Since winning the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition’s YES! Competition last year, Shaneica Lester and Anne-Teresa Birthwright now run a knowledge transfer project for small-scale farmers in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. Lester and Birthwright’s program, which focuses on irrigation conservation education, provides farmers with skills and education necessary to combat drought-related issues that impact their lands.
Lester and Birthwright’s Irrigation Farmer Field Schools (IFFS) include lessons on water conservation, understanding climate change, soil and water management, and ecosystem analysis. Through participating in the IFFS program, Jamaican farmers learn about technologies and techniques that can be directly applied to their fields and adapted to suit their needs, providing farmers with agency to decide how to manage their land and allocate their resources.
“We wanted to avoid a top-down approach and instead encourage self-empowerment within rural communities. A participatory approach allows farmers to be a part of their own solution by contributing their knowledge and expertise, as well as their perception and understanding of climate change,” Lester and Birthwright said in an interview with Food Tank.
Small farmers drive Jamaica’s agricultural sector and ensure the nation’s food security. When researching the challenges experienced by small rural farmers, Lester and Birthwright discovered that drought was the primary leading factor causing Jamaicans to quit farming and preventing young people from wanting to farm.
To address this issue, Birthwright and Lester started their irrigation-focused Knowledge Transfer Curriculum (KTC) in St. Elizabeth, one of Jamaica’s driest parishes and most important agricultural zones. The irrigation KTC combines scientific and holistic approaches to provide farmers with adaptable knowledge that they can use to fit their specific land needs.
“We believed integrating local traditional knowledge with technical and scientific know-how would be a more sustainable way of increasing adaptive capacity and productivity,” Birthwright and Lester said.
Birthwright and Lester hope to expand their irrigation KTC to other regions and to increase the agency and productivity of Jamaica’s agricultural communities.