become larger farmers as well, so we need to be given these incentives just the same,” she said.
Adding to those challenges, the common denominator for women, youth, and male farmers alike was a lack of access to finance. Joneika Holness, a young woman farmer, shared her experience, emphasising the difficulties she faces in acquiring loans. She highlighted that her barriers are compounded due to her age.
“Age plays a vital part in the loan process here in Jamaica. It doesn’t matter how creative you are; they won’t take you seriously unless you are making 75 million or 50 million a year. But sometimes, it starts from scratch,” Holness stated.
Holness further lamented the difficulty in securing funding for farm expansion. “There’s a 95 per cent chance that I will not get through,” she shared. “The reason being, I’m a new farmer. It doesn’t matter about the business plan or the projected cash flow; it won’t matter. A person going there to get a loan for a car will have a better chance of getting the loan than I would.”
Holness is calling for tailored youth programmes to address the issues faced by young farmers and urged the Government and various entities to collaborate with landowners to make unused flat lands accessible to youths.
“If you go through Jamaica, you will see a lot of what I call woodland or forest areas that are owned by our fellow Jamaicans that are not in use,” she explained. “When we go to them and ask for these lands, the first thing they say is, ‘You are so young; what do you want so much land to do?’ The next thing they say is, ‘Oh, you are female; you’re not serious’,” said Holness.
Where financing or agricultural grants are provided, they expressed that it is a cumbersome process with rigorous requirements associated with accessing them. They also highlighted issues like high bank loan interest rates, a lack of collateral, and loan payment schedules that often do not coincide with crop maturity, leading to financial strains in the face of climatic variables, pests, diseases, and other unpredictable factors.
“Loan payments need to coincide with crop maturity. This is to ensure there is cash flow to service the loans and that there is no default on payment,” Mitchell suggested as a solution. “Special provisions for agricultural insurance need to be put in place to offset the repayment of loans in the event of crop failure. Also, in such events, loan payments can be deferred to a future date with little or no penalty,” she added.