Wednesday, November 28, 2007

North-west women choose organic farming, break with tradition

North-west women choose organic farming, break with tradition
By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News, Monday, November 26th 2007

Region One women farmers, from left: Nakita Rodrigues; Norma D'Andrade;
Ann Da Silva; Maria D'Andrade; one of their conference trainers known
to them only as Dorianne; and Christina James with some of the products
they already make, packaged under the Nor

Five women farmers in Region One Barima/Waini, who have recently taken
part in a conference on organic farming, are now ready to put some of
what they have learnt to the test and seek certification as organic
producers, despite the fact that this would mean breaking ties with
centuries old practices such as slash and burn.

The women are Maria D'Andrade, Ann Da Silva and Nakita Rodrigues of
Three Brothers Community in the Waini River; Christina James of
Hosororo and Norma D'Andrade of Kamwatta, Mabaruma, who said they were
proud to be involved in the process of making the area "The Organic

The women were in Georgetown the week before last to take part in a
'Women in organic farming conference' organized by the University of
Guyana in conjunction with the donor community. The participants came
from various parts of Guyana, as well as Suriname, Belize and Jamaica.

One of the practices the farmers in the region would have to review was
that of slash and burn, if they were to be certified as organic
farmers, Maria D'Andrade best known as 'Auntie Phyl' said. A former
teacher at the Santa Rosa Primary School, she explained, "We are
accustomed to slash and burn so the new method would be a challenge."

She is one of the biggest farmers in the Waini River, who plants all
types of ground provision but specializes in cassava production and
makes casareep and cassava bread sold under the brand name of North
West Organic products. These find their way onto the shelves of leading
supermarkets, and some of the products are exported overseas.

D'Andrade said that at present, the cassava bread was being exported to
Barbados to a homeopathic clinic, which uses cassava as part of a
diabetic diet, since she had been told that it was gluten-free and
helped control sugar levels in the blood.

Chairman of the Blue Flame Women's Group, Christina James, told
Stabroek News that she now understood the worth of value-added products
and the need for certification.

Nakita Rodrigues comes from a large family of twelve who are engaged
mainly in the cultivation and marketing of primary crops. They plant
cassava, eddoes, plantains and coconut which they sell to hucksters at
Kumaka, who then take the produce to Georgetown. With the new
experience gained, she feels that like Maria D'Andrade her family could
get involved in the production of casareep in a big way.

To get some extra income in their spare time together with some other
women, they would go searching in the forests for crabwood oil seeds,
sometimes long distances from their farms. They would get on an average
120 pounds under ten trees. The Rodrigues have also cultivated some
crabwood trees on their farm. The crabwood oil seed ripens during the
May/June and November/ December rainy seasons. They then sell the seeds
to Ann Da Silva.

Norma D'Andrade is involved in peanut and ginger cultivation. She has
been using synthetic fertilisers among other things, for the peanuts,
but the challenge now is to grow both crops organically. She
acknowledged it would be difficult, since producing organic fertilizers
would require making compost during a process of "conversion."

At present, Norma D'Andrade works with a women's group which is
informally called the Kamwatta Ladies Backdam Group.

They sell the peanuts and ginger to hucksters at Kumaka in the same way
as many other farmers in the area do, but she said there was now an
opportunity open to them to produce peanut butter and ginger powder.
Owing to the state of the road from Wauna to Kamwatta which made
transportation difficult, it would make sense to process the ginger and
peanuts in the village and then market them outside as value-added

Norma D'Andrade and another woman from the neighbouring community of
Wauna will also be involved in an exchange programme with the women of
Aranaputa in the Rupununi, where both would observe the work they had
done in the cultivation and processing of peanuts.

However, the challenge still remained for her community in terms of the
acquisition of mills and other necessary equipment. D'Andrade and the
other members of the group at the conference met with Minister of
Agriculture Robert Persaud who had promised to assist them in whatever
way possible.

Ann Da Silva said she had outlined a number of challenges they faced,
including the lack of expertise in making some things, and the need for
equipment such as mills and hullers. She said too that flooding was a
big problem in the Waini River. She said they had been encouraged by
the minister's pep talk and the fact that he had promised assistance.

Da Silva is involved in the production of crabwood oil. Her husband,
who was trained by a UK-based soapmaker in the art of soap-making,
works with others in the production of soaps. The Da Silvas are now
looking forward to making crabwood candles using the residual waste of
the crabwood seeds.

The crabwood oil has a number of therapeutic and other properties. It
is expected, for example, that the candles would give off smoke that
would act as an insect repellant.

They have also made a cream from crabwood oil which is reported to
clear acne, but it is not yet being marketed.

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