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Championing women and organic coffee farming in Jamaica

Impact story

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Gender

Vibrant reggae music, athletic prowess, flavoursome food and white sandy beaches are perhaps what Jamaica is best known for. Also coffee – but not so much the organic version. For over 20 years, Dorienne Rowan-Campbell has been working hard to change that.

After several postings around the world, the now retired international development consultant returned to Jamaica in 1992 to revive her father’s untended coffee farm located in Portland, in the famed Blue Mountains. She had no farming experience whatsoever, but that did not deter her.

“I didn’t know anything about farming except that I loved the farm,” she recalls. “Everybody I spoke with about growing coffee said I needed a big drum to mix pesticides. I said no, I have been working in sustainable development, and that is not what I want to do.”

Rowan-Campbell’s insistence on not using pesticides led her to research organic alternatives for her crop. Her experiments and numerous proven solutions include the use of garlic spray to stop the spread of the fungus coffee rust. She shares her findings with other farmers she connects with through the Jamaica Organic Agriculture Movement (JOAM).

Training smallholder organic farmers

Her success on her own farm, and the lack of training in organic farming available in Jamaica have led Rowan-Campbell to train others, especially women. With help from Networked Intelligence for Development, a group of consultants based in Toronto, Canada, she has been able to garner funding for a series of workshops. These focused on technology, and its potential for improving business and profitability. The first was held in 2004, and to date approximately 150 women from across the Caribbean have participated. Rowan-Campbell has also trained Rural Agriculture Development Authority (RADA) officers from Jamaica in organic farming.

Her organic Blue Mountain coffee is now certified in North America, the European Union and Japan, and within the past year she has started selling to the United States of America and Canada. There is also growing interest in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.

To help boost agribusinesses such as hers, CTA has been working with Rowan-Campbell and other local farmers in island states across the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific region to get their produce included in their respective countries’ lucrative tourism sector.

As part of this effort, CTA is currently working with the Jamaican government and Rowan-Campbell to promote favourable policies that can help smallholder farmers tap into tourism.

“Islands cannot compete on quantity, they have to compete on quality,” said Isolina Boto, Manager of CTA’s Brussels office. “Quality has different parts, but certified organic is one. You know already that you are in a very specific niche. You can promote this to the hotels, and the story of the farmers behind it.”

A woman farmer with a mission

Though she operates a relatively successful business, Rowan-Campbell still faces a number of major hurdles. The main one is being a woman in business. “We often hear how women are valued, but we are not heard in a lot of arenas. Women need to be seen as change agents. There is a disconnect between what we say and what we do. Therefore, it was difficult to get others to work with and respect the direction in which I was moving,” she says.

Another challenge is the lack of policies to support organic coffee farming, and to encourage women smallholder farmers, so that they can reap the fruits of their labour. At present, says Rowan-Campbell, in order to earn an income many women smallholder farmers produce for larger farmers, who give them very little money for their crops.

In an effort to improve the industry, especially for women organic farmers, Rowan-Campbell serves as policy chair for JOAM. “A one-policy-fits-all, with gender being tacked on, is insufficient,” she says. “We need to unpick it, and only then can we, in consultation with smallholder farmers, help them.”

The struggle is far from over, but this feisty woman coffee farmer is not about to give up. She remains optimistic that the work she and others are doing will inspire other women farmers, and that a more enabling environment will foster the development and growth of organic farming. And as anyone who knows her will attest, Rowan-Campbell is almost militant in her mission:

“As long as I’m alive, I will continue to push for women in organic farming.”

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