The Importance of Gender Issues
in Revitalizing Commercial
Agriculture in Suriname
Gwen Smith and Della E. McMillan
Suriname, like many developing countries in the Caribbean, is at a profound turning point in terms of the structure and organization of its commercial agricultural sector. Earlier models of state-owned parastatal, plantation agriculture depended on high levels of support from foreign aid agencies and government subsidies. These subsidies, combined with Suriname's historically easy access to overseas markets in Europe (especially to its former motherland, the Netherlands) has enabled its products to compete despite antiquated technology and relatively high production costs. The combination of strict structural adjustment reforms, the imminent loss of the preferential access to European markets, and membership in the Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM) is precipitating the formation of a new commercial farming sector. 1 This process is a painful one in which a substantial portion of the population must be weaned away from a dependence on government employment. The same process is breaking up the large-scale parastatals that once dominated commercial agriculture, making certain crops less competitive internationally. This new approach to commercial agriculture means that a wider segment of the population— including women—is becoming involved in commercial agriculture.
In this chapter, we provide a brief overview of these major policy shifts and their implications for women farmers, based on an analysis of two recent pieces of research. The first study is a six-month survey of gender issues in Suriname's food production that was executed by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) with financial support from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). This survey included (a) intensive survey research with 105 households representing the three major coastal ethnic groups (Javanese, Hindustani, and Creole); (b) a series