CASTRIES, St. Lucia — Helen’s Daughters is a non-profit organization aimed at empowering women in agriculture in St. Lucia. Since 2016, Helen’s Daughters has aimed to increase the number of women in the agricultural industry and improve their performance by enhancing their business, marketing and technological skills. Several projects of Helen’s Daughters include programs for sustainable change, agri-tourism and gender equality workshops.
The founder of Helen’s Daughters, Keithlin Caroo, was one of the accepted applicants in the U.N. Women Champions for Change Event. The event seeks out women who have made lasting impacts on the lives of women professionally, economically and socially. Caroo’s proposal of combining agriculture and technology to create economic development for rural women in agriculture in St. Lucia was one of few proposals chosen out of thousands.
In 2018, the University of British Colombia selected Helen’s Daughters to participate in a hands-on program for engineering students. Through this partnership students studying biology, chemistry and geology worked with Helen’s Daughters with the aim of using technology to solve agricultural issues. In this partnership, students worked with rural St. Lucian farmers to solve farming issues through technology and strategies such as Google earth and data management.
Women in Agriculture in St. Lucia
Women have always been apart of agriculture in St. Lucia. Keithlin Caroo’s inspiration for Helen’s Daughters stemmed from her grandmother and several other rural women who have had extensive experience working on farms alongside their husbands throughout the years. Caroo wanted to bring women to the forefront of the agricultural industry after noticing an unsettling trend among St. Lucian women. In an interview with Forbes, Caroo said, “they were boxed out of commercial markets because everything was under their husband’s name.” Despite the hard work of her grandmother and women like her grandmother, women were not getting the credit or reaping the benefits of their hard work.
According to Caroo, women play a bigger role in St. Lucia’s agricultural industry than they appear to on the surface. Caroo says “two-thirds of women are small-business owners and, even then, more men are given access to financial markets in the form of loans and grants vs. women.” Inside St. Lucia’s largest market located in the capital city, Castries, women are lined up and down the roads and aisles selling crafts, clothes, fruits, vegetables and more. The employment rate for men is 64.9 percent, but for women, it is only 50.6 percent. St. Lucian women are more likely to be living in poverty than St. Lucian men.
Working on Agri-tourism
Another one of Helen’s Daughter’s major projects is agri-tourism. Tourism accounts for 65 percent of St. Lucia’s GDP. In 2018, the agricultural industry accounted for about 10 percent of St. Lucia’s workforce while tourism accounted for 30 percent. Although the tourism industry uses millions of dollars worth of fruits and vegetables every year, a majority of the fruits and vegetables used are imported. This is because local farmers are missing updated farm operations, certain networking skills and business and marketing skills needed to connect with the hotel industry and keep up with their supply.
Helen’s Daughters aim to connect and build relationships between local farmers and the hotel industry by tackling certain challenges that local farmers face. St. Lucian farmers are vulnerable to certain risks like inclement weather, hurricanes and floods. Caroo aims to formulate a plan for the industry that makes it easier for hotels to access farmers as opposed to seeking out each individual farmer. Her vision is for one company to act as a distributor, transporter and marketer for the agriculture in St. Lucia.
Through workshops, meetings and innovative projects, Helen’s Daughters will be able to minimize the gap between women and men in St. Lucia’s agricultural industry as well as between the agricultural and tourism industries. By empowering women in agriculture in St. Lucia, the industry can expand, strengthen and connect better with the tourism sector.
– Desiree Nestor