St_ tH rwthersity of10riaa
GENDER ISSUES IN FARMING SYSTEMS
RESEARCH AND EXTENSION
Inclusion and Incorporation in Agricultural Production:
The Case of Young Vincentians
Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana
Reports which generalize to the Eastern Caribbean as a whole
picture a grim future for agriculture in the region. Although
three-fourths of the Caribbean population is estimated to be
under 35 (Census Research Programme, 1975), the average Caribbean
farmer is around 50 years old (Zuvekas, 1978). Young people are
reputedly attracted by urban employment opportunities and
repelled by agricultural pursuits because of the association of
farming with slavery, hard work, and low economic rewards.
This paper, using the case of St. Vincent, challenges the
notion that agricultural pursuits are unattractive to young
Vincentians. It suggests that young adults, men and women,
participate in agriculture in greater numbers than are generally
recognized and that structural constraints are more important
than attitudinal in preventing greater participation. While
recognizing that education does not solve socio-political
problems, this paper explores the possible contributions of
education as a means to better incorporate the young into the
For half a year in 1981, I worked with the government of St.
Vincent and the Grenadines on an agricultural extension project.
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Then, for a year, I lived in a fertile rural valley with a long
history of estate domination. Through familiarity with the
general Caribbean literature, I expected to find a country where
young people shunned agriculture. My perusal of Vincentian
agricultural statistics and discussions with some governmental
officials supported this view. According to the 1973 Vincentian
agricultural census (the most recent figures available), only 47
farm operators were under 35 years of age in 1972 compared to
2,093 in 1961 (Misistry of Trade and Agriculture, 1978). The
total number of farm operators in 1972 was 7,794, which was 3,556
farm operators less than in 1961. It would appear that people,
particularly young people, were not taking up farming. When
asked about the interrelationship of agriculture and young
people, many government officials responded with the pessimistic
viewpoint of "they just lazy," "the work is too hard," or "such
work is considered poor man's work."
Participant observation and in-depth interviews, however,
revealed young men and women, from rural areas and from town,
working land under a variety of arrangements, accompanied by a
variety of constraints, motivations, and attitudes. In one rural
area, the children of parents who had "made it" in a
banana-producing valley moved onto a government-acquired estate
before a distribution plan was designed. Many of these
squatters, ranging between the ages of 25 and 40, are now
prosperous farmers themselves. Interviewees indicated that
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farming may be viewed more positively now than in the past. As
one stated, "Five years ago I would have said young people were
moving away from agriculture, but now they see there is a lot of
money to be had from the land." Although I have learned to place
little faith in Caribbean census figures, another section
supported the notion that agricultural rejection is not as total
as commonly described. When "dependents" were combined with
"farm operators," there appeared to be 6,453 monr people involved
in these categories of agricultural work in 1972 than in 1961.
When "other unpaid" and "paid workers" were included in the
figures, the number of people working the land in 1961 (25,084)
was only slightly higher than the number for 1972 (24,405). The
major decrease in farming participants over time was in the
number of paid workers; the greatest increase was in the number
of farm operators and dependents. My work suggests that young
men and women play a significant role in both these decreases and
Three main conditions seem to promote a somewhat favorable
attitude towards agriculture on the island. First, unlike the
coral or flatter islands, the Vincentian mountains create
conditions for ample rainfall. The rainfall and the rich
volcanic soil provide fertile ground for growing a wide variety
of produce. Second, agriculture is one of the few means
available for creating a livelihood;. Despite efforts to increase
the industrial and tourism sectors, they remain relatively
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undeveloped. Third, farming can be. economically viable. In
1979, 95 percent of the nation's exports were agricultural
products (Ministry of Finance, Planning and Development, 1980).
Stated an interviewee,
People in this valley know that a bag of eddoes may
fetch $180 [U.S. $873 and are encouraged by that.
Those who have the lands will tell you they won't work
for anyone else.
The potential gain along with the lack of alternatives makes it
common wisdom in rural areas that "to make money, you must stick
something in the ground."
These conditions--fertile land, lack of employment
alternatives, and potential gain--are favorable for increased
agricultural development. Constraints, however, deter changes.
Advisory reports, extension personnel, and the farmers themselves
frequently mention problems associated with marketing,
transportation of produce, peak season labor demands, access to
inputs, agronomic techniques, and the use of appropriate
varieties. Policy makers rarely accompany recommendations for
overcoming agricultural constraints with either a class or gender
analysis. The problems such analyses uncover are difficult to
Analysis by class demonstates the blatant role of land tenure.
Around 78 percent of the holdings in St. Vincent are under 5
acres in size. The remaining 22 percent, however, account for
around 78 percent of the cultivated land (LeFranc, 1980). In
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other words, most of the farm holdings are small, but most of the
land is still held by private or government estates. Typical
project work directs attention towards the small land holder
group. In doing so, it prides itself on assisting those that
need help. In reality, the projects ignore a possibly larger,
and definitely poorer, group of people. The rural areas contain
a continuum of socioeconomic classes.
On the ignored end of the continuum are those I term the
"static poor." They come from households with little, if any,
land. The young people, in their early to mid-twenties, tend to
live with kin, often, if female, with a child or two of their
own. The house does not contain a refrigerator, is not wired for
electricity, and frequently has no water piped indoors. Those in
the household have not had secondary schooling and do not hold
salaried jobs. To make money, men participate in various trade
work such as masonry, carpentry, or mechanics. They are truck
hands, van conductors, and drivers. They also work sharecropped,
family, or mountain land, and, if they must, do agricultural
labor for pay. Women are domestics, work in factories, work
sharecropped or family land, and also participate as agricultural
The static poor identify their lack of access to land as the
primary constraint to increased agricultural participation.
"Some willing, but they ain't got the land," stated one
interviewee. Said another, "Those who have land, work it, and
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can do for themselves. Those who don't, have it rough." At
anywhere from $700 an acre for mountain land to $7000 an acre for
the flatter land, few are able to purchase land through work in
St. Vincent. Generally, one most go "outside" to Trinidad, United
States, or Canada and there earn enough to return and "set
Those without education, land,- capital, or migration
opportunities have few options. In the past, these people have
been the estate workers, the agricultural laborers. The children
have observed that their parent's or guardian's hard work did not
necessarily bring material wealth or even household security.
They therefore reject agricultural labor for psychological and
economic reasons, preferring to do nothing rather than "slavin"
by working land for another person and receiving little for their
effort. As one interviewee stated, "My father worked on the
estate for over 40 years and to the end, he received nothing. I
would not do that. I'd rather Ebe3 dead." These are the people
who contribute to the decrease in the number of paid workers
reported in the agricultural census. These are the people who
are said to be rejecting agriculture as a way of life. Their
rejection is understandable.
Farther along on the socioeconomic continuum are those I call
the "mobile poor" and then the more middle-class Vincentian. Many
have received formal education beyond the primary level. They
tend to come from households that owned land and contained both
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parents. As young adults, they frequently live away from their
childhood residence and are either married or on their own. The
households have piped water, electricity, and refrigerators. A
few own cars or motorbikes. The young people hold salaried jobs,
but many also work land. They may own land, control family land,
or even sharecrop. They do not do agricultural labor. The young
adults of this "better-off" group are not estate owners, big
business people, or government ministers. They are, however,
more likely than the other group to receive the attention of
assistance and educational agencies.
Both men and women work land, sharing some tasks and dividing
up others. Gender analysis points out several.constraints that
are particular to women. According to the statistics available,
women comprise around 46 percent of the farm operators and
dependents, 41 percent of the "other unpaid workers," and 40
percent of the "paid workers" (Ministry of Trade and Agriculture,
1978). Women participate in the various modes of tenure. They
own land, control family land, rent, sharecrop, and labor for
others. Although agency personnel recognize the role women play
in agriculture--the 1982 farmer of the year was a woman--they
tend to invite primarily men to seminars and workshops on
agricultural production. Educational programs concerning
nutrition, cooking with indigenous products, or kitchen gardening
are considered more appropriate for the so-called "farmer's
wife." The term "farmer's wife" signifies again the importance
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of class. Generally, only the "better off" are married.
Although "better-off" women do own or control land, they are more
likely than men in equivalent positions to hire workers full-time
and to only infrequently participate in the labor themselves.
Nutrition and cooking are of interest to these women (as well as
to the poorer women), but use of pesticides or management
techniques would also be relevant. In any case, all programs
ignore the woman who must share-crop or hire out her labor just
as they ignore the man who must do so.
The culturally and physically acceptable division of
agricultural tasks place poorer women who sharecrop or work small
plots of family land at a disadvantage to men. Men will weed, a
job frequently done by women, but women rarely clear land or dig
banks. Therefore, if a woman is without a man to assist her, she
is dependent upon having money to hire labor at particular
times. This labor pattern limits the woman's productivity and
foreshadows future difficulties. For a number of young men, the
hard physical work involved in clearing land and digging banks is
a disincentive to working land. To lessen the drudgery, various
development groups are experimenting with mechanization
appropriate to steep Vincentian hillsides. If women do not take
part in the use of developed equipment, men's clearing and
digging work may be eased and their status potentially raised,
while neither the woman's role nor her tasks will change. She
will still have to hire men to prepare her land and will probably
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have to pay more because of the machine.
Structural constraints, particularly land tenure arrangements,
prevent greater participation in agriculture by the rural poor.
Accepting the need for national and international policy changes,
I turn now to the role education plays in incorporating the young
Reports and policy makers both blame the education sector as
the villain and hold it up as the savior for the supposed decline
in agricultural participation by the young. The schools
reportedly do not prepare their pupils for agricultural work--but
they .could; they reportedly inclucate a negative attitude toward
working the soil--but they crald establish a positive attitude.
Policy makers and development personnel also recognize economic
factors, but here too they call upon the educational sector,
formal and nonformal, to help transform traditional island
horticulture into a scientific business.
The debate over whether an agricultural curriculum should or
should not be a part of formal education dates back to the 1840's
and the formation of the first post-emancipation schools.
Planters and colonial officials saw training in agriculture as
particularly beneficial for white planters' sons and potential
managers, but also important for altering the attitudes of black
youth towards agriculture. A statement made in Joseph
Chamberlain's Circular Dispatch in 1899 concerning the
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development of apprenticeship agricultural schools does not sound
that different from arguments heard today:
...to have the entire youth of an agricultural
country intellectually trained in an atmosphere
favourable of agriculture, that they should grow up
interested in it, and that they should learn that there
is very much in it which is worthy of being studied by
an intelligent mind, and that agricultural work is not
"fit for slaves." (in Gordon, 1963, p142).
Despite several abortive attempts, agricultural science did not
become a part of primary and junior secondary school curriculum
until the launching of Sputnik in the 1950's when international
agencies made science education money available. Many of the
classes, however, are book-oriented due to the lack of garden
space, equipment, facilities, and trained teachers. Secondary
schools do not offer courses in agriculture, preparing students
instead for bureaucratic positions. As a young man in town
EYoung people are not interested in working the
lands] because the type of education they received was
not geared to working the lands. I attended primary
and secondary school and was taught nothing about
agriculture. I don't know how to work the lands, I was
never taught. That's why I find the country is not
progressing because you have to have education to agree
with the economy. The educational system is geared for
those to work in offices, not for agriculture which is
our main source of economy. I don't think it's
degrading, but we were never given the opportunity to
work the land.
Who is attending school and what difference that attendance
makes may be the real issue rather than the curriculum. Sixteen
percent of the primary school students go on to secondary school
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(Ministry of Education, 1981). In the rural area where I worked,
only six percent were so fortunate. Those who come from
wealthier households and supportive guardians obtain the most
schooling and reap the economic and social rewards. Since sons
and daughters of laborers and sharecroppers generally do not
partake of these rewards, the schools, as schools most
everywhere, maintain the social structure.
Yet a secondary education does not preclude one's participation
in agriculture and may even contribute to positive attitudes
towards working land. An increasing number of people with
secondary and higher education and with access to land appear to
be choosing to complement their salaried jobs with agricultural
work. Repeatedly I heard of teachers, government employees, and
even lawyers involved in agriculture:
Presently most people who work the lands like
themselves for doing it and others admire it. This has
changed from the past when those who worked the lands
were looked upon as not being fit to do anything else.
People who have professions have started taking up
agriculture and that's being passed on to others.
Years ago you have only one set of people who work the
lands. Nowadays everyone trying to grow a little
This could foreshadow the development of a new breed of educated
farmer with potential to serve an organizing, educating role in
the rural communities. However, if access to land remains
difficult for the poor, this new group may develop into a
middle-class level of farmer and actually decrease the welfare of
the poor by not only competing for land and capital, but also
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through priority access to marketing organizations and new
information. In the meantime, the participation of the more
educated in agriculture appears to be affecting the overall
attitude towards working land, lending optimism to governmental
efforts at nation building through the agricultural sector.
The formal education system plays a very limited role in
transmitting agricultural skills and information. Most young
agriculturalists learn about working land on a one-to-one basis,
frequently from a family member or a long-time farmer, but also
through the over-extended agricultural extension-type workers.
As interviewees stated, "I learn most times from someone showing
me. The more I talk with people, the more I learn, but sometimes
I don't meet the right person."
Recognizing the inefficiency of one-to-one contact between
extension workers and farmers, agricultural organizations have
turned attention towards group meetings. Ideally, the extension
officer services an extant group with information when available
or needed. In reality, many extension workers create their own
farmers' groups in the area for which they are responsible. The
group inevitable becomes associated with and dependent upon that
worker. If Jaminson were the extension agent for a region,
1. The Ministry of Trade and Agriculture, Banana Growers'
Association, and Organization for Rural Development all include
extension-type workers in their operations.
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farmers would say, "There's going to be a Jaminson meeting
tonight." Although group meetings are open to anyone, the least
educated--the laborers and sharecroppers--are the least likely to
attend. They assert that "It's the same people running things."
Insecurity may be a part of their hesitation to get involved.
They may sense that they'd have little control over discussions
or decisions. Perhaps, also, the interests of the group are not
that applicable to them. Groups may assist with information
distribution and idea stimulation, but do not include all.
Those who work the land also learn through trial and error.
After years of laboring for pay, Calvin arranged to sharecrop
several acres. With partial instruction, rumor, and his mistakes
to guide the way, he assisted crops through their complete cycle
for the first time in his life. His years of agricultural work
had been limited to clearing land, digging banks, and following
instructions without making agricultural decisions of his own.
Few learn to be better farmers through reading. Information on
times to plant, techniques, or handling and marketing of produce
is not readily available. Fewer still learn through seminars,
farmer training sessions, or short courses. If such gatherings
are offered, laborers, sharecroppers, and, to some extent, women
2. The Organization for Rural Development, a private Vincentian
organization, involves women both as workers and participants to
a greater extent than the government extension service.
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are left out.
Assuming education is an important part of development, a
significant portion of the population is excluded. Formal
education omits the majority of rural people. Nonformal
education reaches more, but not all. Access to education
contributes to a widening of the gap in capital, land, and status
between the static poor and all others. Structural constraints
are not removed.
Yet there are a few glimnit-rs of hope. The effect of secondary
education on the attitudes towards and participation in
agriculture is ambiguous. It just may contribute to the
development of agriculture as a scientific business that includes
women as well as men. Nonformal education, although sporadic and
also exclusionary, may develop a spirit of unity among workers of
the land and a sense of achievement through group
accomplishments. It may increase individual consciousness of the
social structure and of one's potential efficacy within the
system. Farmers at a workshop testified to their growing sense
of self-worth through association with a national organization.
In effect, many said, "I can lift my head now. It's made me a
person to be respected." Cochrane (1979) states, "Human dignity
and culturally inspired self-expression remain the most basic
need and are not necessarily assuaged by the kinds of basic needs
programs that are now often discussed" (p. 44). In order for the
static poor to take part in this confirmation of human dignity
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and opportunity for self-actualization, the structural
constraints to their inclusion in the economic and educational
structures must be removed. Appropriate attitudes will follow.
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Census Research Programme
1976 197n Pnpna 1 a finn Can nta n4 i-ho COmmonwea1fh
Car.ibbhhn. Kingstown, Jamaica: The Herald Limited.
1979 The iuleinral Apprainl 4 i naeuIlnpmn
Prnipets. New York: Praeger Publishers.
1963 A anintur n- U WPi TnIian Frtr.tion. London:
1980 "St. Vincent." In Weir's Agricultural Consulting
Service, mal1l Farming in fho >iA Aau1lQpl d
Ctunaiani- n a tho- _CmmonolA tjLh rarcihtoa.- Barbados:
Caribbean Development Bank, pp. 58-92.
Ministry of Education
1981 A RriA .Rouir Pu th- i T _h__ipal/Unrainal
Friration anr Trnaining in t-. Uini-anf and tho
Ministry of Finance, Planning and Development
1980 DLntS-F Sfa4 i tiie. P tha r Year L -22. Report
No. 29. St. Vincent and the Grenadines: Statistical
Ministry of Trade and Agriculture
1978 Cenqna nM AnrlgielirA .r_ eS.. UirAn 7--7 .
Antigua: UNDP-ECCM Printery.
Zuvekas, Clarence, Jr.
1978 A Pnf.il~ nf qmall 9 arme in hm Cari hhoan
RPgion. USAID Working Document Series No. 2.
Washington, D.C.: Caribbean Regional Development
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- Minimum Data Set -
Country: St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Research Base: St. Vincent
130 to 130 22'
Sea level to 4000 feet
: 70-88 degrees Fahrenheit
on: 91 inches per year with 73% of the yearly rainfall
occurring from June through November.
Acidic and low in
95% of the island
has slopes of over 5 degrees.
a. Size distribution of farms:
78% of holdings are less than 5 acres in size.
22% of holdings account for 78% of the cultivated land.
b. Land Tenure: (statistics subject to dispute)
c. Ethnic Groups:
d. Language: English
e. Access to Input and Output Markets:
Input: Commodity associations (banana and arrowroot), Marketing
Corporation, Ministry of Trade and Agriculture, several
private businesses and organizations.
Output: Commodity associations (banana and arrowroot), Marketing
Corporation, Eastern Caribbean Agency (private), Kingstown
Central Market, neighboring island trafficking.
f. Access to Credit:
Commodity associations and other agricultural organizations,
Development Corporation, commercial banks, relatives, friends,
and private money lenders.
4. Nature of Cropping System
a. Objectives: Subsistence and Cash
b. Labor Requirements:
1) Female/Male: Women make up nearly 44% of the agricultural
2) Distribution Over Time: Decrease in participation by women,
decrease in number of hired agricultural
laborers, increase in number of farm operators
and dependents and other unpaid workers.
3) Hired/Family: (According to 1972-73 agricultural census)
Farm Operators and Dependents: 64%
Other Unpaid Workers: 8%
Paid Workers: 27%
1) Manual: Culass and Hoe
2) Animal: Donkey for transportation of inputs and produce
3) Mechanical: Almost non-existent except on larger estates
Crops: Banana, Arrowroot, Coconut, Root Crops, Vegetables
Important factor limiting production: Land Tenure