Behind Louise Lawrence’s friendly smile and pleasant manner is a steely resolve. That resolve is necessary as she navigates a typically male-dominated field as a farmer in St Ann, on Jamaica’s verdant north coast. Beyond just succeeding as a female farmer, Louise has even chosen to take on a leadership role. Louise is the leader of the Watt Town Greenhouse Farmers Group, which boasts 20 farmers – eleven women and nine men.
Louise has chosen farming, in particular greenhouse farming, to make a living. She admits that it was not her first choice of a career, but she now believes farming is her calling. She says, “were I to live my life over again, I would have started farming earlier.”
Louise is one of the farmers that received a greenhouse through the Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI), funded by the World Bank and implemented by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF). Over 160 farmers in three parishes benefitted from this project, and over a hundred other farmers have benefitted indirectly. Not only does REDI support those who choose farming, but the program also connects them with ready markets to encourage their success.
Collectively, the Watt Town Greenhouse Farmers Group operates 22 greenhouses in addition to open field farms. Louise directly operates one greenhouse and also oversees the operations of three other greenhouses, one owned by her husband. And she is good at it – in only six years as a farmer, Louise has already received awards and recognition for her greenhouses.
The second phase of the project, known as REDI II, was approved in November 2019 with US$40 million in financing from the World Bank. Louise reports that JSIF recently provided the farmers, through REDI II, with personal protective equipment, including masks, hand-held thermometers, and hand sanitizers, to curb the spread of COVID-19. She underscored the point that “COVID is real,” and as a community leader, Louise helps to spread the message of keeping socially distant, wearing a mask and frequent handwashing.