More recently, the Eastern Caribbean Liaison Service (ECLS), the unit of the OECS Commission responsible for stewardship of this program, has embarked on a ‘Women in Agriculture’ initiative to give priority to expanding the participation of OECS women in the program. The intent is for young women farmers to benefit from seasonal employment on a Canadian farm - including active-learning of modern farming methods and the use of technology in farming. The outcomes of this initiative also fulfill a strategic objective of the OECS Commission – reduction of unemployment among nationals of the OECS member states. Notably, remittances from employment of OECS nationals participating in this program are estimated to be over 37 million EC dollars in 2021.
OECS Director General Dr. Didacus Jules spoke about the Commission's strategy to increase opportunities for women in agriculture. According to Dr. Jules,
"With this specific cohort of seasonal workers, the OECS is breaking new employment opportunity ground. The recruitment of a largely-female team of workers - many of whom are farmers - not only creates new gender-specific economic opportunities but also exposes them to new production technologies and standards that can be replicated back at home. This is part of a new strategy to convert seasonal employment opportunity abroad into permanent, profitable self-employment at home. The ECLS Team has also had a breakthrough in opening up the programme to workers from our French Associate Member States to work in the Francophone Canadian provinces and we commend them on this initiative"
Head of the ECLS Mr. Olaf Fontenelle gave details on the cohort of women traveling to Canada.
“The Women in Agriculture initiative is bearing some fruit – with a group of 40 St. Lucian women who will be employed with a strawberry farm in Nova Scotia, this year. Just last week, 13 ladies from this group arrived safely in Canada, to commence their employment and the remaining ladies will join them soon.”
This is indeed a milestone for the OECS’ participation in the Canada-Caribbean Seasonal Agriculture Workers Program (SAWP) – since this is the largest cohort of women to be employed with one farm since the program’s inception over 50 years ago. The process to secure these opportunities began months before these ladies boarded their flights to Canada. The ECLS team has been persistent in pursuing negotiations with a few Canadian farms whose preference is for women farmers and who are also willing to invest in the more extensive housing requirements for women. The ECLS, having secured the requisite Canadian approvals for the employment opportunities – transmits these to the Ministry of Labour (St. Lucia in this case) that have the responsibility for careful recruitment, visa processing and pre-departure orientation for the successful women. The ECLS then completes the process, by welcoming the ladies and ensuring their welfare and well-being during the period of employment in Canada.