Women farmers in Hague: trailblazers in a man’s world

By Devina Samaroo

“Females aren’t fit to be farmers”. Murmur those words in the village of Hague, on the West Coast of Demerara (WCD) and almost all of the women will erupt with ferocity.

Rajkumarie Jeewan along with Bashantee Persaud striking a pose in front of a tractor parked aback her yard
Rajkumarie Jeewan along with Bashantee Persaud striking a pose in front of a tractor parked aback her yard

The women of this village are just a microcosm of the strength and perseverance demonstrated by Indian women in Guyana, since the days of indentureship.
Driving tractors and ploughing the fields, coupled with the daily struggles of juggling the children and the housework, it’s no wonder these women are deemed trail blazers in a man’s world.
Forty-one-year-old Rajkumarie Jeewan grew up on the farmlands, admiring her father working in the fields.
Today, she is a successful farmer and entrepreneur in her own right, but the rice industry she and her family knew as children has drastically transformed.
“Everything is so modern now. I am accustomed to it because I grew up in it but what we do now is really different from when I was a little girl,” Rajkumarie told Guyana Times at her home in Hague.
With Rajkumarie preparing a meal of chowmein, her husband was leaving for work and her mother-in-law was rocking in the hammock.
“It’s different but the work got easier. I only go and assist in the fields now to throw fertilisers and help pull up the paddy. We get labourers that does do most of the stuff now,” she stated.
Her direct involvement in the rice business decreased minimally following the birth of her three children, who are now ages 18, 21, and 22.
While much of her attention was focused on taking care of her children, Rajkumarie still spent time in the rice fields assisting her husband.
“It builds our relationship stronger. You understand your partner more when you work together. You don’t really get into fights. You could fight in the fields and shy mud at each other but that’s it. Soft mud, nothing else,” she chuckled as she reminisced on some of the good times with her husband.
Sixty-eight-year-old Bashantee Persaud, her neighbour, came over to visit sometime around this moment.
She too grew up in the farmlands and loved every moment of it.
“It’s all I know. It’s all most of us know. We live in it, we enjoy it. It’s a peaceful life,” Bashantee said as she breathed a sigh of satisfaction. Her younger days were nothing short of hectic. With five girl children and one boy, Bashantee was busy like a bee on most days.
“I don’t know how I used to manage. I woke up at three ‘o’ clock, I cook, my husband used to cut cane so he used to leave like around five ‘o’ clock and then I had to start in the rice fields. I would go and milk the cows and do lil other fine, fine stuff and by time daybreak, I feed the fowl and get the children ready for school. So when they gone, you got your normal house work to do,” she described a typical day during her earlier years of motherhood.

Both ladies attested to the fact that the industry has radically transformed over the years, bringing with it pros and cons.
In the olden days, instead of using tractors to plough the field in preparation for another crop, farmers would deploy bulls onto the land to till it for cultivation.
“I used to go run around with the bulls,” Rajkumarie gleefully interjected. The workmen would then use handheld tools, like the hoe and rake, to further toss the soil.
Rajkumarie’s mother-in-law, who was rocking away in silence, piped up and briefly acknowledged that uniqueness of her generation where everything was done using manual labour.
Yes, bare hands were utilised to clear the dozens of acres of rice fields in the absence of a combine harvester – a machine that reaps, threshes, and cleans a cereal crop in a single operation.
After the crops are harvested, they would be packaged and sold to the millers.
Of course, there are tons of problems relating to the prices for paddy and the delayed payments from rice millers.
While the advancement in technology has definitely improved the efficiency and effectiveness of the work, it has certainly made the cost of production more expensive.
Farmers who cannot afford to purchase their own machinery will have to rent; those who are owners will have to factor in maintenance expenses and repair costs.
According to the women, one cannot depend solely on the incomes from the paddy cultivation; one needs a “side job”.
Questioned on whether or not it was strange for women to be involved on a male dominated platform, the women declared, “Not at all. Man and lady does work the same. Not in Hague. All we women are farmers.”