A single mother, teacher and farmer in Guyana finds balance in hard work

A new shadehouse boosts Patricia’s income, independence and resilience to climate change

Patricia (Right), a busy single parent, teacher and farmer in southwest Guyana, uses the shadehouse provided by an FAO Climate-Smart project to supplement her teaching income and meet the needs of her family. ©FAO


Managing a farm is hard. Being a single parent is hard. Being a full-time teacher is hard. Being a farmer, single parent and teacher is “off the charts” as Patricia Persaud puts it, but she says that being busy brings her balance and consoles her, keeping her from the stress caused by separating with her husband: “I am stress-free, active and financially stable,” she exclaims.

Patricia started farming to help cover her family’s expenses because her teaching salary was not sufficient. Every weekday morning from 6:30 am to 8:00 am, evenings from 5:00 pm, and on weekends and holidays, she and her sons tend to their cash crops of pak choi, okra, pepper, cucumber and cabbage.

Patricia lives in Parika Back, a rural community in the southwest part of the country where most people come from a long line of farmers and depend on small-scale farming for their livelihoods. It is a place where people have close ties to farming life or, as people in Guyana put it, ‘farming deh in me blood’. 

In the late 1980s, the population in Parika Back was small, the roads were undeveloped and food crops were cultivated only to meet household needs. But when they improved the main road in 2018, access to markets became easier, which encouraged the expansion of small-scale farming in the area.

Shadehouses are effective and sustainable solutions for small-scale farms to mitigate some of the effects of climate change and strengthen food security. ©FAO

In April 2020, FAO and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) launched a Climate-Smart Agriculture project for farmers in the Parika and Namryck communities of Guyana. These areas are prone to flooding, and rising temperatures together with changing precipitation patterns are increasing soil vulnerability and affecting crop growth. In addition to climate variability, pests, crop diseases and increased atmospheric carbon dioxide are all adding more stress to small-scale farmers.

The FAO-IICA pilot offered an affordable greenhouse solution, known as a shadehouse, that is effective and sustainable on a small scale and helps smallholder farmers to adapt to the changing environment. Greenhouses cannot reverse climate change, but they can mitigate some of its effects and help strengthen food security.

With a shadehouse, Patricia was able to plant lettuce, celery and broccoli, which are delicate crops that require greenhouse-type technology. The shadehouse proved particularly valuable during the pandemic, as moving produce from farms to markets was restricted and the market price for it rose sharply. For farmers like Patricia, this actually worked to her favour. Traders came to her for the produce she grew in the shadehouse.  Her harvest was bountiful and so were the earnings.

“Farming is a good experience when the price is right the benefits are rewarding,” Patricia states. She has been planting crops for about 8-10 years, but there were times she lost her much of her crops to excessive rain, flooding or drought.  “It is luck and chance, but you must have patience and keep planting.”

The World Bank estimates that three out of four people in developing countries live in rural areas, and globally, around 2.5 billion people depend on small-scale agriculture for their livelihoods, whether directly or indirectly. Small-scale rural farmers play a pivotal role in agri-food systems, but with incomes, land sizes and assets that vary greatly, in addition to gender inequalities, farmers are vulnerable to the effects of climate change and other crises. Embracing new technology such as shadehouses helps to give farmers an added advantage in resisting climate change. 

The shadehouse proved particularly valuable to Patricia during the pandemic as the market price for produce rose sharply. Not only could she continue providing nutritious food for her family, she could also sell the surplus for a good price. ©FAO/Shara Seelall

Patricia is looking forward to her retirement from teaching in the next two years when she plans to expand her shadehouse and dedicate her time to growing even more produce.

A true example of an empowered woman, Patricia hopes that by sharing her story she can show other young women that they can be self-sufficient and financially independent too. Single-parent households, especially those headed by women, are common in Guyana, and many find it challenging to support their children with one income.

Taking into account that around 43 percent of rural women have a role in agricultural production, FAO strongly supports women in agriculture to move beyond subsistence farming and into higher-value, market-oriented production. By providing the materials and technical skills to build shadehouse facilities, FAO is helping women to get a better farming output and strengthen their livelihoods.

FAO’s programmes in Guyana focus on helping small-scale farmers in rural communities to maximize their potential by increasing and diversifying their production, improving the quality of their products to better enter markets, building their resilience to climate change and supporting gender equality. FAO also supports the sustainable use of natural resources, especially by small-scale farmers, who are often heavily dependent on these resources, to ensure the viability of their own livelihoods but also those of future generations.

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2. Zero hunger, 5. Gender equality, 8. Decent work and economic growth