In Belize, our community outreach, education and empowerment programs are providing opportunities for women farmers, who now make up 41% of the total cane farmers of the northern sugar industry. One of these special programs, designed and implemented by our Belize Sugar Industries, Ltd. (BSI) Cane Farmer Relations Department, is the Women Cane Farmers Field School (WFFS), which recently graduated its first class of participants from local cane farmer associations.
“The WFFS engages women at the farm level with the objective to improve sugarcane practices and yields,” said Olivia Avilez, BSI Cane Farmer Relations Manager, who led the program. “It was tailored to meet women where they are and to take them to the next level as farmers. At the same time, it also helps the industry diversify, strengthen and grow.”
The yearlong program — a collaboration with The Hershey Company, the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre and the Green Climate Fund — covered eight modules, ranging from planting and integrated pest management to harvesting, processing and financial literacy. It included lectures, primarily given by BSI Research & Development Officer Miguel Keme, as well as in-depth, hands-on learning on our farms.
Cohort 1 of the WFFS program was celebrated in a special ceremony this spring. Industry stakeholders and leaders, friends and family members applauded as the 11 women cane farmers received their certificates of completion. The program featured a main address by H.E. Rossana Briceño, Special Envoy for the Development of Families and Children with the Ministry of Human Development, Families and Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs from the Government of Belize, a testimony by graduate Filiberta Pena on behalf of her classmates and remarks by Olivia.
“I am proud to work at an organization that champions diversity and supports women in our industry,” said Olivia. “And, because they do, I get to lead – really lead – these types of programs, not just for Women’s Month but all through the year.”
After its successful first year, the WFFS kicked off its second year with a new group of women cane farmers in May.