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GENDER ISSUES IN FARMING SYSTEMS
RESEARCH AND EXTENSION
LABOUR PATTERNS IN AGRICULTURE IN TRINIDAD
Indra S. Harry
Paper Prepared for the
"GENDER ISSUES IN FARMING SYSTEMS,
RESEARCH AND EXTENSION"
February 26 March 1, 1986
University of 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.
AGRICULTURE IN TRINIDAD
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
LABOUR PATTERNS AND AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION
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.
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
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.
1978 "indentured labour." May 19, p. 7, col. 2.
1970 Women's Role in Economic Development. New York:
St. Martin's Press.
1985. "Women and agriculture." Agriculture and Human Values 2(1);
1975 Women and Men. New York: Rinehart and Winston.
1976 Aboriginal and Spanish Colonial Trinidad. New York:
1983 The Invisible Farmers: Women in Agricultural Production.
Totawa, New Jersey: Rowman and Allenheld.
1932 "The cacao industry of Trinidad." Trinidad: Government
Spring, A. and A. Hansen
1985 "The underside of development: Agricultural development
and women in Zambia." Agriculture and Human Values 2(1):
1968 Trinidad in Transition. London: Oxford University Press.
G U L F
P A R I A
m SUGAR CANE
--. COUNTY BOUNDARIES
ase a 3
SCk l N-
Figure 1. Map of Trinidad
Preparation op Nursery care and -Remove plants
of land maintenance from nursery
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
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
Figure 3. Cultivation cycle for cocoa,
illustrating labour input.
Land preparation W Need spraying Cut canes for
Spread canes..- Break banks for Transport canes to
for planting planting planting site
Cover canes -Fertilize Rum Cut
Transport from field Load cut cane-,
a^ o 0^9~Q'
* vhanical moehods
* 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
SDry Beat q Carry from fields .
Wbinnow -. Prepare for selling
Female adults Female children Hired female help
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
Harvest --Irrigate 4 Tie olants to
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
Figure 6. Cultivation cycle for vegetables,
Illustrating labour input.
NUMBER OF DAYS WORKED
BY MALE FARMERS
*-1**-*1-*--*-** -- -- --- --- --- -- -- ---- -- -
20 40 60 80
NUMBER OF DAYS WORKED
BY FEMALE FARMERS
= ===========================- .yP -; -*. -.-- --. --..-
:: ..:..! -------------...--..-..-.-...----------// .. :.,. ..- -- -. '--=-_:_
. ".. .............
_-zt .- .-.- VW -- :.*..._:_-;:_-_: --- ........ -
I I I I I I I I I I
DAYS WORKED E E
Figure 7. Percentage distribution of days worked by male
and female respondents, by product sector.