Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

16 October 2024

World Food Day

Karen Messam

“Before, I didn’t have enough goods [to sell in the big market]. Now that I am able to plant more, I am looking forward to the experience.”


Mount Airy is a hilly farming community about an hour’s drive west of Jamaica’s capital Kingston. It has the second highest number of registered farmers in the country, but that doesn’t mean growing food here is easy. Just ask Karen Messam.

At 57, she has been farming here all her life, and water has been an issue for as long as she can remember. The climate can be unforgiving and access to piped water is limited in this mountainous terrain.

For a long time, much of what Karen earned from farming went to buying water from trucks to irrigate her crops. When her income wasn’t sufficient to cover the cost, she was at the mercy of the rain, hoping the season would provide enough to water the scotch bonnet peppers, sweet peppers and scallions on her vegetable farm.

All of that changed when her Mount Airy farming group gained access to state-of-the-art drip irrigation system. The system, supported by some 700 meters’ worth of tubes, soil monitoring devices, irrigation timers, and a solar pump, meant Karen's farming experience underwent a remarkable transformation.

“I appreciate the drip system,” she says. “It helps me a lot.”

For one, the irrigation technology has reduced her watering time from four hours to a mere five minutes.

“Back when I had the bucket, I had to splash water on every single plant [by hand] -- I really used to struggle. But now it is much easier”.

What’s more, the drip irrigation system doubles as a fertigation system that requires less fertilizer than she used before. The small half-pound bag of fertilizer she can afford is mixed into the water and feeds the plant roots, which boosts her scotch bonnet and sweet pepper yields.

According to Karen, she now consistently turns a profit.

With the burden of water scarcity lifted, Karen's sense of independence has soared. No longer plagued by worries over water availability, the mother of six, has set her sights on increasing her production and expanding to new markets.

“In December, I am planning to take my produce to Kingston”, she says, referring to Jamaica’s largest marketplace – Coronation Market. In doing so, she’ll be fulfilling a long-time dream. “Before, I didn’t have enough goods, so I could only sell in May Pen. So now that I am able to plant more, I am looking forward to the experience.”

Karen benefitted from the joint Mexico-CARICOM-FAO Initiative “Cooperation for Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience in the Caribbean.” The Resilient Caribbean Initiative funded by the Mexican Agency for International Development Cooperation (AMEXCID) and implemented by FAO supports Caribbean Small Island Developing States (SIDS) using an integrated Water-Energy-Food nexus approach in Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica and Saint Kitts and Nevis. It promotes technological innovations, such as solar-powered (micro) irrigation systems to improve water efficiency and management (e.g. hydroponics and rainwater harvesting), and access to clean and renewable energy (solar and wind), to increase agricultural productivity and efficiency in water use.