Front Cover
 Title Page
 Agriculture in Trinidad
 Field survey
 Labor patterns and agricultural...

Group Title: Conference on Gender Issues in Farming Systems Research and Extenion, University of Florida, February 26 to March 1, 1986
Title: Labour patterns in agriculture in Trinidad
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00081720/00001
 Material Information
Title: Labour patterns in agriculture in Trinidad
Series Title: Conference on Gender Issues in Farming Systems Research and Extenion, University of Florida, February 26 to March 1, 1986
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Harry, Indra S.
Publisher: University of Florida
Publication Date: 1986
Subject: Caribbean   ( lcsh )
Spatial Coverage: South America -- Trinidad and Tobago -- Trinidad -- Caribbean
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00081720
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover
    Title Page
        Title Page
        Page 1
        Page 2
    Agriculture in Trinidad
        Page 3
        Page 4
    Field survey
        Page 5
    Labor patterns and agricultural production
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
Full Text

.-~~-~NVe :t.. jrver Ty o--- da.
Conference on



Indra S. Harry

Paper Prepared for the

Conference on



February 26 March 1, 1986

University of Florida,

Gainesville, Florida


Contemporary food production range from the traditional sub-

sistence modes to highly mechanized systems. Between these two extremes

are numerous variations based on the technological advancement of indivi-

dual agricultural communities, historical labour patterns and the sexual

division of labour, colonization, and the crops grown.

In early hunting and gathering societies women dominated as food

providers but, during the horticultural phase, both men and women were

involved (Friedl, 1975). Boserup (1970) identified three types of sex

roles in African farming: women-dominated systems in sparsely populated

areas and where shifting cultivation was practiced; men-dominated if

plough cultivation was utilized, and where irrigation and intensive

cultivation prevailed, both men and women were involved. Colonization

also interfered with the stability of indigenous production systems:

more men were channeled into the export oriented plantations. Further-

more, as emphasis shifted from domestic production to international

market concerns, men, in most cases, continued to assume dominant roles

(Flora, 1985; Sachs, 1983; Spring and Hansen, 1985). The types of crops

grown and the methods of cultivation have also modified labour

patterns. Both the plant itself and the products extracted, need either

continuous or periodic attention, and these requirements have influenced

the amount and to some extent, the type of labour required during the

various stages of production.


The main objective of this paper is to show how labour--men,

women, and children--is integrated in the production of six agricultural

commodities in Trinidad. There are plantations, cash crops, and a sub-

sistence sector on this island but only labour patterns in the production

of cash crops and milk for sale are considered here.


Initially, hunting and gathering provided food for the native

Indians, but shifting cultivation was practiced in Trinidad from about

300 B.C.; men were involved in clearing the land, and women, planting,

weeding and harvesting (Newson, 1976). Among the crops.grown were

manioc, sweet potato, and tobacco, and after 1492, the Spanish colonizers

introduced other vegetables like tomato and eggplant, and crops like

cocoa, sugar cane, and coffee.

Colonization marked the beginning of intensive agriculture. The

lack of mineral wealth made a shift to cash crops necessary and cocoa and

tobacco were cultivated using forced labour (Shephard, 1932). Men

cleared the land, but for the more demanding tasks like picking, sorting,

drying, and packing of tobacco leaves, both men and women were involved.

Women played secondary roles in the cocoa industry helping only at har-

vest times and during the drying of the beans. The change to cash crop

production meant that shifting practices had to be curtailed, and that

these crops occupied most of the arable land and available labour. Women

grew all the food for domestic consumption and shifted from root crops to

maize (Newson, 1976).

Plantations were also established by French planters and, after

1797, the British perpetuated sugar cane, coffee and cocoa cultivation

with slave labour and later, with identured labour from India. Informa-

tion on the prevailing sexual division of labour is scarce but most

likely, women worked along with their male counterparts but were given

the less physically demanding jobs. Tasks like digging irrigation

ditches, transporting cut sugar cane, and operating machinery were only

assigned to male workers. Some female roles were included in an article

in the newsletter of the All Trinidad Sugar Estates and Factory Workers

Trade Union which recounted an interview with three ex-indentured women,

ages 109, 118, and 127, respectively. They indicated that:

In the cultivation, you will find that the women
dominate the gangs. They were out early in the fields
performing hazardous duties, like dropping lime and
phosphate of ammonia, planting foods on the estates, that
is, vegetable crops and ground provisions, heading (sic]
manures, cutlassing, weeding, cutting cane, loading them on
carts and most of the time carrying the cane on their
heads. (Battlefront, May 19, 1978: 7, col. 2)

After emancipation, many liberated slaves became subsistence

farmers and "a number, including women, remembering one of their func-

tions in West Africa, took up small-trading' (Wood, 1968:68). After

identureship, many Indians became small-scale sugar and cocoa growers,

rice producers, and many concentrated on market gardening.

An experimental dairy sector was established by the Ministry of

Agriculture in 1964. Many of these "state" farmers were previously

employed by the now defunct railway system or "knew the right people and

had the right political connections" (Personal Communication). Few had

any experience with dairy production but those selected were given a

primary herd (15 to 20 artificially inseminated cows), sufficient land

for pasture, and a permanent home. The infrastructure and animals were

later purchased with capital borrowed at low interest rates and long-term

guarantees from the Agricultural Development Bank. The state monitored

all the inputs on these farms, and the farmers, the output.


Information for this paper was obtained from a questionnaire

survey conducted in 1979. Altogether, 130 interviews were completed with

small-scale growers and dairy farmers together with their spouses in

various agricultural communities on the island (Fig. 1). Considerable

emphasis was placed on the cultivation of major crops like tobacco,

cocoa, sugar cane, rice and vegetables. Respondents were asked questions

relating to the growing of these crops, as well as on which members of

the farm family participated in the various processes and activities

involved in their production. The roles of children and hired help (both

male and female) were also ascertained through meticulous interrogation.

Most of these farms had minor crops, and many respondents kept animals.

However, only data relating to the cultivation and processing of major

crops and the production of milk as the most important commodity are



A distinct series of tasks or activities were associated with

the production of each major crop and these were consistently performed

by growers throughout the areas surveyed. Similar patterns also existed

among the dairy farmers. Although the emphasis was placed on defining

who performed these tasks, other agronomic data and statistics were also



The typical tobacco farm in Trinidad was about 9.5 acres and

employed an average of 3.6 men and 4.8 women during the growing and

harvesting periods. Cultivation practices for this crop are outlined in

Figure 2. The season began with land preparation (done mechanically) and

the generation of seedlings for later planting in the field. Subsequent

tasks included seedling removal and planting, irrigation, spraying,

weeding, fertilizing, harvesting, and so on. Male tasks included nursery

care, spraying, stringing leaves (on stakes), and hanging of tobacco

leaves for curing. Fertilizing, moulding (heaping soil at the base of

young plants), excising unwanted flower buds, and picking were usually

done by women, and both spouses were involved with the removal of nursery

stock, planting, grading, and preparation of leaves for sale. It should

also be noted that additional help was required during the busiest times

for planting, moulding, and harvesting. Children (especially boys)

helped with the removal of flower buds and the hanging of leaves for

drying, and workers of both sexes were hired during the busy periods.


This crop was grown extensively, with each farm occupying about

16.9 acres. Since cocoa is a tree crop, it required only periodic atten-

tion with the heaviest labour demands occurring during the harvesting and

post-harvest periods. The production cycle is shown in Figure 3 and, as

indicated, most field activities were done by male spouses. Women and

children helped with the collection of fruits after picking, the removal

of seeds from the cracked pods, "dancing" or walking on seeds to remove

the mucilaginous covering, drying in specially designed houses or on

roadsides near the home, and preparing the seeds for sale. The general

maintenance of the growing areas, pruning, spraying, and transportation

were usually done by men. Therefore, cocoa production was dominated by

male labour, and only augmented by other family members during the busy

periods and with tasks which were done closer to the home.

Sugar Cane

This crop was also dominated by men and most of the activities

centred around the harvesting period. The average farm was 22.4 acres

and during the season, 3.7 male and 1.3 female workers were employed.

Although this crop required periodic attention and had fewer activities

associated with its cultivation, harvesting was a very strenuous acti-

vity. As shown in Figure 4, women were hired for planting (which occur-

red every 10 years), and during the harvesting period. They helped with

preparing the soil for planting, planting, and cutting and loading mature

canes. Few female spouses were involved, and their activities were

restricted to fertilizing. Male tasks included spraying to control

weeds and insects, burning the fields prior to cutting, harvesting, and

transporting canes (on animal-drawn carts or tractor trailers) for

selling. On farms which were owned by women, most of the work was done

by hired male workers.


There were basically two active periods in the cycle of this

crop: the planting period from June to July, and the harvesting period

in October. The average size of rice fields was 6.7 acres and, during

the two busy periods, 3.9 male and 4.6 female workers were employed.

Although rice fields (like the other crops discussed) were

mechanically prepared, embankments had to be constructed to hold moisture

for wet-land cultivation. From Figure 5, it can be seen that this labour

intensive task, as well as the preparation of nursery stock for later

planting, was done by the male spouse; other male activities involved

transportation of the matured stalks from the field and selling of the

product. Many tasks like planting, weeding, and harvesting were done

jointly by hired men and women or farmers. Exclusive female tasks like

drying and winnowing the grain were done near the home.


Although vegetable farms were the smallest (average farm was

3 acres) of all product sectors surveyed, cultivation on these farms was

intensive and this crop was planted three times during the year. Among

the major vegetables grown were tomato, lettuce, eggplant, and cucumber.

Again in this sector, nursery care and maintenance, and spraying were

masculine tasks (Figure 6). Feminine tasks included fertilizing, irriga-

tion, weeding, and tying plants to anchored stakes. Planting, harvest-

ing, and preparing the product for sale involved all available labour.

Also, additional work required after a crop was harvested--like the

ripening of tomatoes in the home--was done by women. In general, the

whole farm family was involved in vegetable production either during the

cultivation cycle or after harvesting.


In the dairy sector, the average number of cows kept were 23 and

the hours required per day were 7.1. In general, dairy tasks were shared

by both spouses. On the average farm, two types of activities were

done: those relating to animal care, and those to pasture maintenance.

Milking, feeding, and cleaning were done twice daily, and these chores

were jointly performed by both spouses in the morning. However, on most

farms, women and children looked after the afternoon duties. Spraying

the animals for insect infestations was done by the male spouse and other

tasks, such as de-worming (oral application of medication) were done by

both spouses. Land preparation was done mechanically, but planting (of

pasture grasses) and fertilizing was shared by most family members.

Irrigation and grass-cutting (collecting additional forage) were usually

masculine tasks. Many farms had goats, pigs, and poultry in addition to

dairy cattle. The average number of goats was 10, and poultry 14, but

some farmers had as many as 57 pigs. The female spouse was responsible

for all additional animals kept on these farms and was helped by the



Days and Times Worked

When data for all sectors were compared, it was found that the

male farmers worked an average of 4.9 days per week and female, 4.8.

Throughout the busy periods both spouses worked 7 days per week. When

sectors were compared (see Fig. 7), the mean number of days worked by

males in tobacco production was 5.9, in cocoa 3.9, in cane 5.1, in veget-

able 5.3, in rice 4.0, and in dairy 5.6. Female tobacco farmers worked

an average of 5.7 days, cocoa 3.9, cane 3.0, rice 4.6, vegetable 5.3, and

dairy 6.3. In the sugar cane sector, male farmers worked longer periods

than female farmers and the reverse occurred in the dairy sector. Hours

worked by both spouses in the busy season were 7 per day and, in the slow

period, 3 per day; the exception was the sugar cane sector where few

female spouses participated in cultivation.


This activity was dominated by male farmers. Tobacco was sold

to the West Indian Tobacco Company, cocoa to middlemen or state marketing

boards, sugar to processing factories, rice and vegetables to retailers

or middlemen, and milk to processors. Approximately 85.7 72.5, 100,

100, and 53.6 per cent of the tobacco, cocoa, sugar cane, rice, and

vegetable vendors, respectively, were male. The selling of tobacco

required 12 hours per week, cocoa 7, sugar cane 30, rice 5, and veget-

ables a minimum of 15 hours per week during the harvesting period. When

transportation was required, milk was sold by male farmers; however,

women also sold products like milk and smaller animals at the farm gate.



The cultivation cycles showed a range of cash crops grown for

export or for the domestic market. Of these crops, only cocoa was exten-

sively cultivated tree crop; sugar cane was grown as a perennial and

rice, tobacco, and vegetables were cultivated as annual crops. The dairy

sector relied heavily on female labour and was concerned with milk pro-

duction as well as other income-generating animals like goats, pigs, and


Many of the current trends in labour have resulted from past

colonial interventions. Early colonizers relied on slaves and identured

labour, and since these workers were unfamiliar with plantation crops,

owners had to prescribe the methods of cultivation. The current allo-

cation of male and female tasks are probably similar to earlier trends.

In the rice and vegetable sectors, however, Indian farmers were familiar

with the cultivation of those crops, and with few modifications, tradi-

tional methods have survived. Both the nature of the cultivation process

as well as the final product obtained determined how labour was inte-

grated into the cycle of these crops. In all instances, land was

mechanically ploughed but all other activities were done manually. Male

tasks included nursery care and maintenance, spraying, and other labor-

ious jobs like transportation of produce from the field and digging of

irrigation ditches. Irrigation, fertilizing, planting, harvesting, and

weeding were shared and sometimes dominated by women. In general,

however, intensively cultivated crops required a higher percentage of

labour and incorporated most family members during some stage of the

production cycle.


Crops with numerous stages in their cycles, like tobacco and

vegetables, had a higher labour demand and most family members were

involved in their production. As a result, more women were involved in

the cultivation and production of these crops. Conversely, extensively

cultivated crops with limited requirements and periodic maintenance needs

did not involve as many women or family members. Tobacco was grown

locally and the leaves cured before selling; vegetables were grown three

times per year and the produce had to be harvested, sorted, graded, and

sometimes ripened at the farmhouse before sale. Both of these crops had

a high labour demand and the product had a critical period for being

harvested and processed for sale. They were, therefore, labour intensive

and all family members participated.

Sugar and rice were also intensively cultivated but more women

participated in rice cultivation. The cultivation of sugar cane was more

laborious, and if women participated in this industry they were generally

employed from the migrant pool of agricultural labourers. Few female

spouses choose to work in sugar cane farms, and only helped minimally

with broadcasting fertilizer. Rice, because of its annual replanting,

had more steps associated with its culture and, therefore, more women

participated in the growing and post-harvest activities. Cocoa produc-

tion only required a high labour input during the harvesting process.

Basically, the crop cycle involved maintenance of the fields and trees,

tasks which were done by men; women and children participated in the har-

vest and post-harvest tasks like preparing the seeds and drying. Very

few women participated in field activities; some said "it was too

dangerous", while others argued that "the work was too hard" (Personal




Considerable emphasis was placed on the types of Farming

systems, gender related tasks, and time allocation. However, few studies

have taken into account the types of crops grown and cultivation prac-

tices, and how these two factors influence women' involvement in agri-

culture. In this paper, both the cultivation cycle of five crops and the

post-harvest requirements of the produce have been elaborated. It is

clearly evident that the longer the cycle, the more involved women and

other family members became in the production of the crop. Information

collected also revealed that the labour inputs in terms of the number of

days worked and the hours per day were similar, and that tasks were

either male, female, or done jointly by both spouses. Women were res-

ponsible for many of the activities done closer to the home.

In Trinidad, like many other countries, women contribute as much

time to agriculture as their spouses, and, in addition, are responsible

for all domestic chores related to cooking, laundry, cleaning, and so on.

However, this island is undergoing a rapid transition--from an agricul-

tural-based economy to one more dependent on petroleum and industry.

There is a general decline of agriculture in all sectors except vegetable

growing which is by far one of the most lucrative sectors. As this trend

continues, more farmers will abandon field work. The higher wages in

other industries and the collective disdain for agriculture will be

partially responsible for the exodus; other reasons include mechaniza-

tion, farmers wanting better opportunities for their children, and the

retirement of the current generation of growers.



Battlefront [Trinidad]
1978 "indentured labour." May 19, p. 7, col. 2.

Boserup, E.
1970 Women's Role in Economic Development. New York:
St. Martin's Press.

Flora, C.B.
1985. "Women and agriculture." Agriculture and Human Values 2(1);

Friedl, E.
1975 Women and Men. New York: Rinehart and Winston.

Newson, L.A.
1976 Aboriginal and Spanish Colonial Trinidad. New York:
Academic Press.

Sachs, C.E.
1983 The Invisible Farmers: Women in Agricultural Production.
Totawa, New Jersey: Rowman and Allenheld.

Shephard, C.Y.
1932 "The cacao industry of Trinidad." Trinidad: Government
Printing Office.

Spring, A. and A. Hansen
1985 "The underside of development: Agricultural development
and women in Zambia." Agriculture and Human Values 2(1):

Wood, D.
1968 Trinidad in Transition. London: Oxford University Press.




ase a 3
0Sam _
SCk l N-

Figure 1. Map of Trinidad



Preparation op Nursery care and -Remove plants
of land maintenance from nursery
,*' ,t

Spray ---Fertilize --- Irrigate Plant

Mould t- D-eflower Pick -- Pack

Grade Hang -- String Transonrt from fieldid

K Prepare for selling

Female adults female children Hired female help
Mechanical mechlds

Figure 2. Cultivation cycle for tobacco,
illustrating labour input.


Land preparation --- Excavate drains Plant

Pick fruits---- Spray Prune Cutlass

' Gather fruits Crack pods -- Remove seeds

Dry Dance Transport seeds from j
field to house

Prepare for sale

Ilale adults .H ale children O~lHired male help
Female adults Female children Hired female help
SMechanical methods

Figure 3. Cultivation cycle for cocoa,
illustrating labour input.


Land preparation W Need spraying Cut canes for
d' o"

Spread canes..- Break banks for Transport canes to
for planting planting planting site

Cover canes -Fertilize Rum Cut
with soil

Transport from field Load cut cane-,

a^ o 0^9~Q'

*IltLe adults
Fumale aJulcs
* vhanical moehods

Figure 4.

hlals children
* Female children

Hllired m Lc help
Q Hired female help

Cultivation cycle for sugar cane,
illustrating labour input.


Land preparation Tie banks -- Nursery care and

z-Plant Wash plants and Remove plants from
bundle for planting nursery

YWeed Cut or harvest undle stalks
ripened stalks

SDry Beat q Carry from fields .

Wbinnow -. Prepare for selling

Vttals adults Female adults Female children Hired female help
SHechmnical methods

Figure 5. Cultivation cycle for rice,
illustrating labour input.


Land preparation Rank soil for --- Nursery care and
planting beds maintenance

,Fertilize Plant -- Remove niants from

Spray Weed Anchor stakes to
support plants

Harvest --Irrigate 4 Tie olants to
manually stakes


Pack for transport Transport from Sort and grade
from field field

Transport to market Prepare for sale

elila adults e"Hale children OillLred mai help
Funmal adults Fcl children Hired female help
SHechanicLal metlwd

Figure 6. Cultivation cycle for vegetables,
Illustrating labour input.















'"" ----''-------'-----------
--------"-------------- '

-- -

*-1**-*1-*--*-** -- -- --- --- --- -- -- ---- -- -

20 40 60 80










--.-- -
= ===========================- .yP -; -*. -.-- --. --..-

:: ..:..! -------------...--..-..-.-...----------// .. :.,. ..- -- -. '--=-_:_
. ".. .............

_-zt .- .-.- VW -- :.*..._:_-;:_-_: --- ........ -


40 60

2 3

4 5









6 7

Figure 7. Percentage distribution of days worked by male
and female respondents, by product sector.

University of Florida Home Page
© 2004 - 2010 University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries.
All rights reserved.

Acceptable Use, Copyright, and Disclaimer Statement
Last updated October 10, 2010 - - mvs