Women and Export Agriculture:
The Case of Banana Production on
St. Vincent in the Eastern Caribbean
Lawrence S. Grossman
The well-worn and overgeneralized dichotomy in the literature associating women with subsistence agriculture and men with commercial agriculture fails to capture the complexity of economic life in the English-speaking Caribbean, either in the past or in the present. During the era of slavery, women in many parts of the region not only helped cultivate food crops for home consumption but also sold such produce in Sunday markets. In the postemancipation era, they continued such endeavors, and today they dominate the sale of food crops in both local and interisland regional markets (Momsen 1988; LeFranc 1989; Massiah 1989).
Nonetheless, Caribbean research is not without its own gender-based dichotomy in relation to agriculture. Instead of highlighting the “subsistence/commercial” dichotomy, some Caribbean researchers contrast the “local food/export” sectors. Thus, women in the English-speaking Caribbean are supposed to be concerned primarily with the production and sale of local food crops, whereas men are involved in export agriculture (e.g., Allen 1997; French 1997; Chase 1988). For example, in her study of agriculture on St. Lucia, Vasantha Chase (1988:172) asserts that “males have primary responsibility for deciding about the time and nature of operations related to the cultivation of bananas” (an export crop), whereas “women contribute much of the labor in such activities as planting, weeding, harvesting, and marketing for domestic and regional markets. ” Similarly, Joan French (1997:317), discussing research concerning the islands of St. Vincent and Dominica, remarks that “men keep the best land for themselves and use it to grow cash crops, mainly bananas. Women grow mainly ground provisions to feed their families, for sale on the local market and for export [in interisland, regional markets] if there is a surplus. ”