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Agriculture provides many opportunities for women

Published in Kaieteur News, 7 Oct 2013

October 7, 2013

Increasing one's profits in the agricultural sector is best derived from adding value to products and maximizing land space. This is the advice of Vilma Da Silva, a woman farmer in the Pomeroon River, who is involved in the coconut industry.

While many youths and women in the Caribbean are not attracted to the various opportunities in the agriculture sector, Da Silva, who labours on her farm daily for at least three hours alongside her employees, has been involved in farming for numerous years.
At this year's Caribbean Week of Agriculture, Da Silva will be part of the coconut industry forum. She has participated in similar events and workshops where knowledge and experience gained have helped her to successfully manage her agri-business.

Da Silva emphasized that the opportunities in the agriculture sector are limitless because people will always depend on food for survival and the techniques involved are ever changing.

She related that farming in the Pomeroon was usually done on a subsistence level with the cultivation of ground provision, citrus and coconut. However, with the need to expand operations and the challenge of weather patterns it was observed that coconut trees stood up to both El Nino and La Nina conditions.

Da Silva said for the past three years demand for by-products of coconuts such as bottled coconut water and virgin coconut oil on the international market has increased. Applying former Agriculture Minister Satyadeow Sawh's advice of adding value to products, Da Silva has an agro-processing operation where she processes her coconuts.

"I can clearly say that the coconut industry, when you venture into that as a farmer, if you do not do value added, the profit margin is meager because you have to take whatever the person wants to give you," she said.

Da Silva currently supplies Sterling Products Ltd. with bottled coconut water. Bottling coconut water is a costly venture since the bottles are imported from Suriname and transported to the Pomeroon. This high cost would soon be eliminated thanks to Sterling Products Ltd. which would be purchasing the bottles, she said.

The woman farmer is grateful to the company for this initiative since the product would be presentable and of a good standard.

Expanding her operations to the Caribbean and further a field is a possibility Da Silva looks forward too. Already she has 25 acres of land cultivated with coconuts. Her farm has two types of coconuts- the five-year trees that grow very tall and the three-year trees that are the dwarfs.

"Where ever I lose a plant, be it a citrus on the farm, I replace it with a three-year tree. I had five acres of land I had intended for cash crop farming and I diverted that area to cultivate into three-year coconut plants," she added.

However, because of her farm supply, Da Silva is open to buying coconuts from neighbouring farmers, who need an avenue to market their products.
Da Silva emphasized that if a woman wants to get involved in agriculture at the farming level, she first needs to be educated about farming the particular crop, be exposed to training, and view the venture as a real agri-business.

"I was the former chair of a woman's organization, which I managed, and now I can really hold up my farming as a real business. I maximize my land to make sure there is no vacant space because cost of production is very high but I learn to maximize my land space," she said.
Da Silva said she would encourage youths and women to get involved in farming because it allows self sufficiency and independence, particularly in the area of finances and time.