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CYNTHIAWOODSONG

OLD FARMERS, INVISIBLE FARMERS: AGE AND AGRICULTURE IN JAMAICA

ABSTRACT. Increases in both the percentage and absolute numbers of elders, originally observed in industrialized countries, are now a concern for a growing number of developing countries. At present, most elders are found in rural areas, where many remain active in agriculture to very advanced years. There is concern that the rural concentration of elders may have negative consequences for agricultural production. This paper presents ethnographic material from Jamaica, where agriculture occupies an important place in the life course of many elders. Contrary to popular perceptions, farming is not exclusively the domain of elderly Jamaicans, but rather occurs at various stages in the life course in ways which make such activity 'invisible' to farm surveys and agricultural development policy. Such policies fail to account for the special abilities and needs of elder farmers.Key Words: economic activity, agricultural development, domestic cycle, Caribbean,

Jamaica Issues related to aging in the developing world have increasingly commanded the attention of social scientists, especially since the United Nations' 1982 World Conference on Aging. In many countries, elders are found primarily in the countryside, their children gone to the cities or overseas in the search for work (Myers 1982). It is estimated that in developing countries three-fourths of the elderly population aged 60 and over resides in rural areas (UN 1982). Evidence from many parts of the world indicates that the elderly population continues to work in agriculture to very advanced years (International Labor Organization 1982; UN 1985; Kinsella 1988). Since the 1940s, at least, the average age of full-time farmers in Jamaica has been reported to be in the early 50s (Edwards 1961; LeFranc 1986), with farmers generally not cutting back on their farming activities until they pass the age of 65 (Carloni 1984). Therefore, it is important to understand the elderly population's role in agricultural production, as this has implications for the well-being of elders as well as the national agricultural sector. This paper presents ethnographic material from Jamaica, where agriculture is a primary economic activity for older adults. Data from a farm survy conducted by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is then interpreted in light of these ethnographic materials. I argue that both agricultural development and the situation of older farmers could be improved by addressing the following three points: 1. Although young adults do not generally enter into full-time farming, many of them eventually do become farmers. Up to that time, they may be engaged in agricultural activities that are 'invisible' to general economic surveys. 2. The older farmer (as we shall see) may have a 20 year or more career ofJournal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology 9: 277-299, 1994. 9 1994 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

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full-time farming ahead of her/him, which is a period of time deserving appropriate consideration in agricultural policy. 3. In Jamaica, and perhaps elsewhere where economic options and formal arrangements for old age care are limited, participation in the agricultural economy substitutes for retirement. Data from a farm survey conducted by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is then interpreted in light of these ethnographic materials. AGE AND ECONOMIC ACTIVITY The impetus for addressing the social issues surrounding the role of elders in society has been provided by the increase in the absolute numbers of the elderly worldwide. Although aging populations were first observed in industrialized countries, the need to take stock of the position of elders has now become a concern in developing countries. In recognition of this need, the UN's general policy recommendations include the following statement: It is imperative that, when considering the question of aging, the situation of the elderly should not be considered separate from the over-all socio-economic conditions prevailing in society. The elderly should be viewed as an integral part of the population. They should also be considered within the framework of population groups such as women, youth, the disabled, and migrant workers. The elderly must be considered an important and necessary element in the development process at all levels within a given society. (UN 1982:56) To date, research on the elderly has centered on concern for their health and well-being (objectively and subjectively defined), on such topics as health care, kin and community support networks, and the increased costs to governments of dependent care (Maddox 1982; Mancini and Blieszner 1989). Persistent and negative stereotypes of the aged portray them as unproductive members of society, stubborn and/or a burden to their children (Estes 1980; UN 1991). As a disturbing corollary to their 'unproductive' status, elders are sometimes seen by their compatriots as contributing, through chronic and catastrophic illnesses, to the rising cost of health care (Estes 1980). The role of elders in processes of economic development has not been extensively studied (Halperin 1987). Treas and Logue (1986) identify several perspectives with regard to development policy toward the aged, among them the observations that the aged are a low priority in development efforts and the aged are viewed as constituting an impediment to development. However, they note that conventional wisdom acknowledges that older persons are a potential resource as purveyors of knowledge. This paper supports the view that the aged are a potential resource, not only for their possession of agricultural knowledge and potential usefulness in transmission of such knowledge, but also for their active role in agricultural production.

AGE AND AGRICULTUREIN JAMAICA JAMAICAN CASE STUDY

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Persons aged 55 and over constitute 12% of Jamaica's 1982 population of approximately two million. This rate is similar to other Commonwealth Caribbean countries (Brathwaite 1989). However, as Figure 1 illustrates, the Caribbean is one of the world's 'oldest' regions. This agedness becomes most apparent in the rural areas, a characteristic commonly observed in developing regions (UN 1985). In Jamaica, almost two-thirds of persons aged 60 and over reside in rural areas. Figure 2 illustrates the urban and rural population structure, with rural areas less populated by the 25 to 50 age group. This population has most likely migrated to Jamaica's urban areas, or overseas (Planning Institute of Jamaica [PIOJ] 1988).

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YearFig. 1. Percentage of total population Age 55+: 1988 to 2020. Like many Third World countries, the primary economic endeavor of the rural population is agriculture. The agricultural sector I is the largest employment sector, accounting for 39% of Jamaica's labor force. There are 2.7 million acres of land in Jamaica, of which 1.2 million are suitable for crops and pasture lands (Ventkataswamy 1987:6), and much of this is on hillsides which require careful cultivation if soil degradation is not to occur (USAID 1988). The great majority of Jamaica's farms are small (less than 5 acres) and located in the island's hilly interior (Armstrong, Bims, Kernan, Manrique, and Mitchell 1985). Farms of 100 acres and over have, for most of this century, occupied from 48% to 57% of Jamaica's farmland, while the farms of less than five acres have occupied a

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16

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10

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2

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Fig. 2. Rural and urban population of Jamaica by age and sex, 1982.

AGE AND AGRICULTUREIN JAMAICA

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meager 13% to 16%. Another way to look at this inequality is to consider that for the period 1954 to 1978, 3% of Jamaica's farmers have controlled from 60% to 75% of the total farmland (Pollard and Graham 1985). Despite their size, however, the small farms produce 80 to 90% of the country's domestic food crops. They also produce a substantial amount of export crops, including 68% of Jamaica's sugar, 59% of the citrus, 88% of the coffee, and 62% of the cocoa (LeFranc 1986:22). Compared to other Caribbean and Latin American countries, productivity levels in Jamaica are low. Both the traditional farming practices and the advanced age of traditional farmers have long been and still are considered by the government and development community to result in poor yields and destruction to the environment (USAID 1988). Since the 1950s, a steady stream of programs for agricultural development has been designed with the dual goal of increasing productivity while introducing new technologies to halt erosion and improve the sustainability of production. 2 However, analyses of agricultural projects and programs conclude that for the most part development efforts have had little positive impact (Armstrong et al. 1985; Blustain 1985; LeFranc 1986); furthermore, the programs have not met even their stated goals. Agricultural production has not been increased, erosion control has not been effective, and standards of living in rural areas have not been appreciably improved. As LeFranc aptly states, "In postwar Jamaica, the extraor

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